- By Rachel Nielsen
- Feb. 17 2013 16:08
Main industries: Petrochemicals, other chemical production, energy, machine manufacturing.
Mayor: Valery Yermakov
Founded in 1918
Interesting fact: Kemerovo was an early supporter of the Bolshevik Revolution, with local workers seizing control of the city on Nov. 24, 1917.
Sister cities: Billings, Montana, United States; Salgotarjan, Hungary.
Helpful contacts: Valery Yermakov, Kemerovo mayor (
KEMEROVO ― Pride and resignation are twin sentiments in this Siberian city, and their coexistence here makes for a curious set of contrasts.
The most glaring example of this strange mix is the fact that Kemerovo has not one but two sites known as an eternal flame. One is the flame that officially bears that name and burns day and night at the foot of the city’s solemn monument to World War II. But the other eternal flame, so termed by the locals, is a smokestack that spits out fire around-the-clock.
Kemerovo’s residents enjoy the reputation of a rich cultural and intellectual life in their town almost 3,500 kilometers east of Moscow, along the placid banks of the Tom River. An active theater program housed in a classical edifice reigns over the city’s center, which has broad boulevards dotted with cafes and fashion stores. The state university has more than 30,000 students and teaching staff to add the vibrancy of disciplined learning to the local atmosphere. Yet regional administrators brought public curiosity and not a small amount of scientific scorn when they announced in October that they had “indisputable proof” that mountains in the region were inhabited by yeti, the local species of Abominable Snowmen.
Kemerovo Milk Plant (+7-495-777-90-40 ext. 76-643,
Khimprom (35 1st Stakhanovskaya Ulitsa, +7-3842-57-06-07, extream.ru) makes chemical products for many industries, including the automotive segment. It was founded in 1938.
Coal is the product at Kuzbassrazrezugol (4A Pionersky Bulvar, +7-3842-44-03-00, kru.ru/ru/contacts). The company produces more than 45 million tons of the natural resource per year.
For Kemerovo and its 540,000 residents, there are other ironies. It has seen significant population growth since the harsh days of early post-Soviet chaos and is up 10 percent from the 2002 census. Yet residents also cope with a giant industrial section of town replete with smokestacks and gray factories that pollute the air, causing headaches and asthma. It is both an eyesore and a sore point for residents.
Many Kemerovo citizens make a trade-off between good ecology and good jobs to live here. Hundreds of factories, plus plenty of stores, offer the prospect of various types of work and even decent wages in comparison with the surrounding region. In one example of the price residents are willing to pay, the pulmonary center at Children’s Clinic Hospital No. 1 runs a program called Asthma School, in which more than 1,000 families in the city participate to learn the best practices for asthma management.
The formal date of Kemerovo’s founding is 1918, but the city’s forerunner was already appearing in an atlas of Siberia in 1701. That settlement was named Shcheglovo, which became Shcheglovsk and then Kemerovo in 1932.
Serving as the administrative seat of the Kemerovo region, Kemerovo is by default one of the industrial and business centers of the region’s Kuznetsk coal basin, or Kuzbass, which produces much of the country’s coal. This natural resource has been a critical part of the local, regional and national economy since the 1920s, but it was discovered by a Cossack mineral hunter, Mikhail Volkov, back in 1721.
A: Banks actively make us various types of offers, but from the point of view of small business, they typically aren't right for us. Loans for growing a business in a stable way are lacking. It's the same with government support. The interest rate is a bit lower, while the conditions are the same. I don't use these loans. I depend on the revenue that I get from customers.
Q: What is the small-business sector in Kemerovo lacking?
A: If a small business works for a major company, the big company is sometimes tough to deal with. Payment for services comes long after they were provided. There is one company that pays three months after the work is done.
A whole slate of programs is needed. In general, the city government really doesn't interact with small business, and help from officials isn't tangible. You don't know where to turn. There is support for entrepreneurship, but you need to have a friend — a good friend — to get something.
Most small and medium-size businesses are in retail and other consumer areas, such as home repair, residential construction and car repair. There aren't small or medium-size companies in the traditional sectors in Kemerovo, such as chemicals or mining. Small companies don't go into those areas. Everything is already staked out by major players.
Q: How do you see the small business environment evolving in Kemerovo?
A: Looking at the current situation, it has become a bit worse than it was when I started my business. That's because of the laws. Maybe it will be a tiny bit better.
Q: What can the city government do to improve the situation?
A: The usual things that everyone has been talking about for ages: fight corruption, increase business competitiveness, give us the possibility to work. I tried to start a business in manufacturing, but it was just impossible. The sector is open only to major companies that have the resources. That said, you can start some kinds of businesses. It's easier to open a service company.
Q: What do people in Kemerovo do for fun?
A: Thank goodness we have theaters, very good ones. To entertain children, we have a good circus here. We have plenty of restaurants and cafes. In the winter, you can go skiing. The opportunities for leisure in the city aren't bad. We also have the Krasnaya Gorka museum, where you can see mining machines.
It took the advent of the Soviet government and its ambition to industrialize the country to begin to bring the coal out of the ground almost 200 years later. When the Soviets started to exploit the Kuzbass, they did so with the expertise of foreigners, including American and Dutch communists.
Foreign volunteers answered Lenin’s call, a special camp was set up and massive extraction of the valuable natural resource began. According to historical accounts, however, the foreigners’ contribution was short-lived, and in 1927, Stalin ordered their colony closed and its expats expelled or sent to the gulag.
Today the labor of the miners is celebrated in another of Kemerovo’s ironies. In a small verdant park on the northern side of the Tom River, the figure of a miner is carved into the top of a giant stone pillar and looks out on the wide streets of the city’s southeast bank. From this beautiful spot, the view of the southwest bank is quite different, with low-slung factories and a set of smokestacks, including the informal eternal flame. In the grove behind the monument, bark is peeling off trees in the park, and a lingering visit here will give you a headache.
Kemerovo bills itself on its website as “the city of good news,” which can be a tough pill to swallow given the poor quality of its ecology. Yet there are many high points of culture, history, architecture and entertainment that make Kemerovo livable and even enjoyable.
The Regional Drama Theater, imposing itself over Sovietsky Prospekt, has a full repertoire and constant stream of dramas and musical performances. The avenues feature buildings whose outside walls are painted dark rose and cream like multilayered strawberry cakes, which is fitting given the array of cake shops, bakeries and cafes. Vesennyaya Ulitsa boasts one of the largest selections of eateries, including restaurants with hearty fare. Clothes shopping, even at Italy’s United Colors of Benetton, is possible here, both on Sovietsky Prospekt and Vesennyaya Ulitsa. The locals are courteous and friendly to strangers, though a bit reserved. They will be surprised by visitors from far-off places and are likely to politely inquire how you wound up in their little bit of Siberia.
What to see if you have two hours
Start in the heart of town at the Regional Drama Theater on Sovietsky Prospekt. You will recognize it by its columns and by the fountain in front, which flashes with fluorescent lights at night. Once you have taken in the sight of the city’s central square, make a beeline for the monument dedicated to Kuzbass miners on the other side of the Tom, which is worth the trip for the close-up look at the statue and the view of the city’s gray industrial quadrant.
If your schedule is tight, hire a car to drive you there and back and wait for you while you visit. Otherwise, you can take a bus or shuttle. Pick up shuttle No. 11 or No. 28 on Sovietsky Prospekt directly across the street from the drama theater. The shuttle will take you over the river. About two minutes after you’ve crossed the bridge, ring for a stop, get off and walk back down the hill toward the bridge. Face the direction from which you’ve just come. The road to the miners monument will be on your right. Another option for getting over the river is to walk to the football stadium at 1 Ploshchad Kirova, then take bus No. 51, 54, 55 or 58 and get off at the first stop after the bridge.
The Lonely Planet guidebook describes the sight of the billowing and burning smokestacks as “stunningly bleak,” though that makes the area sound more like a wasteland than the active industrial neighborhood that it is. Take note of the red heart that glows in the chest of the miner.
What to do if you have two days
Stretch out the visit to the monument, making a detour to the Krasnaya Gorka mining and regional museum (17 Ulitsa Krasnaya Gorka, +7-3842-45-4646, redhill-kemerovo.ru). Admission is 100 rubles for adults. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the museum is closed Monday and the last Friday of each month.
To get there, stand with the river and statue to your back, find a path through the woods on the left and follow it for about five minutes bearing right to where it opens to a small complex of buildings. The museum itself isn’t much of a look, but the gigantic mining machinery in the courtyard is a unique sight. Among the pieces sitting there in silence is a red-and-yellow excavator that could fit a compact car in its bucket.
Then head back into the city, where you can stroll along Sovietsky Prospekt and find a bite to eat or appreciate its well-kept buildings. Return to the theater square, head away from the fountain onto Vesennyaya Ulitsa and walk to the riverfront. Near the Tom’s edge is the official eternal flame and the World War II memorial. Chances are that a bride and groom will be posing for wedding photos there. Next door to the memorial is the military museum (entrance on Pritomskaya Naberezhnaya), which typically has exhibits on the wars in Chechnya.
If you have time to get out of the city and want nature, there is another of Kemerovo’s ironies: Its hills are a well-used spot for biking, hiking and skiing that allow locals to lose sight of the smokestacks and pretend they are somewhere else. Contact local guide Yelena Kaminskaya for hiking. She can make arrangements and supply any needed gear (+7-3842-36-8984). In the hills near the Kuzbass miners monument, cross-country skiing is offered in the winter, while mountain biking is possible in the summer. Ask Kaminskaya or your hotel for seasonal specifics.
What to do with the family
After the kids get an environmental lesson by observing the industrial view from the miners monument, they can stand in awe of the gargantuan mining equipment at the Krasnaya Gorka museum mentioned above. Inside the museum are mammoth bones they can marvel at.
A permanent exhibit about famed cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, opened at the Kemerovo airport on the first floor of the domestic airlines section last month. The display includes a Yak-18 airplane and Soyuz-22 space capsule.
It the city center, the Lunacharsky Kemerovo Regional Drama Theater is a major part of Kemerovo’s cultural life (11 Vesennyaya, +7-3842-36-5375, kemdrama.ru). Stagings range from Samuel Beckett to musical performances. Tickets generally cost no more than 500 rubles and in some cases as little as 150 rubles. Look up the next show using the online listings (kemdrama.ru/playbill).
The city has a limited but busy club scene. For a young, hip crowd, try Pudra Cafe & Club (74/1 Sovietsky Prospekt, +7-3842-44-2233, pudraclub.ru), a dance club that draws a lot of students from the city’s universities Fridays and Saturdays, when it parties from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. Its Wi-Fi-enabled cafe is open daily from 10 a.m. to midnight.
Where to eat
A large, upscale dining establishment, Richard (10 Ulitsa Chkalova, +7-3842-75-5934) serves English fare in formally decorated rooms with dark wooden tables, murals and red upholstery. Open from noon to midnight, the restaurant also serves Russian dishes and comfort food. A typical bill without alcohol is 1,000 rubles. Fish and meat dishes are the specialties.
At Traveler’s Coffee (16 Vesennyaya Ulitsa, +7-3842-34-8987, and 26 Ulitsa 50 Let Oktyabrya, +7-3842-36-0089, travelerscoffee.ru), you can get a sense of the city’s student and intellectual scene as people chat with the baristas or stroll in with friends. This expat-founded cafe chain serves almost 30 types of coffees, from Ethiopian to Costa Rican, priced at 139 rubles for a generous cup or 169 rubles for a half-liter. Teas cost the same, and you can chose from 21 options. Pasta dishes cost about 240 rubles, and small sandwiches, like a croque-monsieur with ham and bechamel, go for 180 rubles. Try the delectable Oreo cake (139 rubles) or another well-made dessert. From noon to 4 p.m., you can catch the business crowd and business-lunch pricing.
For an even more unusual find in this manufacturing town, try Vensky Les, also called Wiener Wald or Vienna Woods (6 Vesennyaya Ulitsa, +7-3842-34-8755). In spite of the Austrian name, this restaurant is pure Russian eclecticism. The decor consists of tidy couches and kitchen tables, while the waitresses are uniformed in white blouses and high-waisted black skirts. This is topped off with caged songbirds that chirp during your meal. Soups and salads go for 200 rubles, sushi is 70 rubles apiece and pasta carbonara is 165 rubles. Portions are small, but the food is excellent. Desserts are a specialty here, as Vensky Les is also a cake shop that bakes its own New York cheesecakes, napoleons and more. Business lunch is noon to 4 p.m.; hours are 8 a.m. (when the cakes arrive) to 11 p.m.
Where to stay
A carefully decorated boutique hotel with just 21 rooms and suites, the Zolotoi Pavlin Hotel is where celebrities stay while in town. Last year’s guests included rock group Piknik, bard and actor Alexander Rozenbaum and flamboyant crooner Sergei Penkin. The hotel (41 Ulitsa Tereshkovoi, near a furniture store, +7-3842-39-0350, www.gold-pavlin.ru) pays tribute to its namesake, the golden peacock, with rich hues and regal furniture. VIP suites have four rooms with woven carpets and a fireplace and include a spacious bed, guest bed, mini-bar and Wi-Fi. The price is 9,600 rubles a night. The two-room luxury suites have similar amenities for 6,200 rubles a night. A second person in either suite adds 300 rubles a night. Booking at the hotel qualifies you for discounts at the European-Russian restaurant La Palma and the Sparta fitness club, which are next door.
The blue-and-white tower that is the Kristall Hotel (90/2 Prospekt Lenina, +7-3842-49-6505 or 44-0104, hotelcrystal.ru) has a good reputation. The executive luxury suite offers leather couches in rich colors and a giant wooden bed, plus a plasma TV and karaoke, starting at 8,300 rubles per night. The deluxe suite option has two rooms, also with an air conditioner, mini-bar and Wi-Fi, but simpler furniture. It starts at 5,000 rubles. Talk is cheaper: The conference hall, which seats 20 people, rents for 8,700 rubles for a full day.
If those hotels are booked, you might try the plainer accommodations at Gostinitsa Kuzbass, or Kuzbass Hotel (20 Vesennyaya Ulitsa, +7-3842-75-4521, hotelkuzbass.ru). The simplest room has a double bed, television, refrigerator and breakfast ticket for 3,200 rubles a night; the same room minus breakfast is 2,900 rubles. The hotel offers two-room studios with deluxe bathroom, air conditioner and breakfast ticket for 5,800 rubles.
In Kemerovo, a male native is a kemerovchanin while a local woman is a kemerovchanka. A popular sport is bandy, a game similar to ice hockey that uses a round ball instead of a puck and traces its heritage to Russia. The sport’s nickname is Russian hockey.
If Kemerovo residents bring up the city’s general pollution, air quality problems or other unpleasant aspects with you, don’t chime in with your own complaints from your short stay, as people are self-conscious about giving a negative view of their city. The Regional Drama Theater is a source of pride, so feel free to talk it up. Just for laughs, you can ask a local if he has ever seen a yeti.
How to get there
You can take the four-hour flight from Moscow to Kemerovo International Airport on either Aeroflot or S7. There is typically one round trip per day from Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo airports. Tickets start at 11,000 rubles.
Once in Kemerovo, you can cover the 10 kilometers from the airport to central Kemerovo by taxi (kemerovo.narule.ru/orgs/taxi). Or you can catch city bus No. 101, which runs in the mornings between the airport and the train station (79 Kuznetsky Prospekt). City bus No. 126 and shuttle bus No. 126 also serve the airport from the Komsomolsky Depot.
It is difficult to find direct flights from Novosibirsk, so try the train. It takes roughly five hours and costs 1,400 rubles, depending on which time and seats you buy.
From Tomsk, Novokuznetsk and Barnaul, there are no direct trains or planes. A pleasant option is to hire a car. The more adventurous option is to ride the public bus, which might lack lavatories but will stop so that passengers can use roadside communal outhouses (four holes in a row on the floor).
On the plus side, outhouses are segregated by gender. Bus prices are generally low, with Barnaul-Kemerovo tickets priced at 9,000 rubles round trip, but the ride is long (three to five hours to Tomsk, eight hours to Barnaul). Overnight rides are available.