Early life and education
Arbugaeva was born in Tiksi, a small port town of the Sakha Republic on the Arctic Sea, near the mouth of the Lena River. As part of the Soviet Union, Tiksi supported military airfields and became the world's most northern settlement with over 5000 people. Her memories of the place include pink mountains, whiteout snowstorms in which she lost all sense of place, fields of snow colored green or gold by the surrounding light, and auroras in the endless night of winter. One of her childhood heroes was explorer Jacques Cousteau. At the age of eight, and at the fall of the Soviet Union, she and her family moved to Yakutsk, "the coldest city on earth" and a place that she found much less visually appealing. She studied management in Moscow before moving to New York City. There, she studied photography at the International Center of Photography, graduating in 2009.