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“Lyubov Nikolaevna was born on the shore of Lake Baikal. She graduated in Irkutsk, the regional capital. For over 40 years, she worked at the largest machine-building plant in the region. After retirement, she returned to live in a favourite place from her childhood and left the comfortable conditions of the city without regret. The house has no running water, no central heating, and she has to drive to the nearest store on roads that are often impassable. Electricity was introduced only a few years ago. Every day she goes down the steep incline to Lake Baikal to get water for herself, her cows and her household needs. In winter, she cuts holes in the ice, and carries water back, one bucket at a time.

Lyubov has loved skating since she was a child. It was not just fun and entertainment, but transport, a way to quickly get to the school, which was in a neighbouring village. She still continues to skate now, covering about 10 km every day to check on her cows grazing along the shore of Lake Baikal.

We met with Lyubov on the last day of our trip to Lake Baikal. It turned out that the activists with whom we communicated on the island of Olkhon knew her well. They called her and she agreed to meet with us. At the same time, we were able to carry gifts and food, because she lives far from the shops, and, because of the bad road, she is almost completely cut off from the world.

The road across the lake to Lyubov's place was blocked by huge hummocks. Our driver tried to pass them, but in the end he punctured a wheel, and it was impossible to move on. He showed us the approximate direction and gave us Lyubov's phone number. Closer to the shore, a connection should be possible. The first hour we walked along the hummocks; finally, this thorny field ended and the magical beauty of the Baikal's icy surface opened up in front of us. It was much easier to walk and we began to approach the shore faster. There was no sign of the house.
Suddenly we saw a fragile figure rapidly approaching us. It was her! She glided across the icy blue with tremendous speed. At that moment I took a photo of her.

It turned out that Lyubov had seen us from the window of her house through binoculars,  and had realized that we had gone astray. She skated a loop around us and indicated the direction. Finally we saw where her small house sat huddled on the slope. Then she also dashed swiftly to the shore, saying that she had dressed too lightly and it would be better to wait for us in the house. It was around 20 degrees below zero outside.

We spent several hours chatting with this amazing woman. She very poetically talked about different types of ice and wind on Lake Baikal: she recalled stories from her childhood; how she almost died during a blizzard that unexpectedly broke out on the lake as her returned from school; and she showed us her farm.

We also returned across the lake: first over the magical and smooth surface of bottomless ice, then through a field of hummocks. Our driver punctured a wheel again. We handed out our flight and got to Irkutsk only late in the evening.

Lyubov has not yet seen these photographs. I hope that it will be possible to send her the issue of LFI where they are published.”

Picture and text: © Elena Chernyshova
Equipment: Leica SL-2 with Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 f/2.8-4 Asph.

Find out more about Elena Chernyshovas photographic project about the Lake Baikal in LFI magazine 01/22.
© Daria Lobanova

Elena Chernyshova

The self-taught, Russian-French documentary photographer developed her passion for visual language while studying Architecture, and also on a three-year bicycle journey through Eurasia. Photography offers her the possibility to research ecological, political, and economic changes within the context of daily life for different groups and communities. She publishes her work in magazines such as National Geographic Russia, Geo and Stern, among others.

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