Tien Shan mountains, Kyrgyzstan
By Shamil Zhumatov
“Don’t run! Slow down! Just don’t run!” I repeated this non-stop to myself like an incantation. Indeed, it is hard even to pace quickly – let alone run — when you have to breathe in the rarefied air and wear a supplied protective helmet and brand-new rigid boots with steel toes.
I also had to look out for giant trucks the size of three-story houses chugging around. It was difficult to keep my emotions under control during the few hours on this tight assignment. I was at an altitude of over 4,000 meters above sea level near the Chinese border, inside a huge open-pit gold mine at Kumtor, Kyrgyzstan’s largest gold asset, operated by Toronto-based Centerra Gold. Gigantic trucks and excavators worked non-stop in the snow-clad pit, looking like characters from a fantasy movie. As if playing a computer game, an excavator operator elegantly manipulated small joysticks – just five scoops full of ore, and almost 200 tones were loaded into a truck in about one minute.
By Shamil Zhumatov
Ahead of International Women’s Day, Reuters decided to prepare a feature story about an unusual woman. We filmed Makpal Abdrazakova, apparently the only female golden eagle hunter in Kazakhstan. I’ve known Makpal for many years through a variety of hunting competitions. I called her home in the village of Aksu-Ayuly, central Kazakhstan, and we quickly agreed to a photo shoot within the next few days, as she had to leave to participate in a regional festival in the south of the country.
A heavy snowstorm blanketed our path. Kazakh authorities often shut down inter-city roads during harsh weather, as on this occasion. Our time frame was shrinking. As soon as the travel ban was lifted, we hit the road. After a quick night drive across Almaty, we turned north. The GPS kindly announced: “Keep driving for the next 500 kilometers (311 miles).” This made us laugh. We had to drive a total of 870 kilometers (540 miles) and were hoping to make it in about 10 hours. We finally did.
ALMATY (Reuters) – The Soviet Union, we had always thought, was surely too big to fail.
We had all seen the bare shelves in the shops. We knew that many constituent republics had declared their independence. But this was still my almighty Soviet Union, the only country this 20-year-old photojournalist from Kazakhstan had ever known.
The first time I saw the Soyuz rocket, I could not believe that this “construction” could take people into space. Even ten years later, after covering many launches, it still surprises me the level of determination with which people wanted to go into space that led to the building of a huge complex called the Baikonur cosmodrome.
Every visit I am overcome with mixed feelings. On one hand, even 50 years after the first manned space flight, space remains a sphere of high technology and garners special attention. But the storm of the Soviet Union’s collapse left its indelible mark on the map of the spaceport. Abandoned and rusting construction, giant structures and mechanisms are silent witnesses of the space complex’s era of glory. Nostalgia resonates in every story about the history of Baikonur. Space exploration has never been a simple technological development. Everyone who served personally conquered space and the service is overgrown with tradition cherished to this day. There is no policy or ideology in it. It is rather a particular style of the Soviet, now Russian, cosmonautics. Simple and quick solutions were chosen in the race for supremacy in space. Sometimes it seems to me that there is no nanotechnology that can force these cherished orthodox methods to be abandoned.