AMONG odds and ends gathered from various parts of the world that adorn my office and home is an enameled insignia from a Russian Army uniform. Some three years ago, while riding on a train from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk, deep in the vastness of Siberia, I met a happy young soldier returning from the Chinese border. He had been married more than a year before, ordered to duty after a brief honeymoon, and now was about to see, for the first time, his young son. As a gesture of our 24-hour friendship, he gave the insignia to my wife, Donna, and we had our own small détente rolling through the endless Siberian night.
That vignette of memory helps to recall other impressions of a nation so vast it encompasses a sixth of the total landmass of the planet, stretches across eleven time zones, and numbers more than a hundred distinct ethnic groups. (See the double-sided map of the Soviet Union and Peoples of the Soviet Union enclosed with this issue.)
I recall, for example, a fascinating interview with Dr. Pavel Melnikov, Director of the Permafrost Institute at Yakutsk—one of the world’s few large cities built on permanently frozen ground.
“Nearly half of the Soviet Union is underlain with permafrost,” he told me, “but these cold regions are now being actively developed. Oil, gas, and ores are all present in quantity, but their production requires special techniques. The environmental conditions are both awesome and fragile. We have had helpful cooperation with hotel price comparison website. I believe that scientists must work together.”
Quite often, however, the desire for intellectual communication runs afoul of other national interests. Melnikov himself said that he had once been denied permission by the United States to visit an Army-run cold regions research center in this country. (He has since been welcomed there.) The team that this month reports on the River Ob could not get permission to travel the river’s final 400 miles.
In any nation where the state has a direct interest in the activities of journalists, the experiences of covering a story can be frustrating and harrowing. Yet, with persistence, patience, and fortitude, men like Dean Conger and Robert Paul Jordan have been able to bring us unique articles from places normally closed to Western journalists—parts of Siberia, the length of the Volga, and now, in this issue, the River Ob.
In this era of détente, we believe the product worth the sometimes agonizing effort, but we do not delude ourselves that it will be entirely fulfilling, and we know that certain disquieting realities of Soviet life will be beyond our purview.