Originally appearing on Ria.ru, this article covers the unique tradition of Russian gold mining corporations to build a church after every major successful business venture. As it is machine translated, we apologize in advance for any errors.
Image: Pavlik Mining Facility
By Lev Ryzhkov
At the end of August in the Tenkinskiy district of the Magadan region, on the territory of the gold-mining company JSC "PAVLIK" the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was consecrated. It is the second largest church in the region. Lev Ryzhkov, a correspondent of RIA Novosti visited the ceremony and saw with his own eyes how gold miners live and work in the Far North.
Domes among the hills
The road from Magadan to the settlement named after Gastello, near where Pavlik gold mine is located, is not a short one. The distance is 376 kilometers (~234 miles); and at least 300 (186) of them are without asphalt. The road is old, unpaved, and laid in the 1940s by prisoners. It is one of the legendary Kolyma tracts. After the exit from the Kolyma federal highway, there are only two settlements on the more than three-hundred-kilometer-long road. There are 29 people in the village of Madaun and 1,500 in the Ust-Omchug district center. You may drive a hundred or two hundred kilometers, but you won't see a soul. Bears come out to the track at night, and you will easily see foxes in broad daylight.
After six hours of journeying and another turn of unpaved road between the hills, suddenly golden domes appear. This is the church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker – gorgeous and sparkling. Which, it would seem, shouldn’t be standing on these harsh cliffs. But it does.
Father Michael Petropeliuk, rector of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker Church
"In terms of splendor and fullness of church utensils, our church is second only to the Magadan Holy Trinity Cathedral," says the rector of the church, a cleric of the Belgorod Metropolis, Father Michael Petropeliuk.
Believers from all over the country helped in the construction of the church. For example, the wall paintings were made by Palekh school masters, and took about three months to complete, the lecterns came from the Kursk and Kostroma regions, the veil over the royal gate came from the Kursk region, and the domes were made to order in the Moscow region.
According to the rector, the church was built of sandwich-panels, which makes it warm even in the coldest winter.
"Inside it looks like you're in a stone church, but from outside you’d think it's made of wood, and decorated with stucco and marble. We have a very warm northern church," said Father Michael.
Father Michael and employees of JSC Pavlik Gold Mining Company in the church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker in the shift camp at Gastello, Tenkinskiy district, Magadan region
Employees of JSC Pavlik Gold Mining Company at the consecration ceremony of the new church of St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker in the shift camp at the Gastello camp in Tenkinskiy District, Magadan Region.
As of today, he is the only clergyman in the church. Matushka Kristina helps as a chanter. Father Michael is even now looking for singers, among the staff of Pavlik.
"There are already guys who are trying to sing. We have three altar boys, all Pavlik employees. But church singing is very difficult. Especially in the Church Slavonic language. So you have to learn to read the Church Slavonic first. And know the services," explains the rector.
However, according to him, it is here, not in the urban areas, that people sing with more soul. It is as if talents reveal themselves in the northern conditions.
The parish is a living organism which is always growing. We have already had ten baptisms and there is a wedding planned for the end of August.
We had only about three to five people attend the first services. But already for Easter in 2022, more than a hundred people gathered in the church.
"People call, asking to talk. They ask for spiritual help. I meet with them, we communicate. Due to the remoteness from home, sometimes they suffer from some nervous breakdowns," says the rector.
The workers are not the only parishioners. Many come to pray from the nearby village of Omchak.
"People come both in their own cars and in cars allocated by Pavlik. People are slowly pulling up. They've never had a church. One parishioner told me: "I've been praying for forty years that a church would appear somewhere in our region. And now it has happened," says Father Michael.
Economy and spirituality go side by side
The consecration of a church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker was attended by the Governor of the Magadan region, Sergey Nosov.
We have the largest area of gold mining facilities in our region, in the territory of "Pavlik" which, despite difficulties and sanctions, is completing the second stage of the mining and processing plant, and is in fact doubling its production capacity. The gold producers in Russia have a tradition: whenever a business or a major project succeeds they build a church. This tradition was realized here, in the territory of the Magadan region. That's why economy and spirituality go side by side. It has always been inherent in Russia.
We built the church literally with the whole world. Much help in its construction was provided by Arkady Bolshakov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of JSC "PAVLIK".
"The support of the state is felt everywhere - in the constant vigilant, diligent monitoring of the enterprise, in economic benefits, in all undertakings. Our enterprise works for the good of the state. And that is why for us the church being built at such time is quite a serious landmark event", - noted Bolshakov.
Arkady Bolshakov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of JSC Zolotorudnaya Kompaniya Pavlik and the Governor of the Magadan region Sergey Nosov beside the new church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the shift camp Gastello
Arkady Bolshakov, chairman of the board of directors of the Pavlik Gold Company, and Archbishop John of Magadan and Sinegorsk at the new Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in the Gastello rotational camp
Archbishop John of Magadan and Sinegorsk consecrates a memorial cross at the burial site of prisoners at the Budyonny gold mine in the Tenkinsk district, the Magadan region.
Why does the church bear the name of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker?
There are many reasons for this choice. "In the history of our enterprise the day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (December 19) was associated with many events. For example, funding for the construction of the first stage of the gold extraction plant and the accompanying infrastructure, fell on this date and then for the second stage as well. That's why the idea to build a church arose. Not only to pay tribute to our patron, but also to do it for the people working at the plant," - told us Anton Kim, General Director of JSC "PAVLIK".
The consecration ceremony was conducted by Archbishop John of Magadan and Sinegorsk.
"The church is fabulous in its beauty. But how great is the spiritual purification a person receives in the church if he comes to participate in worship," said Bishop John.
Archbishop of Magadan and Sinegorsk then conducted a service at the Poklonny Cross at the burial site of the prisoners who worked at the Budennogo Usvitlag placer mine, which was mining the placer deposit on the Pavlik Creek.
The church is not the only new building planned on the territory of the rotational camp and the field. By the autumn of this year the camp will double in size. It is connected with the commissioning of the second gold extracting plant. Production of gold will also be doubled.
We have additional opportunities for processing up to 8 million tons of ore per year. For example, the current capacity is up to 6 million tons. The total capacity of the deposit will increase to 14 tons of gold
The shift camp consists of two-story buildings. They comprise a workers' dormitory, administrative premises and a canteen. The buildings are very warm, especially in winter, when temperatures can reach minus sixty Celsius. The buildings are connected by a system of warm passages, so they are essentially one building.
According to Alexey Belyak, head of the Customer Service of PAVLIK JSC, part of the new settlement is already included in the interconnected system of buildings.
Alexey Belyak, Head of the Customer Service of PAVLIK JSC
"We will have a sanitary-household complex equipped with the latest medical equipment. There will be an X-ray room and a dentist's office is planned. Medical workers will work on a rotational basis", - says Mr. Belyak.
There is also an indoor sport center with tennis courts.
Gold and excavators
Gold-bearing ore is mined not far from the settlement - in a quarry. The quarry resembles the inverted Cheops pyramid on its cyclopean scale, the gigantic 90- and 190-ton dump trucks look like small, toy-like cars on the slopes opposite.
The total length of the quarry roads is 22 kilometers.
PAVLIK open pit works day and night.
17 excavators and 52 dump trucks work in the quarry of PAVLIK JSC.
49 million tons of ore have been extracted since the beginning of the operation.
"All in all, we have 17 excavators and 52 dump trucks. From the beginning of the operation of the deposit and up to the current moment, 152 million cubic meters of rock mass have already been repelled and removed. Including 49 million tons of ore," says Nikolai Shulik, Director of Open Pit Mining.
Director of open-pit mining Nikolay Shulik
The excavator closest to us rakes the rock with its bucket. It's not ore yet, but only rubble that needs to be broken down to get to the gold-bearing ore.
The quarry has been developing since 2014. The lowest point in the quarry is 540 meters above sea level. The highest point is 1,075 meters. The total length of roads in the quarry is 22 kilometers.
This year a domestic electric excavator EKG-20KM appeared in the quarry.
The excavator is unique, because it is the only one in the world, and made especially for us. We are, of course, bringing it to the world’s attention. So far, you can say that it is not inferior to its American analogue by much.
Gold miners work closely with excavator manufacturers and inform them of their wishes.
New old technology
Glistening golden grains of sand in streams and huge nuggets are only myths from the time of Jack London. In fact, gold-bearing ore looks no different from barren rock. So how do you know which rock contains gold and which is just waste? Gold mining companies have special laboratories for this purpose.
PAVLIC JSC gold extraction plant
The laboratory of gamma-activation analysis at "Pavlik" is the only one in the whole of Russia. The equipment installed here allows you to determine the presence of gold in the rock in exactly one minute.
"Due to microwave energy, electrons are accelerated to the speed close to the speed of light. The accelerated electrons hit a tungsten braking target, a radiation capture reaction occurs, and hard braking radiation descends. We are able to activate gold nuclei with it," explains Alexei Zhilkin, head of the laboratory.
Alexei Zhilkin, head of the laboratory of gamma-activation analysis
This unique technology is actually quite old. In 1977, the head of the scientific team of its developers, Nikolai Bazhov, won the Lenin Prize. However, in the 1990s, all gamma-radiation laboratories on the territory of the Russian Federation were shut down. One laboratory remained in Uzbekistan. But since May 2022, this method of research has returned to Russia. Already 100 thousand tons of ore have been examined.
The laboratory is capable of analyzing a rock sample in 60 seconds.
The laboratory has already examined 100 thousand tons of ore.
Mills and grinding machines
The gold-bearing ore from the quarry arrives at the gold extraction plant. This is an austere-looking industrial room divided into two parts.
After the preliminary crushing the ore comes to the milling division, a workshop, where the huge horizontal cylinders - 8.5x4 meters and 5.5x10.5 meters - turn. The cylinders are mills for the ore. Inside them are steel balls of different diameters. They grind rock to the optimal size for further processing, explains Sergei Chalyi, head of the Mill.
Head of the Mill Sergei Chaly.
Next door is the flotation section. The metal vats are foaming and overflowing with a gray liquid.
"Now you are watching the process of obtaining flotation concentrate - a frothy product. Our job is to make the crushed product attaches to the air and floats with the air into the flotoconcentrate," Chaly explains.
Grinding section of the gold extraction plant.
PAVLIK JSC gold extraction plant.
Ball mills for ore work continuously and around the clock.
Construction of the second gold extraction plant.
Construction readiness of the second plant at 70% completion.
The main value is that as the foam that spills out, it is collected by pumps and sent onward for sorption, i.e. treatment with sodium cyanide and activated carbon. Then the dissolved gold is extracted from the coal by desorption.
The second gold extraction plant, which will double gold production, is being built nearby.
The construction readiness of the facility is already at 70% completion. The basic mounting of the metal constructions and the enclosing structures is 100% done.
According to Alexey Belyak, Head of Customer Service at PAVLIK, the buildings and equipment will be completely finished by September-October of this year, and in 2023 the commissioning works will begin. 1,500 people from all over the country are working on the construction.
Looking to the future
"Overall, the project is proceeding according to plan. The construction of the second stage of the Mill will allow us to at least double the output of finished products. At the same time, the company has already increased the corresponding production capacity in the quarry. If in 2019 we removed more than 19 million cubic meters of rock mass, this year that figure will exceed 40 million tons. All this is accompanied by an increase in the number of jobs," says Anton Kim, General Director of PAVLIK JSC.
Archbishop of Magadan and Sinegorsk Ioann presents Anton Kim, General Director of JSC "PAVLIK Gold Ore Company, with a diocesan medal for Services to the Magadan Diocese
The works on the construction of the second stage of the Mill are being performed day and night 24/7. There is no deviation from the policy schedule. Materials are usually delivered on time.
"Our main task is to become a leader in gold production in Russia. Our plans are grandiose. And "Pavlik" will not stop there," says Kim. With the launch of the second stage of the gold mill the production of gold will at least double.