«True people» (Nenei nenecha) – self-name of Nenets, the indigenous people of the Yamal peninsula, and the name of the complex 2015–2016 ethnographic expedition. Project participants and the visitors of the resource will be the part of the reindeer herders's family during the whole year just to «dive» in the casual life of the modern XXI century nomads.


Expedition Diary

February 2016: a shot in tundra

On February 21st we had visitors again: Roman came to our chum on his way back to Yar-Sale town. Mikhail Podovitch Hudi (his chum is standing noth or ours) with his daughter Yana and son Vakato were accompanying Roman.  

In the night, just after everybody in the chum went to bed, we've heard a sound of an approaching truck. Kostya and Alexander rushed out of the chum. Nearby they saw a cross country truck "Ural". A man said that he was for the first time going from Labytnangy to Bovanenkovo town, he looked like a typical businessman transporting food. He also explained that he stopped at the chum, because he and other drivers shooted partriges and didn't want herders thought that they tried to shoot the reindeers. The stranger asked for reindeer's meat, fish or horns and invited our men to join him for glass of vodka. As they denied his invitation, he left, so Kostya and Alexander went back to bed, wondering about this visit. 

On February 2nd we were going to dehorn some bulls from the herd, which started already mew their horns. Reindeer herders try to dehorn animals in time (don't wait for the natural way) to exchange horns for gazoline, food or money. Kostya on his snowmobile collected the herd and suddenly came back with a dead bull. It was a yong and very good riding bull named Yanik (Calm). Its skin was damaged with shotgun pellets in five points. The reindeer was still warm, which meant it died not long ago. Kostya and Albina were both very sad and pity for the riding bull. Who could do that? 

As Kostya and Albina say, they spent several years nears in the area near this winter road and nobody would ever shoot their reindeers. There no chums in 20 kms area around us, and anyway no neighbors would do it. We were told that in the Hansky side, near Kutoryugan, where Yar-Sale brigades spend the winter, such precedents could happen. Guilty are usually town or city residents, or drivers, not tundra residents anyway. Before and after our night visitors we had no other car passed by. Having analyzed their behaviour, we remembered their strange wish to "shoot partriges".  

We concured that it might be an action of our night visitors. We contacted police in Yar-Sale town. An officer on duty asked Kostya carefully about drivers and their car and promised to call back. He said that the truk would be detained and checked in Bovanenkovo town (we all know exactly it's impossible). A policeman explained to Kostya that to explore the situation he would have to go to the town anyway. It was so strange to hear that - on the one hand it's logical to bear witness, but on the other hand it's impossible for the family to go to the town now, no gazoline for tundra ride of 500 kms for instance. "You are riding something, right? A snowmobile maybe?..." - it's all we've heard. We still don't know how this story will end, but as Kostya saidly jokes, one will send a helicopter to testify a polar bear in tundra, but nobody would care the shot reindeer, and the herder would have to go to the town to witness it. 


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February 2016: language notes in the life context

On February 12th in the night Albina's brother Hanuta with his mother stayed in our chum on their way back from Panayevsk town. After 200 kms to their chum on Mordy-Yaha river Hanuta's snowmobile has got a problem with shock absorber. Tundra residents who buy imported machines have to deal with technical problems and problems with spare parts differently. They usually buy secondhand spare parts (and have to wait for them to arrive for a long time) or purchase those parts in the town shops (which means a lot more money, then in the bigger cities). Kostya and Hanuta made several phone calls and found the spare parts they needed - and then started their ride - 600 kms both sides. Albina's mother stayed in our chum. We talked a lot, discussed a genealogical tree of the family with it's numerous relatives.   

We also discussed language differences related to the orientation in space. There are two different ways to express directions right and left in the Nenets language. In the language lesson books one find mahanya' - to the right and syatanya' - to the left. These words derives from maha (back) and sya' (face), but this kind of orientation (to the back and to the face) aften misleads even the Nenets themselves. Many people use more convenient and understandable yinya' and venya', which literally means "from the side of neva'yinya" (rope leading to head of the leading bull, the linkest in the team) - to the left, and "from the wrong side" (other side of the leading bull) - to the right. 

Another example is orientation in the chum space. One call floor boards closer to the stove "lower boards", and those closer to the bed - "upper boards". So if somebody wants you to move down or up, it means that you have to move closer to the stove or to sit on the bed. At first it confused us a lot! 

One more observation is connected to rivers. In the Russian language a river starts from the head/outflow, and finishes in the outfall/mouth. In the Nenets language the outflow is called yaha'mal (end, finish of the river), and outfall is called yaha'nya''av (yaha - river, nya''av - open part, opening, hole).  

The air temperature has risen the day before and stays at the level of -1 to -10ºC.

February 14th:

Our chum now is further north than most private herder's chums, so very less tundra residents are coming to this area. Brigade's herds spend the time from the end of December till the end of March at so called Henska (or Nadym) side - on the other side of the Gulf of Ob. This day we have had guests - Yasha, Yefim Yaptiks and their uncle, known to us since the last year, were on their way to Baydaraks gulf. In the evening Kostya and Hanuta were back in the chum. In the Portsa-Yaha factory (60 kms north of Yar-Sale town) Kostya's bought 300 loafes of bread.   

February 16th:

Our chum's residents all are busy with their everyday's tasks: Kostya is making a new narta, Alexander helps him by cutting boards with a saw, Albina is sewing a malitsa for Semyon, Alexandra is cleaning the chum and cooking, also teaching the kids. The winter road is quite vivid lately - in the evening we've got a guest from Yar-Sale town, Kostya's relative Roman Serotetto, one of the richest herder's Medko (Vassilly Tokolevitch) son. Roman was heading to Bovanenkovo town. 

Alexander, Semyon and Pedava while painting: 

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January and February: finishing the circle

This year's calender winter will finish soon, same our expedition, but for now we are going on with our diary notes.

January 26th: bad weather have last for several days: air temperature is -20ºС, a strong wind and snowdrift (tanzer''). Albina was sewing with her hand sewing machine, Alexandra made over Alexander clothes's hood. Yamal's different areas are knows by their own cuts of Nenets clothing, also hoods are different (people call them "shapkas" in tundra). Alexander's malitsa hood was initially made wrong, so his forhear was open the whole time, and it had to be corrected. We hoped the weather would be better next day so we all would move south and cross Yuribei river. 

The oldest and the youngest are watching a movie: 

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Alexandra while re-sewing the hood:

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January 2016: a new year begins in tundra

Schoolchildren of Serotetto family spent all holidays in the chum. Two years in a row parents didn't take them home from the boarding school - it's because the chum (same as now) stood quite far away from the town. All children stay at school for fall vacation, but in winter some of them go home with their parents by snowmobile, or - less often - by train. These days the children had rest, played a lot outsite of the chum, rode little nartas, watched cartoons and movies. During several evenings we've finished watching all episodes of "Star Wars", including screen copy of the brand new seventh episode. All people in the chum - from little Pedava to Mamanyka and Nache - watched intergalaxy adventures. Senior parents of Kostya vividly discussed the characters, giving them the Nenets nicknames. Guess whom did they call Hariko (Eared), Tartsavey (Woolly) or Paridena Nyleka (Black Villian)? But theier special love gained they "Colombo vesako" - we've watched all episodes we had.    

"Starwars"'new fans:

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December in tundra: "people too", fish and no women in chum

We cotinue our December diary notes. On December 15-16 we replaces our chum - Albina didn't like how it was stood in hurry after last time kaslaniye. We places chum sticks wider apart and thus chum covers could be strained better. Radik and his family places their chum near ours. After family reuniting we both and Kostya's parent moved again (same as in spring) to left part of the chum, and Kostya with Albina moved to the right part. We also replaces nartas and moved some stuff from one to another.

Our chums stay in several dozens meters distance from winter road Labytnangy - Syo-Yaha, and often see loaded trucks. We decided to stay here for several weeks. The herd ran on in 1,5 kms distance from the chum and from time to time come closer. 27 kms southeast from our camp there is Yuribey railway station (station Nr.15 of industrial railway Obskaya-Karskaya). Kostya and Alexander regularly go to the station by snowmobile to collect so called "dry firewood". According to the federal programm tundra inhabitants are supplied with the wood, which is brought to this station. This is a big help to us in winter time in the area where are no wood available.   

Replacing of the chum - Albina, Yana'mama and Alexander: 

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“Immersion” in the life of the 21th c. reindeer herders

During the expedition, the participants will live in the «classical» Nenets family, fixing various aspects of the nomadic community everyday life. The essential questions are the network of contacts of the nomadic family and interactions of nomads within the course of the route, the modern reindeer herders economic strategies, the use of different technologies and gadgets in tundra (mobile and satellite phones and TV, tablets, snowmobiles, portable generators, etc.).


Keeping the online diary on the official expedition website

Throughout the year, on the expedition website photos, videos and text notes will be posted. Visitors will be able to trace not only the stages of modern reindeer herders’ life and their nomadic route, but also will become direct accomplices of the project, that will allow the widest possible audience to imagine a world of the 21th c. nomads.

Fixing the nomadic route

One of the goals of the project is accurate mapping of the whole nomadic space with the locating of all the points significant for the reindeer herders: camp places, sacred sites, fishing areas, reindeer lichen pastures. Follow thenomadic route on the web!

Investigation of the effect of some aspects of industrial development of the tundra in the economy herders

Nomadic route passes close to the objects of gas production. This proximity creates a number of challenges and new interactions between the environment and the traditional industrial economy. The project will investigate the nature and form of these interactions on the example of a particular family.


  Here we plan to present video recorded during the expedition. We'll supplement the topic all the year, as the technical conditions will allow to publish video in Internet. We hope that we will be able to shot the daily life of the nomadic family, especially husbandry in tundra in different seasons. Please remember, that the expedition members are not professional cameramen, so do not judge us severely.

  While preparing our tundra journey, we have planned the set of subjects for shooting. However the feedback is of great importance for the “True people” project, so we'll be grateful for your ideas and subjects which we try to perform. 

Expedition members

Our partners



департамент по науке и инновациям ЯНАО http://www.dniyanao.ru/.



Межрегиональный экспедиционный центр «Арктика». http://iec-arctic.ru/


Язык Плюс

Центр международного общения «Язык Плюс». https://vk.com/languageplus


Администрация Ямальского района

Администрация Ямальского района. http://mo-yamal.ru/


Департамент образования ЯНАО

Департамент образования Ямало-Ненецкого автономного округа. http://www.yamaledu.org/



Разработка сайтов. Дизайн полиграфической продукции. Создание фирменного стиля. http://www.danyband.com/



Ямальское районное общественное движение коренных малочисленных народов Севера «Ямал» (с. Яр-Сале)


Музей кочевой культуры

Музей кочевой культуры (г. Москва)