Where will Star Destroyers be constructed?

Text and Foto: Anton Sokolov

Our ship, tightly surrounded with tugs and ‘Nicholay Chiker’ (the most powerful naval tug, according to Guinness World Records) is headed slowly on marked with buoys channel towards Sevmash harbour in Nikolsky estuary. Far near the horizon mirage dock floors are trembling and the steel silhouettes of “Akulas” are frozen. Here the waves do not “moan and cry”, they gently push into the belly of the ship. It just looks like that one can put his hand inside and feel these pushes like pushes of unborn child. Here’s an explanation of why in the English language the ship is femine, not he or it. These smooth bumps create in mind the flow of alliterations.

anton_sokolov_severodvinsk_02Trembling silhouettes gain flesh, gain weight, lose their airiness. The ship stops, pauses, waiting for the connection with the thin strands of cables with the dock. Mooring lasts several hours. Here, on the tank, there are several smells — it smells be sparking metal, oiled gloves, fatigue and a desire to get home.

Someone boasts about time and ways he will not give the neighbors sleep peacefully, marking the return from “the seas”, in the company of wife or a girlfriend. Someone shares advice on how to make dough “in the following seas” and boasts many he earned “in these” on crabs and alcohol. Someone showing friends the pictures of children and grandchildren. Someone is all but buried in the console. Someone is all busy with the telephone. Someone smokes.

Mooring is over, there are no more echoes of cries “Unwind! Unwind!» and «Choose! Choose!» Ramp has long been lowered, the ship is now empty – the command staff, civilian experts, the sailors began to go away long before the fixing of last cable, and now on from the twelfth crew there only boatswain team.

Dead of the night – but there is a light at berth: spotlights, lamps. Figures of workers emerge like from the clouds, maybe from the fog, maybe from the steam, trailing above the ground, and disappear into the darkness surrounding dock.

In the variety of everyday incidents it is hard to focus on the details. The first impression of the city – it’s Swiss cheese with trees and five-story building. Later on there is time for gazing around – and associations make an appearance.


Perhaps in every Russian city (and Severodvinsk is no exception here) one can find some corner of a completely different place – well, let’s say Paris. Do not get me wrong – it’s not like you go out on the Truhinova street and it changes into Rue de Cardinal Lemoine. Not at all. Just one moment a thousand minor factors intertwined and now you are standing in Paris. Being on Lomonosov Square.

Although, for Paris the weather is pretty chilly. Rather, it’s more like Normandy – the sandbanks of Yagra Islands cut not into English Channel, but the White Sea. Waist-deep in water fishermen spread their networks. Blushing on heavy wet sand the jellyfish like blobs of jelly. In between pines there and here are picnics. The couple runs a kite. Slightly sagging in the beach sand the man is running – a long tassel on his cap beats from side to side. A young girl rolling or walking among dunes and sand rustles under under her sneakers. Air darkens, hiding initially only small shrubs and trees, but a few minutes later, walking folks, and even a little later there are seen only tall pines, but now they also disappeared, and the sand is illuminated only with windows of high-storied houses. The road to Yagra passes Sevmash harbor, occupied by ships and submarines. Here, behind the fence at the plant, the giant domes of Karelian Monastery of St. Nicholas, where now the factory workers do the pilgrimage, seem tiny against the backdrop of vast shops of the plant. The bus rides past the anchor of the first Shark – the biggest nuclear submarine in the world – thank you, Mr. Guinness. It is the most popular folk symbol: pharmacies, hotels, social advertising and just advertising, postcards, magnets, souvenirs – all over it there is its harsh powerful profile. Korabelov Ploshad, a monument in the center, the mighty figures burst through the wilderness of frames and cofferdams, which are brilliant in the headlights due to the settled water.

As one can easily guess, the Normandish beauty is not most important thing in Severodvinsk.

– What is gebmaw? – asks me Indian Navy midshipman, pointing somewhere down the corridor.

– Gebmaw? – first difficulties of interpreting.

– Yes, gebmaw, – finger points at the the back, outfitted by overalls.

The design of the logo and overall clobberness of the jacket turns “SEVMASH” into «GEBMAW». So right away, one probably could not explain what it is. One would have to resort to the examples from science fiction and not so fiction.

Let’s take, for example, space cruiser from Star Wars or the giant robot Voltron – any grand edifice can be build or at the very least hidden under the arches of the boathouse shop 55, the largest technical facility in the world, again according to Mr. Guinness or simply the Book (will conventionally be called so – for short), which can be used here as a quick guide.

Guide to the wonderful imperial past and most probably a lovely present. Authors of the book have no abilities to can not look in the future, unlike Benckendorf, but this future is, for sure, would be above any notions – “fastest”, “the very first”, “biggest” and “most powerful” – The Book pictures Severodvinsk exclusively in pompous light. If one focus only on it – it may create the impression that the city was built up by Rudnev racing with Speer. Of course, like all over the country, there is a block of conditionally “Stalinist” architecture, but it is quite small – on the one hand it is joined by Khrushchev-like small buildings and on the side it is pushing out the wooden barracks. Sign of the times: siding – renovation a la Severodvinsk. Another sign of the times: one can see big LCD display of TV in crooked window of the barrack, one wing of which is sagging.

The records, not related to MIC, various strongmen and snowmen battalion, Severodvinsk quietly concedes to Arkhangelsk.

From the city Sevmash factory is separated by park and huge, like by large supermarket, parking lot among the pines. Around five o’clock the crowds of people cross the streets. They go to their cars, get in and become the part of traffic jam, pulled in both directions, through the whole Arkhangelsk highway . Today there is an active search for someone (plan “Interception”) and because of this the traffic jam becomes truly vast. Some lose faith in moving by car and disappear into the factory park alleys – it’s faster. Some wait for the bus. At stops there are mostly women. Here for some reason there is sharply tang of war – in the broadest sense of the word: there are almost no men on the street. Among workers on the ship there are too more women than men. Girls of insulation team (hello, boss Raybek from the movie “Capture”) go around wrapped in overalls. One can see only the eyes – white overalls, brightly painted eyes, just like it is not a warship at all. Some of the translators collectively called all the girls working here “Sevmash-maries” – maybe good occasionalism or overheard somewhere. “Sevmash-maries” from factory protection service every day are forced to fend off the barrack flirting at a checkpoint:

– Number? Name? – squeezing through bus, full of instructors and interpreters.

– Maybe you give me your number? Phone number? – under unharmonious laughter.

– Will see.

Surrounded by women the factory hides almost according by Mayakovsky “its ringing in soft and the female.” Actually, the whole town is in hiding. This year marks another anniversary of Severodvinsk establishment – areas and newsstands and decorated with elegant logo “Severodvinsk-75!” Anniversary slogan – “City by the Sea” – in the Arkhangelsk is in great demand: it is the same in town of Onega.

“City by the Sea” – perhaps a strange self-designation for Russian Atomic Shipbuilding Center. It’s not Le Havre and Cherbourg – here steel is cooked, not cheese. Psychological defense – to soften the buzz and drown the noise of the plant. “Severodvinsk – the city where you want to live” – another example of this kind of defense. The Arctic is receding here – that’s why the stoicism not so obvious, as compared with the same Severomorsk. There’s a big banner: “Severomorsk – the capital of my fate!”

anton_sokolov_severodvinsk_09In today’s evening papers from the publisher with the motto about good newspapers there is lively discussion about repairing Sindurakshak submarine exploded in India and accolades to the governor who first bought a new iPhone.

You know, one can get tired quickly from Severodvinsk.

Bus, stuffed inside with phone lenses is moving to the pass. The submarine housings remind of cigar sticks. Looking for some, sometimes it is not even clear whether these sterns, midsection and tanks are welded together, will they go into infinite autonomous navigation, will they bare launching silos – or will they rust on railway platforms under the chippy bald sheds waiting for something. Turret, obviously not the main caliber, is drowning in the generous sea of scrap. Speckled, touched by rust, guns froze, staring with its muzzles into breaches of gray sky. What Alexander Khristoforovich was predicting about the future?

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