Cheboksary

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Cheboksary

Population: 454,300

Main industries: electric and energy machinery and equipment; metallurgy; automobile manufacturing; construction; textile, chemical and food manufacturing.

Mayor: Leonid Cherkesov

Founded: Tsar Ivan IV ordered that Cheboksary be founded as a fortress in 1555, on the site of an ancient Chuvash town on the Volga River dating to at least 1469.

Interesting fact: The strongest human magnet lives in Cheboksary. Mikhail Vassilyev is in the Guinness Book of World Records for holding logs up with his body’s magnetic force.

Sister cities: Antaliya, Turkey; Santa Clara, Cuba; Egar, Hungary

Helpful contacts: Chamber of Commerce president Igor Kustarin +7 8352-55-02-94

CHEBOKSARY — The 46-meter-tall Mother Protectress, the symbol of the Chuvashia republic, spreads her arms over the capital, Cheboksary. “Blessed are my children, living in a world of love,” a plaque on the monument proclaims.

Just to the side of the monument, the Moscow Bridge stretches across the center of Cheboksary Bay, connecting two scenic banks, lush green in the summer.

Under the man-made bay lies the former ancient city center, flooded in the 1980s as part of the construction of the Cheboksary Hydroelectric Plant.

As president, Vladimir Putin awarded Cheboksary with the title of best-run city in 2002.

Cheboksary’s air is fresh, and the streets are clean and tidy, though unpaved in some places.

But the picturesque view hides something sinister.

“Everyone jumps from here,” said Irina Pavlova, a Cheboksary journalist, pointing dismissively toward the Moscow Bridge, a suicide destination among locals.

Recently, a group of paranormal researchers from Saratov visited Cheboksary and declared the bridge a spot of supernatural activity, according to local news reports. And, if online forums are to be believed, the city gets a fair share of alien sightings.

This is not a big surprise to superstitious locals. They won’t pick up money from the streets for fear of the evil eye. Although the majority of the population is Russian Orthodox, spell casting is practiced.

Major Businesses

Promtractor (101 Prospekt Traktorstroitelei; +7 8352-30-73-48; promtractor.ru) is the only plant in Russia and the CIS that manufactures burrowing and pipe-laying equipment. It produces bulldozers, earth-moving equipment, pipe-laying machines and other industrial tractors used in coal mining, construction, and the oil and gas industry.

The Cheboksary Electric Apparatus Plant (5 Prospekt I. Yakovleva; +7 8352-62-04-61; cheaz.ru) is one of the largest electric machinery and equipment plants in Russia. Its products include relays, signaling devices and variable speed motors.

Textilmash (1 Prospekt Mashinostroitelei; +7 8352-30-91-65; tm.tehmashholding.ru) is an award-winning enterprise that produces looms and other textile machinery for 58 countries around the world.

Adding to the mystic, Vasily Chapayev, the legendary black-cloaked commander of the Red Army, was born here. He died in a Civil War battle in 1919, but his body and grave were never found. A Viktor Pelevin novel, “Chapayev and Emptiness,” speculates that Chapayev had the ability to teleport himself to different dimensions.

The bridge is not the only spot where suicides have occurred.

In July two men killed themselves in one day, in unrelated incidents, because they could not find work. The next day, in a separate incident, a man jumped out of a seventh-floor window, without explanation.

In March, two construction workers from the neighboring Marii-El republic hung themselves in the attic of a Cheboksary house they were renovating. Three men ended their lives one April day in separate incidents. In May, a young man jumped off the Moscow Bridge.

While Russia ranks third in worldwide suicide rates, in Cheboksary, a city of about a half million people, it is almost a monthly occurrence, it seems.

Local college professor Nikolai Osipov does not believe that paranormal activity is behind the deaths.

“People here are poor,” Osipov said.

For MT

Igor Kustarin,
55-year-old president of the Cheboksary Chamber of Commerce

Q: What makes Cheboksary a good place for business?
A: Our location is good — our waterways connect east and west, north and south. We have a three-way railroad junction, a hydroelectric station, the Volga River. We have long been a manufacturing center, so we have a highly qualified local labor market concentrated in a small place. We don’t have oil and gas and other natural resources, which means we have to run faster, think sharper.

Q: Why should someone invest in Cheboksary?
A: In the last 10 years we have attracted a lot of foreign investment. The mentality of the administration is changing. Barriers are coming down. Administrative processes are becoming simpler.

Q: Where should investors put their money?
A: Developing the existing manufacturing facilities. We need more logistics centers. We need to improve the transportation infrastructure. This will create more investment.

Q: What makes Cheboksary a good place to live?
A: It’s a nice green city. The administrative city center is all on the right bank, and then you have a recreation zone on the left bank. You can have a comfortable life here. The roads are good.

— Khristina Narizhnaya

During the Soviet times, the city and satellite factory town of Novocheboksarsk were manufacturing boomtowns. But after the breakup of the Soviet Union, many of the factories closed.

Local industry today is growing. Spain-based Roca, one of the world’s biggest bathroom fixture manufacturers, has three factories in the republic, with the newest one opened in June.

But even though manufacturing has made a comeback, unemployment is down and wages are up, thousands of residents remain unemployed.

The average Cheboksarian’s monthly income is about $300, and it is not rare to see young and middle-aged men drunk on the city’s streets during the day.

About 70 percent of all who seek medical care here are addicted to drugs, according to the Cheboksary weekly Grani.

A businessman may put earth from the graveyard at his competitor’s door, Osipov said. But it’s simple capitalism.

“In Moscow they hire a killer to get rid of a competitor,” Osipov said. “But a killer costs money.”

What to see if you have two hours

Stroll along the banks of Cheboksary Bay and cross its bridges for the best view of the city’s churches and monasteries, the Mother Protectress monument and the Volga River. The city’s scenic skyline, which includes the green-and-white Holy Trinity Monastery, makes it a popular destination on Volga cruises. Cafes and restaurants dot the banks of the bay, making it a favorite spot for locals.

What to do if you have two days

Study the large collection of ethnographic artifacts at the Chuvash National Museum (5/2 Krasnaya Ploshchad; +7 8352-62-41-24; chnm.ru) and learn about the ancient Chuvash culture. The museum was founded in 1921 for locals interested in their past. The Chuvash people are a Turkic ethnic group who have lived in the area for at least 500 years. Although they were “Russified” during the rule of the tsar and the Soviet Union, they kept their language. The Chuvash believe in a mix of Russian Orthodoxy and pagan customs, such as casting spells.

Ildus Khamzin,
chief executive of Agrocredit, a 10-year-old consumer-lending cooperative with branches all over the Chuvash republic.

Q: What does your company do?
A: We lend small sums of money, like two or three paychecks, to people for short periods of time. We are not a very commercial organization — we do not advertise too much. It’s all word of mouth. People come based on someone else’s recommendation. Clients are mostly Cheboksary residents.

Q: Why is Cheboksary good for business?
A: In the city you can express yourself better than in the regions. In the countryside you’re either a farmer or work for a farmer — here there are more options. But for our business, rural areas are better. There is more trust; you know the person you are lending to. It’s easier in the village because you know what the person does, or “what they breathe,” as we say.

Q: What do you like about Cheboksary?
A: You can walk on the banks of the Volga River and wander through the taiga.

Q: Have you noticed any supernatural activity in the region?
A: I saw some flying objects when I was younger and lived in a village, but think they were just some technology that I was not aware of. The press writes about suicide — it becomes a warped mirror. But it’s normal. There are people everywhere who lean toward mysticism, suicide and insanity. I don’t think our city should be judged by them.

— Khristina Narizhnaya

Take a walk through Chapayev Square to see the equestrian statue of Red Army General Vasily Chapayev. Visit the Chapayev Museum, (46a Prospekt Lenina; +7 8352-21-20-61; russianmuseums.info/M2266) located on the square, and see copies of his famous cloak and hat and black metal carriage that he rode. The exhibition features one of the most extensive collections of original photos and documents of Chapayev in the world. Not far from the museum is the wooden house where Chapayev was born. Visitors are offered to make a wish as they put money in a bucket on the second floor. According to local yore, the wish is sure to come true. Tickets are 50 rubles for adults.

If you are in an artsy mood, visit the Chuvash State Art Museum (60 Ulitsa Kalinina; +7 8352-63-60-09; culture21.ru/Main.aspx?orgid=385). The museum contains the biggest arts and crafts collection in Chuvashia, with pieces by artists from the region and other arts of Russia. The museum often hosts exhibits by contemporary local artists, poetry readings and lectures.

If visiting during the summer months, take a swim in the Volga from one of Cheboksary’s three “beaches.”

Nightlife

The city’s coolest people congregate at the Renaissance (9 Ulitsa K. Ivanova; +7 8352-58-17-76; renaissance.cc). The club includes a dance floor, a restaurant called Mozart, a karaoke bar, a pub, a balcony and a staff of attractive young men and women. Entrance costs from 100 to 300 rubles ($3 to $10). Reservations are a must for tables, and VIP tables on the balcony require a deposit of 3,000 rubles ($100).

At the Mega Galaxy (13 Ulitsa 50 Let Oktyabrya; +7 8352-28-33-14) you can dance on one of the four dance floors, bowl, play pool, get drunk, or watch a strip show. The club, whose entrance is framed by fountains, used to be a movie theater. It is open every night except for Mondays, and tickets cost from 100 to 400 rubles.

For highbrow entertainment visit the Chuvash State Theater of Opera and Ballet (1 Moscow Prospekt; +7-8352-58-00-96; opera21.ru/list.php?c=litchast). The theater employs the greatest amount of artists in the republic and has toured other cities in Russia and China.

Where to eat

For MT

Anatoly Knyazev,
chief executive of Reon Techno, a 14-year-old small business that distributes electrical parts and equipment. Knyazev, 65, is also a member of the Opora business association.

Q: Why should entrepreneurs come to Cheboksary?
A: The human resources. There are many high-quality workers and creative people who are not spoiled by high wages.

Q: What challenges does your business face?
A: It’s always hard to run a small business. There are many risks and a lack of stability. We don’t have the richest region, so there are fewer growth opportunities and less profit.

Q: Where should investors put their money?
A: Developing electric technology manufacturing and tourism. There is not enough money in tourism infrastructure. We have sand, firs, fresh air, berries, mushrooms, the Volga. Hotels, beaches, sanatoriums — this is an underdeveloped sector.

Q: What do you like about Cheboksary?
A: There are all the attributes of a city: pedestrian zones, history, museums and big national retail chains like Perekryostok, Metro, Magnit. But in 25 minutes you can be in wild nature. You don’t really feel the pollution of a big city. Everything is neat and clean. It’s cozy, comfortable and pleasant. I once had guests from St. Petersburg who told me I live like I’m on vacation.

— Khristina Narizhnaya

Learn the history of beer at the Beer Museum and then dine at the Beer Museum Restaurant (6 Bulvar K. Yefremova; +7 8352-62-06-87, 62-02-44; museum-beer.ru). Here you can wash down a traditional Chuvash shirtan, or a patty made of different meats or egg, with local and imported beer. The menu also offers buffalo wings, veal ravioli, meat and cheese pies and meat on skewers, among others. The museum features an exhibition that includes local and international artifacts related to beer. A dinner for two, with beer, costs about 1,000 rubles.

Favorit Restaurant (5a Privokzalnaya Ulitsa; +7 8352-66-26-47), located right outside the train station, belongs to a local oligarch and is one of the fanciest restaurants in Cheboksary. The kitchen features a mix of European, Chuvash, vegetarian and seasonal fare. Popular dishes include snail salad, salmon and cheese mousse, bamboo shrimp, pork in pomegranate sauce and foie gras. By Moscow standards, the meal is almost free at 1,000 rubles for a dinner for two. When going to Favorit, dress to impress — the restaurant has face control that filters out drunks and those dressed in jeans and sports wear.

Where to stay

Diplomats and other VIPs slept at the imposing gray Hotel DIS (11 Tsivilskaya Ulitsa; +7 8352-63-42-48; hoteldis.chuvashia.ru) during Soviet times, and the tradition has not changed much. DIS is considered the best hotel in Cheboksary, with clean rooms and efficient room service. The hotel includes the Melange bar and a decent Irish pub called Molly Malone downstairs. Rooms range from 2,000 rubles ($69) for a single to 9,100 rubles ($313) for a luxury suite with a kitchen.

Located in the city center, Hotel Chuvashia (2 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8352-62-45-67) is the oldest hotel in Cheboksary. Guests can have a drink in the three-star hotel’s lobby bar or eat at Al Dente, an Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. Prices range from 1,800 ($62) for a single to 6,600 rubles ($227) for a luxury suite.

Conversation starters

The town has many problems, from political scandals to poverty and drug use. So talking about the beauty of the city, known as the “Pearl of the Volga,” and the fresh air will get the locals smiling. In Cheboksary, family is important, so talking about your family or asking about theirs will put locals at ease.

Cultural tips

Although the Russian language dominates, Chuvash is also spoken in Cheboksary. The predominant religion is Russian Orthodox.

How to get there

There are daily flights from Moscow by the RusLine airline to the Cheboksary airport, located close to the city center. Round-trip tickets for the one-hour flight cost from about 6,000 rubles ($200).

Trains leave daily from Moscow’s Kazansky Station for the 13-hour, 660-kilometer trip. Tickets cost from 1,450 rubles ($50) for coach to 6,290 rubles ($217) for luxury. Check the schedule and ticket prices on tutu.ru. The train station is close to the city center.