They are born in the cold, grow up in tents and move around with their parents on reindeer sledges: The children of the Nenets, one of the 44 indigenous peoples on Russian territory, grow up in great freedom. Their people live as nomads in the extreme northwest of Russia.
The children know neither heating nor electricity; they get their water from melting snow and a generator provides them with electricity for two to three hours a day. But when they turn seven, helicopters land to take the Nenet children to a state school. For nine months every year. Until they are 17. The school is free of charge. But especially unusual for the children, who at first do not speak Russian and have to walk a tightrope between two cultures.
Russian photographer Elena Chernyshova has accompanied the reindeer herders’ children in both worlds: in the tundra and in the city; wrapped in skins and doing gymnastics at school; under the big sky - and under the observation of their teachers.
Photographer: Elena Chernyshova, Russia/France (Panos Pictures)
Elena Chernyshova, born in Moscow in 1981, developed a passion for photography during her studies in an architectural academy. After working as an architect for two years, she decided to become a photographer during a 1000-day bicycle tour from Toulouse through 26 countries to Eastern Siberia and back. In 2011, she received a grant from the Lagardère Foundation for her photo series ‘Days of Night – Nights of Day’ about the daily life in the North Polar city of Norilsk. She currently lives in France. Chernyshova’s work has been published in ‘GEO’, ‘National Geographic’, ‘Le Monde’, ‘Le Figaro’ and others. Her photo series about the children of the Nenet was published in ‘stern’ magazine. She has also won the World Press Photo Award.