Chapter Five
TO THE FROZEN OCEAN AND
STALIN’S RAILWAY OF DEATH

Along with the Ob, the Irtysh is one of western Siberia’s great rivers. It begins in the Chinese province of Dzungaria, where it is known as the Black Irtysh, tumbles out of the mountains and flows across the steppes of Kazakhstan and through Omsk, Tara and Tobolsk on a 2,600-mile journey to its confluence with the Ob, near the town of Khanty-Mansiysk. A couple of times a week in the navigation season from July to late September, passenger boats via Tobolsk ply the stretch from Omsk to KhantyMansiysk, the capital of the Khanty-Mansiysk-Yugra Autonomous Region (Khanty-Mansiysky Avtonomny Okrug-Yugra). The journey from Tobolsk to Khanty-Mansiysk takes about 28 hours. A short distance downstream from there the Irtysh joins the Ob, which continues to Salekhard, deep in Siberia’s north.

Just south of Tobolsk, the Irtysh passes the historic site of Isker (Sibir), the stretch of riverbank where the Khanate of Sibir had its capital and

-93-

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