Photos: Surviving a Siberian winter without a home

Like many of Siberia's homeless, Alexei Vergunov survives freezing night-time temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius by sleeping under an industrial heating pipe for warmth. Vergunov, who likes to call himself Lyokha the Beard, is one of 3,500 homeless people officially living rough in the city of Omsk, though the real figure is likely higher. It's a perilous existence yet sometimes, misfortune and pain can nudge Omsk's homeless towards trying to change their lives.

Updated On Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST 11 Photos
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Alexei Vergunov, nicknamed “Lyokha Boroda” (Lyokha the beard), who is homeless, stands near his makeshift shelter with his dog Bella, in Omsk, Russia. Like many of Siberia’s homeless, Alexei Vergunov survives freezing night-time temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius by sleeping under an industrial heating pipe for warmth. (Alexey Malgavko / REUTERS)

Alexei Vergunov, nicknamed “Lyokha Boroda” (Lyokha the beard), who is homeless, stands near his makeshift shelter with his dog Bella, in Omsk, Russia. Like many of Siberia’s homeless, Alexei Vergunov survives freezing night-time temperatures of -30 degrees Celsius by sleeping under an industrial heating pipe for warmth. (Alexey Malgavko / REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Sasha, 49, nicknamed “Poltorashka” (1.5-litre beverage bottle) and Lyusya Stepanova, 44, both of whom are homeless, sit on a warm pipe with their dog Bim, as they share a meal. It’s a perilous existence. Too far from the pipe and he could die of exposure to the cold. Too close and he could get severe burns without him noticing at first through the haze of hard alcohol that many drink to keep warm and dull reality. (REUTERS)

Sasha, 49, nicknamed “Poltorashka” (1.5-litre beverage bottle) and Lyusya Stepanova, 44, both of whom are homeless, sit on a warm pipe with their dog Bim, as they share a meal. It’s a perilous existence. Too far from the pipe and he could die of exposure to the cold. Too close and he could get severe burns without him noticing at first through the haze of hard alcohol that many drink to keep warm and dull reality. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Alexei Vergunov (R), searches for rubbish that could be recycled in exchange for payment at a recycling centre. The 46-year-old has lived like this for more than 11 years. “You sleep at night with your eyes closed but your ears open,” he told Reuters. (REUTERS)

Alexei Vergunov (R), searches for rubbish that could be recycled in exchange for payment at a recycling centre. The 46-year-old has lived like this for more than 11 years. “You sleep at night with your eyes closed but your ears open,” he told Reuters. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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A heated pipe runs through a forest in Omsk. Vergunov used to yearn for a chance to rebuild his life, but since his partner, Alyonka, died two years ago of liver cancer, he has lost the will. They had lived together near the train station. “I get through the day and that’s it,” he said. “If I found a woman like her, I could stop and try to return to society, but I can’t find anyone like her.” (REUTERS)

A heated pipe runs through a forest in Omsk. Vergunov used to yearn for a chance to rebuild his life, but since his partner, Alyonka, died two years ago of liver cancer, he has lost the will. They had lived together near the train station. “I get through the day and that’s it,” he said. “If I found a woman like her, I could stop and try to return to society, but I can’t find anyone like her.” (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Alexei Vergunov, Andrey, nicknamed “Prizrachnyy Gonshchik” (ghost rider), and Galiya, 29, all of whom are homeless, have an alcoholic drink at Vergunov's shelter. Vergunov is one of 3,500 homeless people officially living rough in the city of Omsk, though the real figure is likely higher. (REUTERS)

Alexei Vergunov, Andrey, nicknamed “Prizrachnyy Gonshchik” (ghost rider), and Galiya, 29, all of whom are homeless, have an alcoholic drink at Vergunov's shelter. Vergunov is one of 3,500 homeless people officially living rough in the city of Omsk, though the real figure is likely higher. (REUTERS)

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Alexei Vergunov (C) has a meal during a charity event organised by Caritas, a Catholic organisation. He’s one of the few who stop to chat and laugh with the city’s home-dwellers. “It’s you that’s going to freeze in your apartment with three blankets, not me between the pipes,” he likes to joke. (REUTERS)

Alexei Vergunov (C) has a meal during a charity event organised by Caritas, a Catholic organisation. He’s one of the few who stop to chat and laugh with the city’s home-dwellers. “It’s you that’s going to freeze in your apartment with three blankets, not me between the pipes,” he likes to joke. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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A dog walks along the snow, next to a power plant in Omsk. Vergunov’s favourite time is night. Though at its coldest, the city is quiet and he is free to roam and search a rubbish dump for glass bottles and other items he can exchange for a small sum. (REUTERS)

A dog walks along the snow, next to a power plant in Omsk. Vergunov’s favourite time is night. Though at its coldest, the city is quiet and he is free to roam and search a rubbish dump for glass bottles and other items he can exchange for a small sum. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Alexei Vergunov waits to receive a payment in exchange for recyclable items that he brought to a recycling centre. Omsk, which lies three time zones east of Moscow, has a night shelter for the homeless. But it’s in a distant part of town and Vergunov doesn’t sleep there as the local homeless won’t let him earn his keep at the nearby rubbish dump on what they see as their patch. (REUTERS)

Alexei Vergunov waits to receive a payment in exchange for recyclable items that he brought to a recycling centre. Omsk, which lies three time zones east of Moscow, has a night shelter for the homeless. But it’s in a distant part of town and Vergunov doesn’t sleep there as the local homeless won’t let him earn his keep at the nearby rubbish dump on what they see as their patch. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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A nun checks the blood pressure of a man who is homeless, during an event organised by Caritas, a charity that hands out food and clothes to help the city’s homeless. Vergunov, however, has also learned to be on the lookout for ill-wishers. He once saved the life of his friend, Alexander, after a group of teenagers set him on fire. (REUTERS)

A nun checks the blood pressure of a man who is homeless, during an event organised by Caritas, a charity that hands out food and clothes to help the city’s homeless. Vergunov, however, has also learned to be on the lookout for ill-wishers. He once saved the life of his friend, Alexander, after a group of teenagers set him on fire. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Sometimes misfortune and pain can nudge Omsk’s homeless towards trying to change their lives. Lyusya Stepanova, 44, is considering trying to return to society after more than 27 years on the streets. She was hospitalised last month for three weeks with serious burns across her body after she fell asleep too close to the pipes where she was sheltering. (REUTERS)

Sometimes misfortune and pain can nudge Omsk’s homeless towards trying to change their lives. Lyusya Stepanova, 44, is considering trying to return to society after more than 27 years on the streets. She was hospitalised last month for three weeks with serious burns across her body after she fell asleep too close to the pipes where she was sheltering. (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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Galiya, 29, looks out from Alexey's makeshift shelter. Stepanova is now in a rehabilitation centre 30 kilometres out of town in the village of Rozovka. “I plan to go home, to mother,” she said, though she recognises she cannot turn back the clock on 27 years on the street. “My childhood dreams were noble, but it’s too late now, that boat has already sailed.” (REUTERS)

Galiya, 29, looks out from Alexey's makeshift shelter. Stepanova is now in a rehabilitation centre 30 kilometres out of town in the village of Rozovka. “I plan to go home, to mother,” she said, though she recognises she cannot turn back the clock on 27 years on the street. “My childhood dreams were noble, but it’s too late now, that boat has already sailed.” (REUTERS)

Updated on Feb 21, 2020 05:53 PM IST
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