- "“Snow and salt”: The natural and man-made perils of life."
- —Sayings of the Southern Oblast[1a]
Vitevo is a bleak little community built up to support the penal colony assembled to work in the Tzarina's salt mines. A place of unforgiving and cruel labor, everyone who descends into the mines is an indentured servant, a convicted criminal whose lot it is to work off the debt of his crimes. The nature of the workers makes Vitevo a rather unusual town since it does not produce its own rota. Instead, it depends on kossars, and occasionally chekist, dispatched from the capital to ensure the site has a military presence as well as to keep the sometimes unruly prisoners in hand.[1a]
A high wooden wall cordons the entire community. Inside the rough wood and stone perimeter are crude wooden barracks erected near the entrances to the numerous minds. The entire compound is designed to keep people in, though, and not out. In the shadow of the steep walls is a small settlement that serves to house the guards as well as the honest men and women who transport the salt to larger settlements. This little village is anything but safe and is in many ways as dangerous as the vicious barracks. The reason for this trouble is that there is little do here, so little that the most popular pastime is swilling kvas. As one would expect, this causes no shortage of trouble and forces the officers to take rather extreme measures to keep the men in line. Flogging is common, but for the more violent offenders, they find themselves joining the other convicts in the mines for as much as a week. Such punishment is often a death sentence. The prisoners have little cause to love the guards and make sure their time spent in the black earth is as painful as it is for them.[1a]
Relatives of some prisoners come to Vitevo in the hope of relieving their condition. The most determined and inventive actually manage to do so by bribing the overseers in some way. Most, however, fall to despair.[1a]