Mongolia had its golden age in the 13th century, when Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire spreading Mongolian culture and politics across central Asia. After the collapse of the empire 300 years later, Mongolians returned to their historic, nomadic lifestyle on the plains. Despite occupations from both China and the Soviet Union during the 1900s, this lifestyle was largely preserved, and today approximately one third of the Mongolian population live nomadic or semi-nomadic lives.
After gaining independence in 1989, Mongolia rapidly transitioned from years of socialist influence to a modern neoliberal economy. This transitioning opened the borders to foreign exploitations hence diminishing the financial and legal support for common nomads and farmers. Consequently, when the first dzud – an extreme winter phenomenon with down to -60oC – struck the country, 30% of the nation’s life stuck died, forcing thousands of families to migrate to the capital. This started a continuous mass migration of nomads searching towards the city and giving up their traditional lifestyle in hope for less vulnerable occupational opportunities.
The capital, now known as Ulaanbaatar or ‘The City of the Red Hero’, even started as a nomadic settlement and moved 28 times before settling at the Tuul River Junction in 1778. Today, it is home to almost half of the Mongolian population. With an average temperature of 2 C, it is the coldest capital in the world posing an often-hostile environment for migrants with limited access to financial and infrastructural resources.