The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

Categories: History

It seems that Russia has always been the leader in diamond mining, because there are very few countries in the world that could boast of such rich deposits. But in fact, until the 50s of the last century, the country bought diamonds abroad, but it did not have its own mines. The search for Soviet diamonds took many years and huge amounts of public money. In Yakutia, diamond deposits were discovered by two women, whose lives were destroyed by this important discovery.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

The main character in the history of Yakut diamonds is geologist Larisa Anatolyevna Popugaeva, born in Odessa. Her father, the secretary of the Odessa district party committee, was shot in 1937, after which Larisa’s mother, a famous art critic, moved with her daughter to Leningrad. In the city on the Neva, Larisa graduated from school and entered the university.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

It was not easy for the daughter of a repressed person to enter a university and study there. Larisa was not accepted into the Komsomol and teachers were often biased towards the girl. Despite this, Popugaeva studied well and was one of the best students in the stream. Her studies were interrupted by the war and Larisa, like many of her classmates, went to nursing courses.

At the same time, the girl trained as an anti-aircraft gunner and from April 1942 to July 1945 served in the Moscow air defense division as a weapons crew commander. Combat experience allowed Larisa to first become a Komsomol member and then join the party. She finished her service with the rank of junior sergeant.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

After the war, Larisa completed her studies at Leningrad University and began going on expeditions. The main goal that the party set for geologists in the post-war years was the search for diamond deposits. Popugaeva became an assistant to geologist Natalia Nikolaevna Sarsadskikh, who devoted her entire life to searching for deposits of precious stones in the Urals and Siberia.

The main organization conducting geological exploration in Siberia at that time was the famous Amakinsk expedition. She worked for many years and spent impressive sums on organizing searches. The expedition members dug hundreds of pits and washed thousands of cubic meters of sand, but found only a few stones.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

In 1954, thanks to Natalia Sarsadskikh, everything changed radically. This woman, having practically no information about the soils in the search area, was able to find an effective way to search for diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes using the mineral pyrope, which accompanied the diamond deposits.

To achieve success, Sarsadskikh and her colleagues had to do truly titanic work. In 1950–1952, a female geologist walked and sailed on a rubber boat more than 1,500 km through the most remote places of Yakutia to collect data for her research. Samples obtained in different places were sent to Leningrad, where they were painstakingly studied for the presence of pyrope.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

The “pyrope survey” method showed signs of the presence of diamonds in the rock in several samples from the Yakut Daldyn River. It was urgent to organize an expedition and explore the place where the successful samples were taken. Natalia Nikolaevna Sarsadskikh herself could not lead the expedition, as she was expecting the birth of a child. Instead, it was decided to send her assistant Larisa Popugaeva to Yakutia.

At that time, Larisa was also expecting a child, but a sense of duty forced her to terminate the pregnancy and agree to the management’s offer. Her sacrifice was not in vain - kimberlite containing diamonds was discovered exactly where it was expected. Popugaeva named the first diamond deposit “Zarnitsa” and personally installed a pillar at this place with a sign confirming the discovery.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

What happened next is known from the words of Natalia Nikolaevna Sarsadskikh, who became one of the most affected parties in this story:

After a long “processing”, the intimidated Larisa Popugaeva was wrested from agreeing to go to them and was given the job retroactively. The capital's journalists who arrived in Nyurbu were proudly announced that the Zarnitsa diamond deposit had been discovered by geologists from the Amakinskaya expedition.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

It is known that the consent to give up the precious discovery was snatched from Popugaeva in the most vile way. They remembered her repressed father, tried to accuse her of stealing diamonds, and even kept her under arrest for some time. It took two months to break the will of the scientist and Larisa Anatolyevna Popugaeva signed all the necessary papers, transferring the discovery to people not involved in it.

All the achievements of Natalia Sarsadskikh and her colleagues were appropriated by members of the Amakin expedition. Leningrad colleagues, who did not know how the events actually unfolded, accused Popugayeva of treason. The woman lost not only her friends, but also her favorite job.

In 1957, the “discoverers” of Yakut diamonds were awarded the Lenin Prize, but Popugaeva and Sarsadsky were not on the list of laureates. They were awarded orders and immediately forgotten about their role in this important discovery. Larisa Anatolyevna Popugaeva was recognized as the “mother” of the deposit only in the 1970s, shortly before her death. The role of Natalia Sarsadskikh in this case was remembered even later - in 1990.

The history of Yakut diamonds: how women geologists were treacherously stolen from their discovery

Now the names of these two remarkable women are well known not only to geologists, but, in general, to everyone who is in one way or another connected with diamond mining. On the site where Larisa Popugaeva erected a pillar in 1954, one of the world's largest diamond mining plants is now located. In the Yakut city of Udachny, a monument was erected to a female geologist whose merits were stolen.

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