Russia’s Toughest: Vinnie Jones’ guide to Russia

The football hard nut will embark on his toughest challenge yet – working in sub zero temperatures with some of the hardiest people on earth. We catch up with the man himself for his top chilly spots to visit in this vast nation…

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“It’s the untrodden Alaska, I loved it,” explains Vinnie, ahead of his new National Geographic series Russia’s Toughest (8pm, from Sept 12). ‘Tough jobs call for tough men’ is the slogan for the show, which sees the Hollywood beefcake embark on an alpha male adventure joining those who work with bears, trains and bridges in unfathomably cold temperatures.

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“I thought that was it, I thought it was goodnight,” recalls Vinnie as he found himself in-between a mother bear and her cub, while on poaching patrol with some locals in Kamchatka. “It was panic stations,” he continues. Fierce conditions heighten the dangers that some Russians endure on a daily basis.

“People moan about a bit of a cold day in London,” he says. “We were showing that people actually live and survive in this weather… they get out there and nothing stops them.”

Vinnie offers up his best spots to visit in Russia, and, if you’re tough enough, you can follow in his footsteps…

1. Kamchatka

In this uncharted wilderness, visitors will find the Southern Kamchatka Wildlife Refuge. Here locals are faced with the task of patrolling for poachers, who illegally kill and trade brown bears.

Vinnie says: “It was probably my favourite [place] because that’s where Kurile Lake is and that’s where all the salmon comes through. So there are wild grizzly bears and everything. The wildlife is fantastic.”

2. Vorkuta

See how a remote community lives in this coal-mining town in the far north of Russia.

Vinnie says: “We were up near the Arctic Circle, where they hold the Polar Games, by the North Poll. You’ll see on the show that we went up there and it was -9 degrees below [freezing point]. They do reindeer races where you have four reindeers each and you literally ride through the centre of town. It was pretty dangerous.”

3.  Kotlas

Seeped in Soviet history, this town was a base for labour camps. Inmates were forced to work in the paper, logging and railroad construction industries. It remains a transport hub today.

Vinnie says: “This is where all the trains come from,” he says. Vinnie joins the railway staff for a shift on the tracks. The track itself runs from Moscow to Vorkuta powering north into the very depths of Siberia.


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4. Barents Sea

The sub-Arctic shelf ecosystem on the Barents Sea is home to one of the largest concentrations of seabirds in the world, as well as polar bears and important fish stocks of cod, capelin and haddock.

Vinnie says: “We went out there and we were fishing with a trawler – we saw killer whales.”

5. Vladivostock

Visitors can catch the Trans-Siberian Railway from here, as well as explore the oak woods around the city and hit the slopes at the nearby ski resorts. 

Vinnie says: “Another great up-and-coming place. They’re building these great big bridges, and we were helping them construct them, while in sub-zero temperatures. We worked on the Golden Bridge – it’s probably twice the length of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge on the M25.”


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Visit Russia with Radio Times Travel, see here for more details