ANTARCTICA ON 05.12.2007:
Today six of us walked to the Russian station, Novo. It is about 5 km away surrounded on 3 sides by ice-shelf, so the minimum temperature goes much below as compared to the Indian station. As per protocol, our leader, Mr. D. Jay Paul, had informed telephonically the leader of the Russian station about our arrival. Today there has been no sun, it is cloudy all over and has been snowing intermittently. So walk of one and a half hour was not exhausting at all. On the way we met a penguin, Adelie, who was on the frozen part of the lake and swam across on seeing us to welcome us. Since they are not used to human presence, they are not shy of us humans.
We were received by the Russian leader, Mr. Eugene Savchenko, an oenologist. Basically he is a veteran of Arctic for last 30 years. This is his first time in Antarctica and has joined the team as its leader since February, 2007 and will depart only in March, 2008 taking 45 days to reach St Petersburg. He himself is not carrying out any scientific project. He is with a team of 30 persons, and on my asking specifically on the gender ratio, I was surprised to learn that it is also all-man station. No woman! I had thought that it was basically an Indian-station phenomenon, though in past a few women have done summer period as well as wintering too at Maitri. At Russian station once they allowed the leader to bring his wife; however, observing other members' frustrations and resentments, it was never repeated. The current Russian team has its oldest person at 60 and youngest at 26, with majority falling between 30-40. I asked him about his experiences as a leader. He finds managing a big scientific project much easier that managing 30 men in closed proximity. The time of the polar nights between May 22 to June 23 is the hardest on people when they tend to get touchy and easily irritable. People get annoyed easily. Then how does he handle them? He tries to talk to them and tries to assuage their feelings saying that it is a question of another 6 months now. 'Six months! the person screams and gives him a look that would kill a faint-hearted leader. Very seldom members come to him to share personal problems or unload their emotions. He too avoids touching on their raw nerves.
This Russian station, Novo, was established in 1961, and now Russia has 5 stations for wintering (meaning active all the year around) and 3 stations for the summer season only. They have one, Vostok, at the South Pole itself. Some other CIS countries, like Ukraine, Estonia and perhaps Kazakhstan, have one summer station each.