Many generations of Russian explorers have invested enormous efforts, knowledge and resources in researching and developing the Arctic. They were not deterred by the inaccessibility of the region in their attempt to get closer to the North Pole. They discovered new lands, seas, islands and archipelagos.
In 1364, Alexander Abakumovich, an explorer of Western Siberia and the Polar Urals and Governor of Novgorod, crossed the Polar Urals and reached the Gulf of Ob. Stefan of Perm (Stefan Simeonovich Khrap) - a missionary, religious writer and painter, after crossing the Northern Dvina and Vychegda, reached Kotlas, where he spread the Orthodox doctrine to the Komi-Perms and Zyrians. Thanks to Stefan, at the end of the 14th Century Komi became part of the Moscow principality. Grigory Istoma - a traveller and diplomat and translator at the court of Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow, collected interesting geographical facts about the White Sea-Kuloy Plateau, Cape St Nos and Motka Peninsula (Rybachy) and ethnographic information about the life of the Sami.
In 1525, the Russian diplomat Dmitry Gerasimov created the first map of the Arctic Ocean basin from the mouth of Northern Dvina to the Ob. This map most fully reflected the outstanding achievements of the Russian Arctic shipping and land travel in the 11th - 15th Centuries.
The first half of the 16th Century is mentioned in a number of sources describing the expeditions of Russian coast-dwellers to the archipelago of Svalbard. Svalbard, along with Siberia and the archipelago of Novaya Zemlya, was the main supplier of walrus tusk, belugas, nerpa and hair seals. Western European navigators did not learn of the polar archipelago until much later. In 1556 a major voyage was made by the Englishman Stephen Burrough, who was the first European to reach Novaya Zemlya.
Engraving: Arctic expedition of Willem Barents
Evidently, by the middle of the 17th Century, the whole territory of the Taimyr Region, except its most northern areas, was quite well known by the Russians. The Russians had already mastered the sea route to Siberia along the northern coast of Europe by the 9th-11th Centuries. Eastern Slavs had done so as early as the 5th-6th Centuries.
In 1595, the Siberian Cossacks of the Governor of Berezovo, Nikita Trakhaniotov, reached the River Polui and close to its confluence with the Ob they built a wooden fort, which became one of the first Russian settlements based in Siberia. Subsequently, the fort was renamed as the Obdorsk outpost, then the Obdorsk fortress, around which grew Obdorsk, which is now Salekhard - the only city in the world in the Arctic Circle.
In 1610, the explorer and navigator and native of Northern Dvina, Kondraty Kurochkin, travelled down the Yenisei River to its mouth and went via sea to the River Pyasina. In the mid 17th Century at the start of the Yenisei-Khatanga waterway, the village of Dudinskaya was founded. According to some sources it was founded in 1667 by the archer Ivan Sorokin, others say that Dudinka was founded earlier, shortly after Kondraty Kurochkin sailed along the Yenisei River.
In 1632, the explorer and Cossack captain Pyotr Beketov founded the stronghold Yakutsk Fort. In 1639, the foreman Elisey Luza travelled along the Yana River from upstream to its mouth. The Cossack captain Ivanov discovered the Indigirka River. In 1640 and 1641 Cossacks led by Ivan Yerastov travelled along the Indigirka again and reached the river Alazeya by sea.
In 1641, the Yenisei Cossack Mikhail Stadukhin took a group of service class people to explore new lands and in 1643 was the first to reach the delta of the Kolyma River, after exploring the 500 km coast of North Asia and the Gulf of Kolyma. In 1648, the Yakut Cossack Semyon Dezhnev skirted the northeastern tip of Asia, passed the Bering Strait and founded the Fort of Anadyr.
Engraving: British expedition around the world, 19th Century
In the second half of the 16th Century - beginning of the 17th Century Russia lost its access to the shores of the Baltic Sea and the North was probably the only region trading with European countries. In 1584 the city and port of Arkhangelsk was founded, in 1586 - Tyumen, in 1587 - Tobolsk and in 1601 - Mangazeya.
In the late 17th Century - early 18th Century the reforms of Peter the Great opened a new chapter in the history of Arctic navigation and Russian geographical and geological exploration in the North. By decree of Peter I, in 1725 an expedition was organized, called the First Kamchatka, whose task was to study the Pacific and Arctic Oceans and confirm information about the strait between Asia and America. Peter I appointed Vitus Bering from Denmark, whom he had invited to the Russian service, as the head of the expedition.
In 1713 - 1714 the prominent statesman of Russia Fyodor Saltykov founded a project to navigate northern seas from Arkhangelsk to China. This project became the main policy document of the major pre-Revolutionary Great Northern Expedition. The expedition consisted of 10 teams, who for 11 years (1733 - 1743) under the general direction of Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov recorded and for the first time put on the map all the coast from the White Sea to Kamchatka. The Taimyr Peninsula was discovered as a result of these campaigns. The navigator Semyon Chelyuskin conducted ground work on the northern coast of Taimyr. On May 9, 1742 he reached the northern most tip of Asia. An important outcome of this expedition was the discovery in 1742 of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands by Vitus Bering and Aleksei Chirikov.
Later, in 1783 - 1786, these areas were studied and prepared for development by the expedition of Grigory Shelikhov, an explorer of the North Pacific and corresponding member of the Free Economic Society - Russia's first scientific organization. He was the creator of a plan for the economic development of the Kuril Islands and a project to research the Baikal-Amur transport and trade route. Shelikhov's main merit was bringing the Aleutian Islands and Alaska into Russia's possesion.
Portrait of Ferdinand Wrangel
In the period from 1770 to 1840, research in the Arctic was less intensive, but the following should be noted:
- The expedition of Fyodor Litke, Peter Pakhtusov and Avgust Tsivolki to Novaya Zemlya in 1822 - 1835;
- The study of the mouths of Siberian rivers by Pyotr Anjou and Ilya Berezhnykh in 1821 - 1822;
- The expedition of Ferdinand Wrangel and Fyodr Matyushkin to the Chukchi Sea in 1821 - 1824;
- The study of the New Siberian Islands by Yakov Sannikov and Nikolai Belkov in 1800 - 1808.
The first, more detailed information about the geography and geology of the Central Arctic, following the results of an expedition to the north of Siberia in 1842 - 1844, was published in the book Journey to the North and East of Siberia by the eminent Russian scientist and academician of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences, Alexander Middendorf. He laid the foundations of the biological environment, brought proof of the zonal distribution of vegetation in the vast area and developed the first classification of tundra and a general description of the climate of Siberia. Information on the Taimyr Evenks, Dolgans, Nganasans and northern Yakuts was also new to science.
In 1894, the Russian government issued a decree on the establishment of an Ob and Yenisei hydrographic expedition under the command of Andrei Vilkitsky. For eleven years he led various expeditions in the North almost every year. In 1899, the famous Russian naval commander, Admiral Stepan Makarov sailed to the shores of Spitsbergen on the icebreaker Ermak and conducted the first oceanographic studies.
Another of the outstanding events of the late 19th Century was the drift of the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen in the Central Arctic on board the ship Fram in 1893 - 1896.
The expeditions of the Russian Geographical Society and the Russian Academy of Sciences made a significant contribution to the study of the Arctic in the early 20th Century:
- Under the leadership of Feodosy Chernyshev and Vladimir Rusanov to Novaya Zemlya in 1907 - 1911 and Svalbard in 1912 - 1913;
- Georgy Brusilov along the Northern Sea Route in 1912 - 1914;
- Georgy Sedov to the North Pole in 1912 - 1914;
- Fyodr Schmidt, Aleksander Czekanowski and Innokenty Tolmachev to the north of European Russia and Siberia;
- Alexander Bunge and Edward Toll in 1900 - 1903 to the coastal areas of the Laptev Sea;
- Pyotr Kropotkin and Ivan Chersky to the north-east of Asia.
Portrait of Fridtjof Nansen
In the spring of 1902, Baron Edward Toll, along with the magnetologist F.G. Zebergom and two reindeer-team drivers, attempted to find the legendary Sannikov Land. He died near Bennett Island.
In 1912 the great Arctic explorer, Vladimir Rusanov, led a scientific fishing expedition to Svalbard. As a result of this about 2,000 km of the coastline of the archipelago were studied and four industrial coal deposits were discovered. A location monument was put in place in order to recognise Russia's right to develop the deposits.
In 1928 the mining engineer, Rudolf Samoylovich, led an expedition on the steamer Krasin to rescue the Italian balloonist, General Umberto Nobile and his group from the wrecked airship Italia. Samoylovich subsequently became the founder and first director of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (AARI) in Leningrad.
In 1908, the Ministry of the Navy created a hydrographic research program for the northern seas, according to which in a ten-year period they were to bring all sea maps «into order». For this purpose the Arctic Ocean Hydrographic Expedition (AOHE) was established in 1910 under the command of Andrei Vilkitsky. After his death, the expedition was headed by Boris Vilkitsky, his son, who in 1913 dispelled the legend of the existence of Sannikov Land. He did, however, found another land, which he called the Land of Emperor Nicholas II (now Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago). It was one of the most important discoveries of the 20th Century.
And this is by no means all of the outstanding moments of the history of the study and the discovery of the Arctic to do with the conquest of the North Pole. The story of Arctic exploration never ended, it still continues today.