- By Irina Filatova
- Jun. 19 2011 21:10
Mayor: Yevgeny Teftelev
Interesting fact: Magnitogorsk was a closed city off-limits to foreigners from 1937 to perestroika.
Founded in 1929 as a settlement for construction workers who were building MMK.
Mayor Yevgeny Teftelev (+7 3519-28-84-55;
Yana Kovalenko, head of City Hall’s strategic development and investment projects department (+7 3519-49-85-82;
Viktor Barabanov, president of the Magnitogorsk Small and Medium-Sized Business Association (+7 3519-26-07-07;
Sister city: Brandenburg, Germany
MAGNITOGORSK, Chelyabinsk Region — Writer Maxim Gorky wrote at the beginning of the last century that every Russian has two souls, one that originates in Asia, with its superstitions and laziness, and the other in the West, with its love of arts and passion for education.
Probably the best way to check whether Gorky was right is to go to Magnitogorsk, where the Ural River — a natural border between Europe and Asia — runs directly through the city, dividing it into two parts.
But Magnitogorsk residents, who live in Europe and work in Asia, say they haven't noticed any truth to Gorky's conjecture.
"It's normal to make a quick getaway from Europe to Asia," said Viktor, a former boxer who now works as a taxi driver.
"I do it seven times a day," he said, driving a reporter around the city.
Indeed, the city's residential district is located in Europe, on the right bank of the Ural River, while the Asian left bank hosts the industrial neighborhood dominated by the metals giant Magnitogorsk Iron & Steel Works, or MMK, one of Russia's largest steelmakers.
Most company workers, who live on the right bank, cross the river at least twice a day to come to the plant in the morning and return home in the evening.
Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, or MMK (93 Ulitsa Kirova; +7 3519-24-93-55, Yevgeny Kovtunov, head of investors relations;
BelMag (1/1 Ulitsa Matrosova, Bldg. 4; +7 3519-48-32-56 or in Moscow +7 499-788-7354;
It was construction of MMK — the biggest industrial development project of the Soviet Union's first five-year plan — that became the impetus to establish Magnitogorsk, which first appeared in 1929 as a tiny settlement for workers who arrived to build the factory.
Today, more than 80 years later, the plant continues to influence the life of Magnitogorsk — a one-factory city with steel accounting for about 77 percent of produced goods and the jobs of 35 percent of the economically active population, or about 62,000 people.
The city is located at the foot of Magnitnaya Mountain, from which it got its name. The mountain contained huge reserves of magnetic iron ore, which were initially used by MMK as a raw material for producing steel.
Many companies and organizations have included some form of the word "steel" in their names, with "metallurg," or "metallurgist," being one of the most popular. The local hockey club, a sanatorium and the ice arena — all owned by MMK — are named Metallurg. The word is also part of the local ski center's name, Metallurg-Magnitogorsk.
Q: Why should foreign companies invest in Magnitogorsk?
A: The city administration guarantees support to investors. We are ready to provide plots of land to investors and build infrastructure to reduce the tax burden. Magnitogorsk has good personnel potential and lower labor costs compared with Moscow and St. Petersburg. We also have lower land rental rates and utility fees than other industrial cities.
Q: What will the city look like in 10 years?
A: We hope that our city will be modern, beautiful and comfortable to live in. We’re focused on diversifying the economy, because Magnitogorsk has historically developed as a one-factory town. We are seeing progress already, with new companies starting to work in various sectors. Local authorities pay much attention to modernizing roads and arranging the city’s green spaces. So we hope to have a city attractive for tourists from all over the world.
Q: Which sectors do you plan to develop?
A: We have a good basis for developing car production, because MMK is launching a new mill to make automotive sheet steel. Magnitogorsk is also home to one of the largest domestic producers of car parts, Belmag. We have approached all the major carmakers, including Yo-Auto, to build assembly plants in the city. We also plan to develop the pharmaceutical industry and tourism.
Q: What makes Magnitogorsk special?
A: Our unique geographical location. Magnitogorsk is the place where Europe meets Asia. City residents and visitors travel from one continent to the other every day.
— Irina Filatova
The local administration, however, is trying to diversify the city's economy to attract various kinds of investors. Magnitogorsk was ranked 28th last year in Forbes Russia magazine's annual ranking of the 30 best cities for doing business.
So far, the city has two potential investors: McDonald's, which is considering opening restaurants in the city, and German wholesale chain Metro Cash & Carry, which is starting construction of a shopping center in July. Metro Cash & Carry will invest 20 million euros ($29 million) in the shopping center, which is to open in early 2012.
"Magnitogorsk, as well as the whole Chelyabinsk region, has demonstrated significant economic growth rates and has a good potential for Metro Cash & Carry to develop business," company spokeswoman Oksana Tokareva said in e-mailed comments.
"We're sure that our shopping center in Magnitogorsk will be in high demand," she said.
What to do if you have two hours
The major places of interest are located in the European part of the city at a rather long distance from one another.
Ask a local taxi driver, who can easily be caught on the street, to show you around Magnitogorsk and to stop at the most interesting places that tell its history.
Start your trip from the old part of Magnitogorsk — the so-called German district built by captured German soldiers after World War II. None of its small two-story houses with tiny balconies and walls decorated with stone look alike. Check out the cozy yards surrounded by withered, witchlike trees.
Head to the city center to see a tent-shaped monument to the first construction workers of MMK. A poem of construction workers' life in the tents by poet Boris Ruchyov, one of the workers, is etched on the monument.
Pass by the white mosque behind a carved fence and the huge Russian Orthodox Ascension Cathedral overlooking the bank of the river.
En route check out the Stalin houses of the city's first district — Leninsky — built after World War II.
Finish your tour at the observation point of the Tyl Frontu monument opposite City Hall. The 83-ton colossus depicts a worker passing an enormous sword to a warrior and commemorates the city's industrial contribution to the victory in World War II. The observation point provides a breathtaking view of the landscape, including the MMK smokestacks across the Ural River.
What to do if you have two days
Locals like to spend weekends at the sports resorts Abzakovo and Bannoye located in Bashkortostan, about 45 minutes' drive from the city. Both places also provide a wide range of opportunities to enjoy breathtaking landscapes with mountains, forests and lakes. Both resorts also have modern ski lifts and provide sports equipment for rent.
Q: Is it easy to develop a small business in Magnitogorsk?
A: Small businesses develop in the service sector and rely on MMK. We have rather high salaries thanks to the plant and low unemployment, so the residents’ purchasing power depends on the company’s prosperity.
Q: Which challenges do you face?
A: The conditions for developing business are rather complicated. Small enterprises have no chance to develop outside the service sector. There are very few companies involved in production because of MMK’s monopoly in the sector.
Q: What could you recommend to see in Magnitogorsk?
A: The old part of the city, which was built in the 1950s to 1960s, has very beautiful streets designed by Leningrad architects. Prospekt Metallurgov, part of Prospekt Lenina and Leningradskaya Ulitsa remind me of the streets of St. Petersburg and Prague.
— Irina Filatova
Abzakovo (Novoabzakovo village; +7 3519-25-93-00;
Summer activities in Abzakovo include whitewater rafting down the mountain river Kizilka, mountain biking and horse riding.
Accommodation options range from a single in a dormitory-like block built in 1961 (1,580 rubles [$57] per night, including meals three times a day) to a suite with its own kitchen in a new four-story cottage (4,350 rubles per person per night including meals three times a day).
Two-story wooden cottages for eight are also available at 1,200 rubles per night without meals.
The ski center Metallurg-Magnitogorsk, located 40 kilometers north of Magnitogorsk near the picturesque Bannoye Lake, provides a similar range of services (+7 3519-25-56-01;
Accommodation is available at nearby hotels that also offer transportation to the tracks. The cozy apartment complex Taganai located 1.5 kilometers from the ski center has 21 rooms with prices starting at 1,500 rubles per night per person including breakfast (32 Solnechnaya Ulitsa, Zelyonaya Polyana settlement; +7 3519-22-01-64, +7 909-093-33-66;
What to do with kids
Youngsters will definitely be excited about the colorful water slides at the Vodopad Chudes water park — the only complex of its kind south of the Ural Mountains. Experience the Black Hole slide, which is more than 62 meters long, or enjoy the artificial waves in one of four swimming pools (9 Ulitsa Naberezhnaya; 7 3519-49-66-55;
Alternatively, visit one of the local ice arenas, UMKA, to go skating year round (21 Sovetskaya Ulitsa; +7 3519-41-81-87;
The local drama theater, which is as old as Magnitogorsk itself, has a wide repertoire that includes plays based on classical literature by Ivan Bunin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Anton Chekhov and Lope De Vega, as well as modern writers (Alexander Pushkin Drama Theater; 66 Prospekt Lenina; +7 3519-26-70-86;
Where to eat
Q: What do you like most about working in Magnitogorsk?
A: It’s my hometown, where I grew up and have succeeded as a research worker and an entrepreneur. I like Magnitogorsk’s architecture, people’s attitude toward work, and the surrounding nature. But what I like most are Magnitogorsk residents, who are very reliable and hardworking.
Q: Who are BelMag’s major clients?
A: BelMag is the main car parts supplier to AvtoVAZ and GM-AvtoVAZ. We also supply car parts to the secondary market, including dealer companies all over Russia and other former Soviet Union countries, and for export to the countries that buy Lada vehicles. We’re also holding talks with foreign carmakers that have come to Russia. The government policy on localizing car assembly gives us a chance to establish partnerships.
Q: Which challenges do you face?
A: High interest rates, which are lower abroad.
Q: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs considering a startup in Magnitogorsk?
A: Analyze the situation in their sector thoroughly in order to understand the specific advantages. It’s also important to find reliable partners locally.
Q: What’s your favorite place in Magnitogorsk?
A: I like the Leninsky district built in the 1950s and based on Leningrad architects’ designs. It’s very cosy and has its own look. The Tyl Frontu monument, Magnitnaya Mountain and Ascension Cathedral are also must-sees.
— Irina Filatova
True to its location between the East and the West, Magnitogorsk has a number of restaurants offering European and Asian cuisine.
Visit Uchkuduk (12 Ulitsa Oktyabrskaya: +7 3519-22-65-45;
Shikotan (24 Ulitsa Naberezhnaya; +7 3519-27-86-27), with a wide range of Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes, is frequented by players of the local hockey club Metallurg, including Finland's Juhamatti Aaltonen and the Czech Republic's Tomas Rolinek. A meal for one without alcohol costs 800 rubles.
Options outside the town include Non-Stop in Abzakovo (Novoabzakovo village; +7 3519-25-95-14), a new restaurant built in Alpine style and frequented by local businessmen like MMK head Viktor Rashnikov. Kremlin economic aide Arkady Dvorkovich and rock star Andrei Makarevich have also been spotted here. The chef's special is goose stuffed with neat's tongue and dried apricots baked with apples. A meal for one without alcohol costs 800 rubles.
Gornoye Ushchelye (+7 3519-25-58-98), located at the Metallurg ski center and accessible by ski lift, sits on a mountain top and offers a magnificent view of Bannoye Lake surrounded by six smaller lakes. Try crunchy apple strudel with a scoop of ice cream like President Medvedev did when he dropped in for tea while skiing here.
Where to stay
Hotel Europe (3 Zelyonaya Ulitsa; +7 3519-21-46-01, +7 3519-21-47-14;
Q: What role did the city play in your career as a fashion designer?
A: It played a crucial role. I spent my childhood and youth there. I dreamed and drew my first sketches there. I also worked a bit at the local sewing factory, Makintosh.
Q: Why does the city need Polovodye?
A: Magnitogorsk has people who create interesting performances and good designers who create interesting items. Creative people should come together, and the festival is a chance to show what they can do.
Q: What do you recommend seeing in Magnitogorsk?
A: Stop in the German district, with its two-story houses, to walk over a bridge connecting Europe and Asia. Take a tram past the huge MMK plant to see the pipes and the smoke. It’s also good to go to the ski resorts in winter and gather mushrooms around the town in the summer and fall.
— Irina Filatova
Hotel Laguna (9 Naberezhnaya Ulitsa; +7 3519-27-94-06;
Hotel Forum (130 Prospekt Lenina; +7 3519-43-70-11;
Hockey is the most discussed topic in Magnitogorsk, home to the hockey club Metallurg, which was founded in 1955 and is owned by MMK. Most residents follow the team's results, and matches are broadcast on big screens in cafes and restaurants. "Everyone lives for hockey," said MMK worker Andrei Medvedev. "If a match is held in the evening, we have nothing else to discuss at work the next morning."
Other helpful hints
The city is rather windy because of its location near the river. Make sure to take warm clothes.
How to get there
Daily flights from the Vnukovo and Domodedovo airports take about two hours to reach Magnitogorsk, located about 2,000 kilometers southeast of Moscow and two times zones ahead. Tickets starts at 7,500 rubles round trip.
The Magnitogorsk International Airport (+7 3519-29-92-29;
Trains to Magnitogorsk depart from Moscow's Kazansky Station, with a one-way trip taking about 36 hours. Tickets start at 5,600 rubles round trip.