“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

—John Steinbeck

Winter—zima (Зима)—is the principal season in Russia. Depending on how far north you are, the season can stretch from a bearable three to a seemingly interminable nine months. Almost 2/3 of the country’s territory is covered with permafrost.

As someone who grew up in Russia and spent much of her life there, I can say that the people have a contradictory relationship with the season, especially in regards to their interactions with winter and the influence it has on their lives.

The winter is penetratingly, bitingly, shockingly cold. But underneath this sharp surprise lies a familiar white blankness; the season offers its customary joys of winter activities—skiing, skating, snowball fights, ice-water swimming…

While the clamping cold fetters the rivers and freezes the very earth, it also offers the possibility to lay ice-roads [temporary roads laid over deeply frozen permafrost areas, which in the summer become marshy and practically unpassable] and thus link disparate small settlements across the great North. This is essential for creating infrastructure and communications—even if only for a moment—between remote areas.

And less practically, but just as importantly: there is no aesthetic like the Russian winter. Yes, it can be grey and dull at times, but at its height, it completely reconfigures the environment. The universal white cover fills the land with a pure, magical beauty, full of dignity and mystery.

According to an old saying, truth, in reality, is white, sparkling, frosty cold, silent and endless: something like the boundless Siberian tundra landscape.

—Elena Chernyshova

Editors’ note: Chernyshova’s series “Zima” is now being exhibited at Galerie Intervalle in Paris. She will be on hand at the gallery on January 28th (from noon to 7 PM) to present and discuss her work.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: Days of Night/Nights of Day, Chernyshova’s stunning report—with 45 images—from the northernmost city in the world, Norilsk; Tundra Kids, a look into Russia’s boarding schools for indigenous children; and Arctic Love, the story of Tinja, the young Finnish woman who lives 180 miles from the closest town in the far reaches of Lapland.