Yuri Yefimovich Yudin
July 19, 1937 – April 27, 2013.”
The quaint chapel had a seating capacity of about thirty people, which in this case was convenient, albeit in a depressing way; less than half the seats were filled. Yuri Yudin did not have many people he considered his close companions. He wasn’t shy— he was open and sociable, and had a lot to share. However, he was consumed with survivor’s guilt and spent most of his time trying to glean what had happened, leaving little space for other thoughts.
The world-famous “Dyatlov Pass Incident” had become the subject of many conspiracies. Nine experienced trekkers died under mysterious circumstances on the Ural Mountains in February 1959; Yuri Yudin was initially a part of the ill-fated group but had to turn back early on into the trek, something that was disappointing for him at that moment— but was the reason he alone survived.
For a man who didn’t care for materialism, he reportedly did have a sizable collection of trinkets, books and other knick-knacks. However, the most significant possession of his was a small teddy bear that he kept with him. It was a token that accompanied him both during life and after it; it would lay with him in his final resting place. The token was significant; it was given by Lyudmila Dubinina, who died under mysterious circumstances in the trek that killed eight others. Yudin would’ve died too, had he been with them.
Small talk with those who came to pay their respects revealed speculation that his connection to Dubinina was why he never got married. Although Yudin always denied the existence of any relationship between them, “his heart was left on that mountain,” they said.
The other item that lay with him was a thick, battered journal—yellowing pages bursting with newspaper clippings, carefully sourced and handwritten entries, circling around the mysterious and shady circumstances under which his friends passed away. Yudin obviously didn’t believe in the theories fed to the people by the authorities and did a lot of digging around himself.
It was the one possession he wouldn’t let anyone take even a glimpse at—it was incredibly personal to him. He had started writing a book based on the incident and the investigation, but the core ideas, conspiracies, and deepest thoughts were penned down in the journal first. It was what friends and investigators had had their eyes on, for they hoped it would have the answers they couldn’t find. That, or to make sure Yudin didn’t stumble upon any classified information, in which case they were set out to find and destroy the artefact immediately.
The first few pages are his journal entries along with copies of his friends’ entries from during the trek.
The first few days were a blur of travel and laughter. We bonded with fellow travellers; people we were merely acquainted with before. I’ve been looking forward to this trip—it is a great way to unwind, do something you love, and make new friends.
That was the general mood of the group; everyone was excited to go camping. They wrote letters to their families, sending them their love. In their own journals, they wrote about their experiences so far, the crazy encounters with people and a taste of the life lived in the villages they stopped by. They all were having fun, and it was evident in the way they wrote, in great detail, about everything they talked (and sung) about.
Zinaida Kolmogorova’s journal entry read, “I don’t know how I’ll feel. It’s tough because we are together and yet we’re not together.” She was in a relationship with another trek member, Yura Doroshenko, who had broken up before this trip.
There was Dubinina, the youngest skier, who at first glance seemed to be stern and solemn. Her entries, however, showed that she, too, was beginning to enjoy the banter and interaction the group was having.
Her journal entry read, “This inebriated man came up to our boys and accused them of stealing a bottle of vodka! He demanded that they gave it back and threatened physical violence. But he couldn’t prove anything and eventually wandered away. We sang and sang, and later fell into a discussion about love…”
The entries were all like this—lighthearted, fun, and descriptive of the environment they were in while tracing the journey with highlights.
It was around the fifth day of travel when things went south for me. You see, a while before the expedition, I got rheumatic heart disease while harvesting potatoes on a farm. During treatment for that, I contracted dysentery, which left me in a hospital for months. Terrible luck, one might call it.
I hadn’t fully recovered from my stint at the hospital; travelling in an open truck took a toll on my already poor condition. As Zina wrote, my sciatic nerves flared up; I couldn’t go on any further, which was a pity. I had to turn back just before any real trekking began. We reached the village of Severny, where we said our goodbyes and parted ways. Little did I know…
By the time I got home to Sverdlovsk, the search for my fellow hikers had already begun. Panic seized me— I had just left them, and were just fine! Happy and full of enthusiasm. How could a group of experienced trekkers just disappear? Everyone around me was tense; there was no clear information, and horrible rumours— both of the people and their whereabouts— were spreading like wildfire.
They all started looking at me, the “lucky” one; their families said they didn’t blame me but everyone’s stare, combined with my own guilt, made it difficult to convince myself otherwise. A small part of me wonders what would’ve happened if I was with them. Would they still be alive, somehow? I don’t like to dwell on that; it’s neither healthy nor backed with facts. In this case, especially, focusing on facts alone is safe, albeit difficult, what with people covering up every crucial detail to preserve their own interests.
They were experienced enough to weather snowstorms and other such natural occurrences; they wouldn’t be bested by the environment. Investigative authorities would not keep information under wraps if their demise were due to natural causes. We wouldn’t be here, over fifty years later, speculating. There has to be a better explanation.
I was brought to help identify the trekkers and their belongings. There was the usual ensemble of travel-based items—clothes, skis, journals, and the like. One thing stood out in the mess; something that didn’t belong to anyone in the group, I’m certain—soldier’s tape. Despite bringing this to the Colonel’s attention, I noticed that he did not take note of it.
Someone I didn’t know of—Semyon Zolotaryov— was the one person who had no connection to the Ural Polytechnic Institute, where the group was based. Naturally, none of us knew him. He was said to be a war veteran who enjoyed trekking, and insisted he tags along. DNA tests conducted on his exhumed body led to a dead-end, for there were somehow contradicting results on his true identity. They suspected that he could have been working for foreign intelligence.
My experience with him didn’t consist of any incidents that would raise a flag, but if he truly was a spy, I suppose the “stoic, athletic, able veteran” disguise would have left me none the wiser anyway.
The next couple of pages clearly lay out the theories that intrigued Yudin the most; the ones he thought were backed by the most facts. The pages are thick with newspaper clips and crossed out marks on improbable theories.
This is my attempt at finding out what happened to my friends that fateful night. It’d have to take more than a snowstorm to take out nine experienced trekkers. This is everything—every piece of evidence, every single phenomenon. No one knows what really happened; not even the authorities have given us an answer that would explain everything.
The government said that it was an avalanche. It did fit in with some evidence and the causes of deaths but left so much more unanswered. It didn’t justify how the footprints of all nine people were of those walking at a normal pace. If there was an avalanche that was severe enough for them to cut the tent and everyone was in a panicked hurry, why would they walk instead of running?
In addition to this, the location of the incident showed no obvious signs of an avalanche, and since the incident, over a 100 expeditions were held to the region, and none of them reported an avalanche. The tent had not collapsed in a horizontal direction but from the side and thus it definitely wasn’t an avalanche from the top that crushed it.
Most importantly, I have complete faith in the intelligence of Igor Dyatlov and Comrade Zolotaryov. They were two of the smartest mountain hikers in the country, and they would never camp in the path of a probable avalanche.
The people saw the inconsistencies as well. Several articles and books were written on our tragedy. Each person had a say in it, and unfortunately, the death of my friends was now being treated as a tool for entertainment. I had to bear through this for the sake of justice, and I still bear through it to this day.
Some people believe that it was the peaceful Manzi tribe which killed my friends while others say it was the mystical monster, Yeti. I am not naive enough to pay any heed to these theories for if they are true, justice is almost impossible to attain.
The most scientifically accurate answer someone could come up with was Katabatic winds. These occur on rare occasions and are extremely violent. There was a similar case in Sweden where eight hikers died and one was severely injured because of these winds. Both of these places are geographically similar, and it makes sense that the same fate was bestowed on my friends.
However, none of it explains one major detail. None of these theories reveal why there was a good amount of radioactivity around the entire campsite.
Russia in the 60s was a place devoid of a just system. Corruption was at its peak, and the government’s priority was always to save face amid tragedy rather than go for the cold hard truth. In the Cold War era, the truth was the one thing that no one cared about, and every man stood with the Soviet Union. You can’t switch sides after you have pledged your undying allegiance to your country. My compatriots were caught in the crosshairs of something much larger than them, and I don’t know how to bring them to justice. It has been 50 years, and my country keeps failing my loved ones.
Even today, there are people who plead to the government for the truth, I have given up, but those people haven’t. I can explain the radioactivity; I know what happened. I might be taking this to my death bed for it’s a dangerous thing to say, but I blame the Russian government for the deaths of my friends. There were apparent UFO sightings around that region which the police didn’t talk about. Some people spoke of the parachute mines, and that’s what I believe. I believe that it was a military exercise that killed my friends and that the government is responsible.
I could go public with this, but like everything in Russia, the government doesn’t change. It cares more about its authority and ego. It doesn’t care about Lyudmila Dubinina or Igor Dyatlov. Yuri Doroshenko is just another name for them. However, if they admit to their fallacies, their power would recede. Not by a lot, but surely, their ancestors would be uneasy.
I have to move on without the comfort of the truth. I have to move on without talking to my comrades’ families and shedding a tear of closure with them. Every time someone talks about the Dyatlov Pass case, my name would gleam like the sore thumb it is, and maybe they would even blame me for this dirty operation that the government did.
If someone is reading this, I want you to know that I, Yuri Yefimovich Yudin, the sole survivor of the Dyatlov Pass tragedy, have lived years of speculation and misery, I’m not sure if I can anymore. My life has been too long and too generous for me. All I have ever wanted to achieve was the answer to the tragedy that defined my life, and I won’t get it. I should’ve been there with all of them; I can’t apologise enough for not doing so. Dear Luda, I should’ve been there with you.
Written by Ishita G and Aniket Awasthi for MTTN
Edited by Kaavya Azad for MTTN
Featured Image by Shraddha Jathan for MTTN