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26Oct/110

Novourask, a treasure of a closed town

Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.

The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II.  Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)

Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.

Verkhneyvenski pond

The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.

Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!

watch the sunrise by clicking here:

12Sep/110

Russian Expo Arms. Nizhni Tagil 2011

 

A farewell to arms? Well, certainly not in the Urals. The region has always been a large industrial centre and it’s due to many defence plants that the Urals had been closed to foreigners until 1991.

Russian Expo Arms is held every year in Staratel tank training field in Nizhni Tagil, Sverdlovskaya oblast

VII International Exhibition of Armament, Military Equipment and Ammunition ‘Russian Expo Arms’ was traditionally held in Nizhni Tagil in 8-11 September.  Nizhni Tagil (140 north of Yekaterinburg) is known in Russia as a homeland for tanks. UralVagonZavod is the factory that started producing T-34 tanks in 1941. The latest model T-90C was shown in action on the training field. It was impressive and very loud, just what the public likes.

Highlight this year: T-90C aka 'flying tank'

Prime Minister Putin, who visited Expo Arms and checked out the T-90 tank, said that the exhibition should draw attention of international specialists and promote development of the international  military-technical cooperation. The countries especially drawn to big machines were Vietnam, India, Zambia and Uganda. There were also producers from Ukraine, Belarus, France and Italy this year.

There's something sexy about military machines especially if they are from Ukraine

Russian Expo Arms is an open event – no passport controls for foreigners. Tickets cost 300-500R and it was easy to get free VIP tickets especially if you know someone in Nizhni Tagil. As I was leaving the premises, a TV reporter was interviewing visitors asking what they thought about event.  A local man’s reply was obvious yet very absurd: “I feel so proud of my country, I’m proud of how strong Russia is”. Surely, there is nothing wrong about being proud of the country that can make a big toy able to destroy hundreds of people at a time. But it was said on September, 11, that’s why his comment sounded bizarre to me…

However, there was something for pacifists too – KAMAZ and Ural trucks were my favourite: they can work at -50 and +55C, climb steep hills and swim in lakes. This car is worth buying for those who dream of traveling from Moscow to Vladivostok and back!

Ural truck

Unlike Mr. Putin I visited Russian Expo Arms on the last day and missed a demonstration of air weapons – launches and bombing from helicopters and planes (not that I really regret it). The weather on that day was gloomy so my photos are a bit dark but it adds to the ambience of Russian military pride. There are also sunny photos by Benjamin Gaillard, a French expat in Yekaterinburg. Enjoy!

p.s. ExpoArms is held in early September every second year. The next one is in 2013

14Jul/111

Innoprom 2011- Yekaterinburg goes innovative

Innoprom 2011 is an international Ural exhibition and forum of industry and innovations held in July 14-17 in a newly built Yekaterinburg Expo near Koltsovo Airport

Total area of Expo is more than 200 thousand sq.m.

President Medvedev stated in May at the Skolkovo innovation centre that innovative infrastructure should be applied in other regions. Sverdlovskaya oblast is one of these regions. The list of participants includes Russian Railways, Ltd. "Gazprom Transgaz Ekaterinburg" and the Swiss Association of Mechanical Engineers Swissmem, as well as collective expositions of Germany, Israel, China, Poland, Canada, Austria and Vietnam.

Russian RZD and Siemens signed an agreement to produce high-speed trains Desiro in the Urals

Apart from industrial objects there is an interesting exhibition of Contepmporary Art

and a must-see for families with kids TechnoDrom - a project of a scientific museum for children which, I really hope, will be opened in the Urals one day...

Innoprom is opened daily 9-19. There are free shuttle buses running every 20 min from the main train station and from the metro station Ploschad 1905

p.s. Innoprom is now held every year in middle July

1Oct/101

American Spy in the Urals

It looks like history is repeating itself. This year a few Russian spies were detected by CIA and exchanged for a couple of spies who had worked for the USA in Russian territories. The Russian failed spies, by the way, were heartily greeted by the authorities in their Motherland and the new Mata Hari - red-haired spy Anna Chapman is even starting a modelling career in Moscow.

This incident is not the first and I suspect not the last in the history of Russian-American espionage. The Ural region with numerous nuclear factories has always been largely involved. It's not that we are told about everything but one incident that happened in 1960 is well known and remembered by the senior citizens of Yekaterinburg (those days it was Sverdlovsk). On May 1 - Labour Day in the USSR there was an annual parade of the Soviet workers on the main city square. The Communist leaders received the workers' salutes from the granite tribune next to the monument of Lenin. It was a bright sunny day that's why the citizens spotted two white clouds that suddenly appeared in the clear sky.

S-75 missile in the Military History Museum in Yekaterinburg

That was CIA's U-2 aircraft on a mission piloted by Francis Gary Powers. Powers was able to take high-resolution photos of the military sites. U-2 had been invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons for good four years causing the KGB's considerable dismay until in 1960 Russian S-75 missile hit the aircraft over Sverdlovsk. The American aircraft wasn't the only one hit by the missile that morning. The Russians also brought down their own MIG-19 jet that had been sent to intercept the U-2. The Soviet pilot Sergey Safronov crashed his plane in the woods and died. Colonel Powers was lucky. He parachuted to the field and was greeted by the local villagers. The villagers were happy to see the survived pilot in the first place but because the pilot didn't speak Russian (a big mistake for a spy) they sent him straight to the KGB.

Soviet intelligence couldn't be happier: the brought down U-2 turned out to be intact. For some reasons Francis Powers didn't activate the aircraft self-destruct mechanism and didn't have time to destroy the camera and films. Besides the KGB was able to extensively interrogate the American spy of a high rank who was actually expected to have taken a CIA suicide pin but he didn't. Powers was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in Moscow and seven years of hard labour in Gulag. Once again he was lucky - in 1961 Powers was exchanged for Soviet KGB colonel Rudolf Abel. 

A Soviet 1968 spy film Dead Season features a scene of that exchange on Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Power's biography also became an American television movie in 1976: Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident   

The story is not finished yet. In 2010 the released CIA documents revealed that the US Government never believed in Power's account and thought the story had been cooked by the Russians. Garry Powers Jr, who visited Lubyanka quarters in Moscow on May 1, 2010, said that it had taken the US Government 50 years to set the record straight about his father and the record still has kinks in it.

23Sep/102

Secret towns in the Urals

My dad was a military man in the Soviet era. He worked for the Russian rail in Sverdlovsk then got a promotion and we moved to Nizhni Tagil. Tanks made in the plant of Nizhni Tagil were and still are transported by rail. So my dad was making timetables for the cargo trains with military equipment. When my dad retired he couldn't by rule leave the country and travel abroad for 5 years, so you can assume there weren't only tanks involved..

If you take a train from Yekaterinburg to the north you will inevitably pass one of the secret towns or closed towns as they are not a secret anymore in the Ural region - Novouralsk. You won't miss it because the town lies behind the barbed wire fence that resembles prison walls. The citizens of Novouralsk have special passes to enter. To visit your relatives there you need a special invitation from them for certain dates. I know a girl from a closed town who studies in Yekaterinburg, she happened to lose her pass and her Russian passport once and couldn't get back home to her parents for 5 weeks until her documents were renewed by the authorities. Of course, you may ask why on earth people live behind the wall. The answer is simple - good salaries at the secret factories, a tax free area, zero unemployment rate, zero crime - sounds like a paradise except for low life expectancy.

In the USSR when Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk the secret towns weren't on the maps. They didn't even have names only numbers: Sverdlovsk 45, 16, etc. I remember when I was little and the news about American enemies was still on TV, my dad taught me a lesson on geopolitics. He brought the world map, showed me where the USA was and pointed at the Ural Mountains. We were equally far away from both sides. My dad explained that if the Americans had sent their rockets to Russia from the east coast, the rockets would have dropped somewhere around Moscow, sent from the west coast they would have reached Siberia but had no power to fly up to the Urals. Thus we lived in the safest place in the world. I was pretty satisfied with this explanation and have never cared for the Cold War since that.

Ironically, some time ago I was telling an American tourist about the closed towns in the Urals. The tourist and now my friend Harlow Ingalls happened to be a veteran of three International Wars including the Cold War conflict. He told me that the US government has always known about our secret factories and the secret towns were not a secret to them. On the contrary, the Urals would have been the first and the main target if the Cold War had turned into hot and their rockets would have dropped in the right place, to be sure...

13Sep/1011

Nizhni Tagil – a tour for tough men only.

Nizhni tagilThere are places people dream to live in and there are places nobody wants to be except for those who are already there. Nizhni Tagil belongs to the latter category.  The Russians have many jokes about it all with the same idea that only losers live in Nizhni Tagil. Well, there is quite a bunch of losers as Nizhni Tagil is the second largest city in Middle Urals with population almost 400,000 people.

I thought that the place would never interest foreign tourists, even though I knew the city quite well as yeah..I had been one of those lucky people to live there with my parents. Anyway, 5 years ago I met a group of young Americans in Yekaterinburg. They asked me if there was anything interesting to see in Nizhni Tagil. With all my honesty I explained that there are only two interesting things in Tagil: the iron plants which make the sky above the city cheerfully colorful of all possible hues but blue and numerous prisons (including a female prison and a special prison for policemen) set around the city. On hearing this information my American friends grew terribly excited and the next thing they wanted to do was to go there ASAP! Then I realised that Nizhni Tagil was actually a good tourist destination for tough men only!

Nizhni Tagil, a view to the Iron and Steel Plant

The view from my mom's window overlooks the Iron and Steel Plant. The second window overlooks a prison..

I can't promise you a tour to the zona (a Russian word for prison) though in Russia nothing is impossible, as you know. In any case you will see many of the ex prisoners on the streets. There's a local saying and it was proved by my own statistics that every citizen of Nizhni Tagil has at least one friend or relative who has been to the prisons, of course against his or her will. And not only the locals, some of the Russian celebrities mostly from show biz of the eighties could tell about their experience of staying in Tagil prisons. Unfortunately, they wouldn't admit it, but we know their names. It's a small world especially in the Urals.

Back in the 90ies every second man in Tagil was in a mafia gang. For example, nearly half of my former school girl-friends married the dodgy type of guys. You don't hear much of mafiosos in Russia these days but life in Nizhni Tagil is still controlled by mafia in many ways.

The rest of the population works at the plants polluting the city air constantly. One of them is the world famous Uralvagonzavod. It produces wagons for Russian railway and modern tanks T-90 and T-95 for whoever wants to buy them, India for instance is one of the importers. The citizens still remember how a crazed worker of Uralvagonzavod stole a tank and went on a joy ride around Nizhni Tagil. He didn't go far and ended up apparently not far away from his house in one of the prisons. These days you can drive a tank in Nizhni Tagil legally during Russian Defence Expo. It is held every summer in Nizhni Tagil. The exhibition offers many other military toys for big boys to play with.

When asked why they don't move somewhere from Nizhni Tagil, my friends usually say that it's nice and quiet there...

Nizhni Tagil, Fox Hill

There are some lovely places in Nizhni Tagil like the Fox Hill with a fire tower (above) and the city pond (below)

Nizhni Tagil

Nizhni Tagil

The monument to the tough workers of the local plants was set in nizhni Tagil this year on the Day of Metallurgists - the main city celebration day.

Nizhni Tagil