Kirov

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Kirov
Population: 480,000
Main industries: timber, peat, phosphorites, machinery construction, metals works, chemical industry.
City Manager: Vladimir Bykov
Founded in 1181
Interesting fact: Kirov was a very popular name for factories and institutions during the Soviet era. Among others, the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg bore the name until 1992.
Sister cities: Taizhou, China; Siedlce, Poland.
Helpful contacts: head of City Hall's business and trade development department, Pavel Anufriyev (+7 833-264-9632; e-mail: business@ako.kirov.ru); Kirov's deputy governor in charge of investment, Georgy Machekhin (+7 833-264-1627); Vyatka Chamber of Trade and Industry president Nikolai Lipatnikov (+7 833-265-1565; e-mail: vcci@vcci.ru) or vice president Leonid Perminov (+7 833-235-8915; lperminov@vcci.ru).

KIROV — Kirov recently attracted international attention for holding court proceedings in a timber embezzlement case against opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The 800-year-old city historically has been associated with thievery, but this is not its only claim to fame.

The settlement was founded by the Novgorodians in 1181, and the earliest published record of Vyatka — the first name of the city, and the name of the river that it is located on — dates back to 1374.

Over the course of time, it changed its name to Khlynov — an unpleasant title rooted in the word "khlyn," or "river robber." Then, during the reign of Catherine the Great, the city returned to its original name of Vyatka only to change it to Kirov during Soviet times. Curiously, Sergei Kirov, the Bolshevik revolutionary who was killed shortly after rising to power in 1934, never set foot in Kirov. Sergei Kirov, a native of the town of Urzhum, located in the south of the region, left the area at the age of 15 to study in Kazan and never came back.

During its history, the city was known not only for river robbery but also for its resources of fur and timber.

Walking down the central streets of the city, sometimes called "the fur capital of Russia," you can find many stores and boutiques selling mink, fox and sheepskin coats produced in nearby fur farms.

Major Local Businesses

Even though the roads are very bad in Kirov, one of the city's main production facilities is the Kirov Tire Plant (15 Ulitsa Energetikov; +7 833-276-1999; tyre.kirov.ru), the second-biggest tire factory by the volume of output in Russia. In 2011, it was bought by Italian holding Pirelli.
The Kirov machine-building Pervogo Maya Factory (100 Ulitsa Rosy Luxemburg; +7 833-236-0344; crane-kirov.ru/en/main) with its focus on highway machinery and railroad cranes is the only manufacturer of some types of this machinery in the former Soviet Union. In 2011 and 2012 it was named the best exporter of railroad machinery in the country.
The Vesta Factory (24 Proizvodstvennaya Ulitsa; +7 833-262-1378; vesta-kirov.­ru) makes the well-known Vyatka-Avtomat washing machine and other household appliances. In 2005, it became part of Italy's Candy Group.

The city's other traditional production is lumber, and one of the local industry leaders is KirovLes, the state-owned company that Navalny was accused of conspiring to steal from when he worked as an adviser to Kirov Governor Nikita Belykh in 2009. Navalny has denied the charges, which he and supporters call politically motivated.

Navalny is not the first prominent defendant here. Starting from the 19th century, Kirov has had a long history of being a place of exile for the politically oppressed. In 1834, revolutionary and author Alexander Herzen was arrested and spent several months here. Another famous convict was satiric writer Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, who was exiled here in 1848 and stayed for more than seven years.

Besides these people who were forced to become "Vyatkavites," the city has its own native sons. Probably the most famous are the brothers Appolinary and Viktor Vasnetsovy, painters whose pictures of Russian fairy tales and legends can be seen in prestigious art collections, including one at Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery.

Another notable part of Kirov's history is the making of Dymkovo folk handicraft, clay figures of people and animals covered with colorful patterns and partly gilded. The most traditional Dymkovo toys consist of roosters, turkeys, goats and loving couples, often made as tin whistles. But you can find or even order more contemporary figures if you wish. To see 360-degree views of Dymkovo handicrafts, check out the website dymkovo360.ru.

For MT
Natalya Pyshko,
Founder and president of Progress Gallery
Q: You are the founder of the only nongovernmental gallery in Kirov and the only new one to open in recent years. How did the idea of gallery come about?
A: We opened an art business called ArtArsenal in 2006. After some time we realized that the Kirov region had a great number of talented painters who had nowhere to display their works. There are only two galleries in Kirov besides ours. For a long time we organized exhibits at various places and finally we opened the Progress Gallery in 2011.

Q: What is the concept of the gallery?
A: Progress is not a commercial enterprise. We do not take money from the artists for their exhibits. Our aim is to show off independent, talented artists who want to express original ideas.
One of our interests is authentic, traditional art. We develop the Vyatka style of painting, similar to the artwork that ornaments Dymkovo toys but much more abundant and rich and now almost forgotten.
Our other focus is on contemporary art. We have a permanent exposition of contemporary art given to us by Moscow curator Lisa Plavinskaya, and our friends enrich it with new exhibits all the time.
Our gallery also hosts a Vyatka rock 'n' roll museum.
We adopted yet another format that is quite new here. We are not just a museum but an art space. We host lectures, concerts, recitations and afternoon teas. Theatrical director Boris Pavlovich held classes for his Art Laboratory School here. Most of those events are free.

Q: Does the city government help you?
A: The government often does not have the money. For example, a project might cost 200,000 rubles but City Hall can give only 50,000 rubles. So we often pay for various events by ourselves. We invite independent, not well-known but really amazing artists and bands because nobody will if we do not.
We try to find investors at Kirov companies, but donating to a cause like ours is still not very popular here. So we are engaged in something like missionary art work: We do not do it to make a profit but to deliver art.

— Ekaterina Zagvozdkina

Kirov got its first taste of heavy industry during World War II, when many factories in western Russia were relocated here. Metallurgy and metal production remains, as does the electrical engineering factory Lepse, one of the few in the country that produces parts for aviation and rocket equipment. Another aviation technology plant, Avitec, makes unique items such as catapult seats.

After the Soviet collapse, Kirov began to look beyond state-sponsored industry, and Governor Belykh has prioritized the modernization of existing plants and the attraction of outside investment.

Foreign investors include the Italian holding Pirelli, which runs the Kirov Tire Plant, and Italy's Candy Group, which owns the Vesta Factory, a home appliances manufacturer. IKEA Trading und Design bought the local Domostroitel factory to produce wooden furniture and accessories in 2009, while Spain's Teka Enterprise produces domestic appliances here. The city got its first McDonalds in 2011.

But Kirov still maintains a strong connection with its history. Wandering up and down its hills and between churches, one-story wooden houses and small stone mansions that were built in the 18th-19th century, you can feel the spirit of a small regional city once inhabited by merchants, tradespeople and nobility.

Indeed, at least one more thing has not changed from those days: the roads.

The roads are so bad that they have became something of a local landmark. Locals like to joke that the roads were left in such poor condition to prevent German tanks from entering the city during World War II.

Besides old traditions, Kirov offers something quite unexpected for a provincial city. At the Vyatka Humanitarian Gymnasium, where English is a major subject, the students take pleasure in all things British. Not only do they celebrate Christmas, St. Valentine's Day and other Western holidays, but every spring they elect a queen to reign for a year. The ceremony is conducted by a teacher representing the Duke of Edinburgh.

What to see if you have two hours

The historical center is not big so you can take a walk around it, starting at the Naberezhnaya Grina, named after writer Alexander Grin, who was born and raised here. Then take the bridge across the ravine and go to Alexandrovsky Park. From its rotundas situated on a high riverbank, you can admire a picturesque view of the river and city's outskirts.

After that, walk along the embankment to the spot where the Kremlin walls stood in the 15th century and farther to an eternal flame monument for those who perished in World War II.

Then go down a flight of stairs to the Trifonovsky Monastery, also known as St. Tryphon of Vyatka Monastery (4 Ulitsa Gorbacheva; trifonovmonastyr.ru), perhaps the most famous and oldest church complex in the city. Founded in 1580, the domes of the monastery's cathedral were removed and the site was converted into a huge bakery in Soviet times. But in 1991 the cathedral was restored to its former glory, and it re-opened as the main house of worship in the Kirov region. Behind the cathedral lies a spring that never freezes, even in winter. Locals believe that its water cures disease.

If you still have a few minutes, walk two blocks up Ulitsa Gorbacheva and then go two blocks to the right until you reach a round, redbrick building — a tsarist-era shopping center that now houses a music college. This is Spasskaya Ulitsa, the city's main artery of shops and banks dating from before the Revolution.

What to do if you have two days

For MT
Vladimir Bykov,
Kirov city manager
Q: Why should a foreign investor consider Kirov?
A: Our city has land available for business and at the same time offers several highly developed sectors, including produce processing. We also have a well-educated workforce.
Geographically, Kirov is located just 900 kilometers from Moscow and is a major transportation hub, straddling the border between European and Asian Russia.

Q: Which city sectors have the most potential?
A: The mechanical engineering sector is promising. Several local plants already have foreign investors or even owners, like the Vesta factory, which produces washing machines and is launching a new line of fridges. The other sectors are the chemical industry and rubber production. The Kirov tire plant is now part of Italy's Pirelli group.

Q: What positive changes have happened recently in the city?
A: A program aimed at developing small and medium-sized business is ongoing. We offer municipal financial assistance to investors and subsidize interest rates and leasing contracts. Our policy is part of a wider regional policy intended to stimulate investment and develop innovations and new technologies. We are open to any kind of partnership and want to welcome investors to our city.

— Ekaterina Zagvozdkina

Many landmarks and sights are located around Teatralnaya Ploshchad, the main city square crowned with the seemingly indispensable Lenin statue. Just five minutes' walk away is the Vasnetsovy Brothers Art Museum (70 Ulitsa Karla Marxa; +7 833-264-2853; kirov-artmuzeum.ru), a permanent exposition of church art and icons, glass and china, and the works of Russian painters from the 17th to 20th centuries including, of course, the Vasnetsovy brothers.

Also in the neighborhood is the Museum of Dymkovo Toys (67 Ulitsa Svobody; +7 833-238-3953; dymkatoy.ru), where you can not only examine a collection of more than 700 handicrafts but also watch crafters make the toys or even try to create one yourself. The do-it-yourself workshop should be booked in advance.

Then stop by Alexandrovsky Kostyol (46 Ulitsa Derendyaeva; +7 833-262-7753), a Roman Catholic church built by exiled Poles in 1903 that was used as a house of worship until the 1930s. It now serves as a culture hall and hosts beautiful organ concerts.

If you are interested in space, check out the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Museum of Aviation and Astronautics (16 Ulitsa Engelsa; +7 833-238-4745; cosmomuzey.org.ru). Here you can see the personal belongings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a pioneer of astronautic theory and another prominent local resident. Also on display are homemade instruments from his first years of space study. In the yard in front of the museum stands a monument to Viktor Savinykh, a Soviet cosmonaut and native son.

A popular recreation area is Park Kirova (147 Oktyabrsky Prospekt), whose grounds include the city circus and an amusement park with a Ferris wheel. The park also hosts one of the city's most famous Soviet-era monuments, Diorama (32 Ulitsa Gorkogo; + 7 833-254-0455), which depicts the arrival of Soviets in Kirov and was unveiled on the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution.

Nightlife

The most well-known city theater is Teatr na Spasskoi (17 Spasskaya Ulitsa; +7 833-238-4895; ekvus-kirov.ru), which is run by St. Petersburg director Boris Pavlovich. Try to book seats to the most-loved performance, "Istoriya Odnogo Goroda", or "The History of a Town", which is based on a satirical novel by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin.

One of the most popular nightclubs among the locals is the spacious and intricately decorated Gaudi Hall (103 Ulitsa Volodarskogo; +7 833-232-1100; gaudi-hall.ru). With a slogan promising to deliver "the architecture of entertainment," the club throws parties almost every night with Russian and foreign musicians and DJs.

Che Pay (75 Ulitsa Karla Marxa; geometria.ru/places/che-pay-bar) is another local hot spot after 9 p.m. Here you can find local hipsters and fashionable youngsters bouncing to music by obscure independent artists from Kirov and Moscow. The club also screens movies on some evenings.

Where to eat

For MT
Nikolai Lipatnikov,
Head of Vyatka Chamber of Trade and Industry
Q: Which local industries would you encourage a foreign investor to consider?
A: The Kirov region covers 120 thousand square kilometers, about 60 percent of which is forest. So forest and lumber are one of the most promising sectors. We produce 8 million cubic meters of timber per year, but we could produce 17 million cubic meters — more than twice the current amount. And about 30 percent of what we produce currently ends up as waste. Their use would amount to a real Klondike!
Many lands are suitable for agriculture, particularly grains, and the livestock industry, including dried milk production.
Also, we are planning to build a recycling plant in the city to deal with the 2 million tons of waste that we produce every year. That waste includes 1.5 million tons of industrial and 500,000 tons of household waste. Foreign companies have the technology, and we can provide them with the market.
The construction sector is also available for investment, and the amount of money plowed into residential and industrial property grows every year.

Q: What factors hinder investment?
A: The main problem is bureaucracy. You know, we had the so-called month of culture in Soviet times, meaning that you had to act cultured, nice and to smile for a month — and that was it. Modern measures, like our announced "year of business development," resemble that tradition. But that is not enough. Some complex decisions are needed.

Q: How can the Vyatka Chamber of Trade and Industry help a foreign investor?
A: We have information about the region and experience working here, so we can provide information support and assistance in organizing relations with authorities. Also, because we are not a governmental organization, we do not take a formalistic approach to our work.

Q: What advice would you offer a prospective foreign investor?
A: Do not be afraid and come. We have a great market in Russia, one of the biggest in the world, and can form a mutually advantageous partnership.

— Ekaterina Zagvozdkina

Dozens of cafes and restaurants are located on the downtown Spasskaya and Moskovskaya streets near the crossroads with Ulitsa Lenina.

In the Kazemat bar, meaning "Casemate," or fortified gun emplacement (25 Ulitsa Moskovskaya; +7 833-265-1555), you can order barbequed meat or chicken for 200 to 300 rubles, accompanied with a glass of beer for a further 100 rubles. Or treat a small party to a platter of assorted sausages weighing more than a kilogram; the 1,050-ruble cost includes 1.5 liters of beer for free. While waiting for your meal, admire the metal gratings on the windows and raw brick walls, reminders of the city's long exile history. In the summertime, the bar opens a terrace called "the prison yard."

Another good meet and beer spot is Pivnoi Dvorik, or Beer Yard (41 Spasskaya Ulitsa; +7 833-264-7000), where German food is served by waitresses wearing traditional Bavarian clothes. The place's specialty, as its name suggests, is the local beer Vyatich. Half a liter costs 45 rubles.

If you prefer Ukrainian food, you can pay a visit to the Shinok restaurant (10 Moskovskaya Ulitsa, +7 833-238-3433), decorated like a house in a Ukrainian village. Among the dishes worth sampling on the menu are borshch, salo and vareniki fruit or cottage cheese dumplings.

Speaking of dumplings, another great place to dine is one of the town's many Pelmennaya, or Dumpling Place: a type of cafe where high, round tables and waitresses in white caps and blue aprons will make you feel like you are back in the Soviet Union. As a rule, a serving of dumplings costs less than 100 rubles, and a glass of beer goes for another 50 to 80 rubles. There are plenty of these eateries dotted around the city, all with different owners but with similar food and service. A favorite among locals is Znatnaya Pelmennaya (55 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 833-220-5655).

Where to stay

Tsentralnaya Gostinitsa (80 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 833-238-3050; hotel.kirov.ru/en) is one of the oldest hotels in the city, built in 1937 and recognized as a local architectural landmark. A good choice if you want to stay in the very center of the city, the hotel offers a standard double for 2,800 rubles per night and a luxury room for 5,500 rubles. Prices include breakfast. The hotel also has a hairdressing salon, a fitness center, a gift shop and a bar in the lobby.

The other main place to stay is the Hotel Kirov (10 Ulitsa Krasina; +7 833-257-8587; hotelkirov.com/en), which opened in 2012 and claims to be the best hotel in region. A standard double costs 3,300 rubles with breakfast included and a free transfer to the railroad station, which is five minutes away. Guests can use hotel facilities such as the sauna and gym at no charge.

Conversation starters

Few foreigners find their way to Kirov, so a visitor speaking another language draws a lot of attention here. You can easily start a conversation by asking about Kirov's liberal-leaning governor, Nikita Belykh, or Russia's role in international affairs. Political issues are a very popular topic of conversation.

Another good way to start a conversation would be to praise the local beer Vyatich, which is a feather in the cap of locals, or unique liqueurs brewed with various berries and herbs by the Urzhumka factory.

A topic suitable for almost any provincial Russian city also works here: the bad roads and the high cost of their repair.

Other helpful tips

If you crave the full experience of a central Russian province, leave the downtown area and go to Poroshino (36 Borovitskaya Ulitsa, Poroshino; +7 833-244-1151), a former village that is now part of the city and is popular for its forest and camping site. On weekends, you can find a good portion of the local populace here, skiing in winter (skis can be rented for a small fee) or hiking among the gloomy fir trees in summer. People ride horses and roast shashlik here as well.

If you would like to combine hiking with adventure, join the Velikoretsky Procession (velikoretsky-hod.ru), an annual march that has taken place since the mid-15th century. While not as famous as the Santiago de Compostela in Spain, it still draws thousands of pilgrims from Russia and abroad for the July 3 to 8 walk from Kirov to the village of Velikoretskoye, where legend says a miraculous icon of St. Nicholas appeared. The total distance of pilgrimage to and from Velikoretskoye is 150 kilometers.

Kirov is the place to visit during Maslenitsa, the pancake week holiday at the end of February or the beginning of March every year. Big celebrations called "gulyaniya" are held in the city, and you can sample bliny with various fillings, take part in traditional contests such as tug of war, and see the main event: the open-air burning of the doll of Winter to drive away the cold and prepare the way for spring.

If you want a memorable souvenir, look for a fur coat in Kirov, where the prices are fair and the quality is good. Browse the fur shops on Ulitsa Lenina and consider a sleek mink coat for 70,000 rubles or a more modest one made of sheepskin for 50,000 rubles. Also, there is a huge variety of caps, scarves, mittens and other fur and leather accessories.

How to get there

Kirov is a big rail hub situated on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, so the easiest way is to get here is by train. The trip takes 12 to 14 hours from Moscow's Yaroslavsky or Kursky stations, and a one-way ticket costs 2,000 to 4,000 rubles, depending on the class.

The alternative is to take a flight from Moscow's Vnukovo Airport to the local Pobedilovo Airport (+7 833-264-4302; pobedilovo.com). The Utair airline makes one flight daily, and the 900-kilometer trip lasts two hours, 10 minutes. Tickets cost from 11,000 rubles to 18,000 rubles round-trip.

Contact the author at bizreporter@imedia.ru