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The spirit of Siberia lives in Sibur

03 February 2014

A life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants.

Alexander Elin, 37, is a petrochemical engineer at Tobolsk-Neftekhim, Tobolsk. Picture: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

The yellow-coloured bus with the Sibur logo collects petrochemical engineer Alexander Elin, 37, and other employees from bus stops in Tobolsk early in the morning. Another work day is about to begin at Tobolsk-Neftekhim, a feedstock and energy plant that belongs to the Sibur holding.

The bus stop where we wait was still a part of the forest in the mid-1970s, when a plan to build a chain of petrochemical plants in Tobolsk, Tyumen region, was just beginning to be implemented. The vision was grand: more then ten plants built on the same territory of a specially constructed industrial site were supposed not only to create a workplace for thousands upon thousands of professionals from all over the Soviet Union, but also to become one of the world's biggest petrochemical producers.

Tobolsk-Neftekhim was built in 1984, the first link of the Soviet dream chain that was not meant to come true. The collapse of the USSR ruined the plan and left many workers without salary; the 1990s was a hard time for this grand plan as it was for many other industry fields in Russia. 

We disembark the bus and enter the industrial site, that is today the home of two plants: Tobolsk-Neftekhim and Tobolsk-Polymer.

'Neftekhim survived,' says Alexander, as we stop by his office before he starts his workday. 'I didn't get to see the difficult times - I came in 1999 - but I've heard that people were not paid regularly'. At the end of 1990s things changed, the plant was bought by Sibur and became a part of a big holding, which owns and operates Russia's largest gas processing business.

The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants

SIBUR owns and operates Russia’s largest gas processing business. Picture: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

The workday for Alexander starts at 8 am, but he comes earlier to the control centre, which operates 24/7 and is where his team of 10 people sits. 

'The shifts in the control room last 12 hours, the staff has to monitor the work of the equipment and report if there are any deviations,' he says. 'At the same time they do go outside and monitor the facilities, especially in the cold weather, as anything can happen, and in case something goes wrong and the equipment doesn't show the changes, we will see it'. 

All the employees of Tobolsk-Nefterkhim start working at the plant from the primary positions in the control room, monitoring the equipment, in spite of the fact that most of them have higher educations. This is done to ensure that the staff knows all the details of the working process. When he first came to the  plant in 1999, Alexander also spent several years in the control room.

'When you see people sitting in front of the computers, it just seems that their work is easy and boring. In fact, it is very hard to keep concentrated on the data changes on the monitors and visit the facilities, checking all the smallest details on the site of the plant. We have to understand that the successful work of the plant depends mainly on the team in the control room'.

The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants

'It's minus 20C today, nice and clear, but we don't stop working even when it's below minus 40C'. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

Neftekhim is a plant with the high level of risk, processing natural gas liquids, which arrive here through the pipeline from Sibur's Western Siberian gas processing plants. The raw materials are divided into separate factions such as propane, butane and isobutene at the gas fractioning plant. But almost 30 years of successful work show that safety is not just a beautiful slogan.

'My team members can call me any time, if they have any question. Sometimes they call me at night but this is an exception, they are well qualified and I rely on them. Plus the system is totally automated and if there are some technical problems, it shuts itself down'.

There is no official lunch break for the staff as the control room can never be left empty, and Alexander often skips his lunch to allow his team to have a break. 'I know how they feel, as I started from the very basic level, too,' says Alexander as we stop by a small lounge room where the workers can have a meal as an alternative to the canteen. After a cup of tea, Alexander leaves the office building to oversee work at the site.

'It's minus 20C today, so it's nice and clear, though our work doesn't stop even when the temperature drops below minus 40C. All the equipment was designed to work even below minus 50C so people have to work as well'. 

A huge sign right in front of the building is a reminder to put the protection and no, you will not be allowed at the site without a helmet.

'The central gas fractionation plant produces more then three million tonnes of liquefied gas per year, which is twice more than what was produced here during Soviet times. And of course such a rapid growth demands constant modernization, which we also take care of'.

The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants

Sibur - over 1,500 large customers operating in the energy, automotive, construction, fast moving consumer goods, chemical and other industries and over 30,000 of personnel. Picture: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

Alexander walks over to the workers that are checking the equipment and gives them some guidelines. 'The hardest thing is climbing the stairs in the windy day. Down here it might seem that the wind is not strong, but when you go some 30-40 metres up you can feel how strong it is'.

Steady development and growth performed by Tobolsk-Neftekhim opened the opportunity to build Tobolsk-Polymer: a petrochemical giant that works in a tight link with Tobolsk-Neftekhim. Work at the Tobolsk-Polymer was launched on 15 October 2013, giving the start to the biggest polymer production line in Russia. Sergey Agafonov, 23, a former student of Tobolsk Industrial Institute is part of the Tobolsk-Polymer team.

'I signed a contract with Sibur when I was still a student and have been working at Tobolsk-Nefterkhim for two years, combining studies and work. But I like it more at Polymer plant, where I'm working now. We have young team here, and we help each other. I feel I am a part of a big family'.

Sibur is a family for him in more senses than one. With his mother working as an accountant at the same plant, he is one of many young people of Tobolsk who create dynasties by choosing a career at the petrochemical giant.

'I did internships in Moscow and in Tomsk twice, but I like it more here. Too bad I didn't get a chance to do an internship in Texas, US - I would love to see how the process is built at their petrochemical plants'.

Like Alexander 17 years ago, Sergey started his career from the control centre. And because Tobolsk-Polymer has just recently started operating, the staff has to be twice as careful and attentive to arrange and control the work process.

The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants

Sergey Agafonov, 23, is one of many youngsters of Tobolsk, creating dynasties by choosing a career at the petrochemical giant. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

Being born and growing up in Tobolsk, Sergey does not want to leave his hometown and is glad that the growth of the plant gives more working opportunities.

'I work two night shifts of 12 hours each and then get a day off,  followed by two day shifts and a day off again. It's a very comfortable schedule, as I have enough time for myself. At first everything seemed so interesting, especially when we participated in the set up and installing of equipment. It turned out that real life processes at the plant are very different from what we have studied at college. But I'm very curious, and I learn fast.'

Sergey, like Alexander must spend a lot of time at the plant site. 

'The check up of my territory takes about an hour,' he said. 'I do understand that the safety of the process depends on me, and I take my responsibility very seriously,' he said as he climbed a tall ladder. 'I have no fear of height. If you don't come up here, you will not see all the beauty and might of the plant.' 

The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants


The spirit of Siberia lives on in Sibur, a life in the day of one of Siberia's industrial giants

'At Sibur we transform Russia into a more sustainable and competitive manufacturing economy'. Pictures: Kate Baklitskaya, Go East

Meeting such people you get to understand what the Siberian spirit is - when a strong wind and frost is nothing compared to a giant created by the man's hands. 

Comments (4)

@Derek the salaries depend on the position but on average are twice the average salary in town.
@Rich summers are nice and warm, people do grow fruit and vegetables here and go swimming with an average of +20C during June July and August. And no it doesnt snow here in summer=)
Kate, Russia
05/02/2014 12:10
3
0
beautiful people they are, very warm eyes and great smiles
Marchall, USA
04/02/2014 23:00
3
0
what are the summers like in Tobolsk I wonder?
Rich, texas
04/02/2014 22:45
4
0
what's the salary like for beginners and higher positions?
Derek, Edinburgh, Scotland
04/02/2014 12:15
3
1
1

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