Stary Oskol

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Stary Oskol

Population: 222,000

Main industries: mining, metallurgy and food

Mayor: Pavel Shishkin

Founded in 1593

Interesting fact: This historical city is one of the country’s youngest in terms of population. The average age of Stary Oskol residents is 35 years.

Sister cities: Asenovgrad, Bulgaria; Mantta, Finland; Salzgitter, Germany

Helpful contacts: Natalya Ziborova, acting deputy head of the Stary Oskol administration for economic development (+7 4725-22-15-50)

STARY OSKOL, Belgorod Region — Any Stary Oskol resident can give you explicit instructions on how to get to the Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant. The plant, owned by Metalloinvest, is the largest employer in the city and is at the center of its economy, which relies largely on the region’s deposits of iron ore.

Stary Oskol was established in 1593 to defend Russia’s southern flanks, but it was not until 1982 — when the plant opened — that it started to noticeably expand and attract new visitors. In 2010, the plant placed seventh among Russian metallurgical enterprises in terms of the amount of steel and other metals that it produced.

“It’s a Russian Klondike,” said Nina Orlova, a city resident and retired journalist. “People come from everywhere to work here.”

Working at the plant is considered prestigious and profitable. During the Soviet period, it was one of the simplest ways to get an apartment of your own. Today the plant still offers some of the highest salaries in the region, at about 20,000 rubles ($635) per month.

Major Factories

Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant, (+7 4725-37-27-07; oemk.ru) is one of Russia’s largest steel producers. The plant gets raw materials through a 26-kilometer pipeline from Lebedinsky GOK, a nearby iron ore production facility, and molds them into pipe billets, roller-bearing steel as well as products for the auto and other industries. The plant currently produces 3.3 million tons of steel per year, but its managers have announced their plans to increase this amount to 3.85 million tons per year in the near future.

Slavyanka Production Association, (20 Ulitsa Oktyabrya; +7 4725-22-55-22; slavjanka.ru) makes its customers’ lives sweet by treating them to over 400 different products, including boxed candy, chocolate bars, cookies and marmalade. The company’s factories produce up to 150 tons of products each year, which make it one of the largest producers of confectionary goods on the Russian market.

Slavyanka fans can wash down their chocolate bars with local milk from the dairy plant Avida, (Promzona; +7 4725-42-93-28; mk-avida.ru). The plant supplies its products to all regions of the country. Eight of these products are included in a government list of the “Best 100 Products of Russia,” so it’s not surprising that even on a train from Arkhangelsk to Moscow one can hear travelers compliment milk from the Belgorod region.

Another key enterprise in the city is the iron ore mine Stoilensky GOK, which is associated with Novolipetsk Steel. The mine is one of the country’s leading suppliers of raw iron and ore, and has plans to grow even more by building a new factory and increasing the size of its quarry.

City life revolves around these two metal-producing giants because all residents are connected to the metals industry in some way. In the morning, rows of cars head out to the plant and the mine. The typical picture in the evening is one of workers sitting in the yards of their apartment buildings, nibbling on sunflower seeds and drinking beer.

The local youth jokingly warn, “Beware of the gopniks.” The “gopniks” they refer to are mine workers who roam the city after their shifts have ended, clad in black tracksuits.

In addition to sunflower seeds, the gopniks are well fed with locally produced goods, such as dairy, bread and confectionary treats. Like its Ukrainian neighbors located just 100 kilometers to the south, Stary Oskol has fertile land and typically collects a good harvest. Passing by the dachas you will see grapes and even apricots growing in the summertime.

Stary Oskol is also a fertile ground for sports. There are more than 600 sport facilities in the city, including four arenas, 107 fitness centers and 17 swimming pools. Not surprisingly, 17 Stary Oskol natives represent Russia in international athletic events.

The three Yemelyanenko brothers are the most famous athletes from the city. Ivan, the youngest brother, has won city and regional martial arts championships. Alexander is a multiple Russian champion and a European champion in martial sambo. The oldest brother, Fyodor, is the most successful with 13 world titles in mixed martial arts. Russian fans have dubbed him “The Last Emperor,” while the Americans have called him “The Baddest Man on the Planet.” Fyodor Yemelyanenko lives and trains in a former bomb shelter in Stary Oskol where he began his career.

For MT

Andrei Ugarov,
First deputy general director of Metalloinvest,
the holding for the Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant

Q: What are the benefits and challenges of working in Stary Oskol?
A: The plant was originally built as the most modern in the country. The introduction of what at the time was unique technology for the national metallurgical industry in a brand-new enterprise in a “non-metallurgical” region was not without difficulties. The fact that the plant is now working stably and developing, while remaining one of the leading Russian enterprises, shows that these difficulties were overcome.

Q: What role does the plant play in the life of the city?
A: Its significance for the city cannot be exaggerated. We team up with local authorities to develop the city and the region. Metalloinvest signed a social and economic partnership agreement with the regional government and the city administration in April of this year specifically to increase the effectiveness of development projects in Stary Oskol and the Belgorod region. The work that the plant and the holding do in the region is highly valued by the residents. We are trusted. Thirteen workers from the plant are members of the Stary Oskol city legislature. This helps to effectively realize the company and city’s social initiatives.

Q: How will the enterprise develop in the future?
A: Metalloinvest’s development program includes projects that will support the technical rearmament and modernization of the plant and the introduction of new technologies. The main aim of the enterprise’s modernization is to more than double its capacity to up to 3.85 million tons of steel per year. This will provide stable development for the enterprise and the region as a whole.

— Lena Smirnova

Alongside the gopniks and athletes, Stary Oskol might also have been home to one of the country’s most mysterious women. Art critics have pondered over the identity of the subject in Ivan Kramskoi’s “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” since he completed the painting in 1883. The painting now hangs in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.

But a Stary Oskol resident who collects files on the city’s history says he knows the answer. According to him, the woman was a merchant’s daughter, her name was Nadezhda — and she lived in Stary Oskol.

So whether you are coming to or going from the city, make sure to look around for similarly haughty traits in the faces of passers-by. Perhaps you will be the one who finally solves the mystery.

What to see if you have two hours

It’s no coincidence that the museum that stores the artifacts of Stary Oskol’s history is located on Ulitsa Lenina. Although the city has no kremlin, the street is the indisputable center and best representation of the city. It splits the city into its old and new parts, and is itself the oldest part of town. Here you can get a feel of why Stary Oskol is really stary (old). Walking from the north, first stop by the Starooskolsky Art Museum (57 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 4725-22-63-78) to look at some realist and avant-garde art. Then on your walk out, chuckle at the monument to the city’s economy — a piece of iron ore on a pedestal. If the unusual monument piques your interest in the city, walk a bit further down Ulitsa Lenina to the Museum of Regional Studies (50 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 4725-22-45-41). The museum has a miniature model of Stary Oskol, local artifacts and a taxidermy exhibit, which has been known to consistently frighten schoolchildren.

For a more relaxed time, head to the square by Cinema Byl (38 Mikroraion Zhukova; +7 4725-42-92-52) and join the couples strolling along the alleys lined with statues of local war heroes. This part of town also has statue-less alleys and fountains if you prefer a more traditionally romantic route. The cafe by the movie theater offers the best ice cream in Stary Oskol and is the perfect way to top off your two-hour introduction to the city.

What to do if you have two days

Prokhorov Pole (+7 4724-22-17-07), located in the village Prokhorovka, 111 kilometers from Stary Oskol, looks far more impressive than its pictures in history textbooks. The field was the site of one of the largest World War II tank battles and is now a museum. The large brotherhood grave, memorial churches and tank display are enough to inspire awe in anyone. Most people visit the field voluntarily, but German tourists are sometimes whisked there whether they choose to or not.

For MT

Sergei Gusev,
Chairman of Slavyanka, a major confectionery producer

Q: Why was Slavyanka built specifically in Stary Oskol?
A: There is a really good investment climate in the Belgorod region. This is the case in terms of progress, as well as support from the administration and economic and physical security. All of these factors came together to help form a secure investment climate. When we were deciding where to put our money, we looked at the options of building in other regions. But after analyzing the situation and evaluating the investment climate, we made the decision that we should build where we are now.

Q: What are the advantages of working in Stary Oskol?
A: There are good conditions for business development here. There is support from the administration. The authorities help in various ways: They give land, connect businesses to energy infrastructure, and help quickly fill out registration papers and finalize other documents. This is very important. Stary Oskol also has a good labor potential. It’s a city of workers and technical specialists.

Q: What is your favorite candy and why?
A: My favorite candy changes depending on the season. As soon as a new product is developed, it becomes a favorite. I can tell whole stories about my favorite sorts of candy, some of which have gone through really difficult stages. Each product, like a person, has a whole life inside it.

— Lena Smirnova

“It’s to show them our side of history,” a local woman said with a smile.

A visit to Vasily Yeroshenko’s house just outside of Stary Oskol (15 Ulitsa Yeroshenko, Obukhovka settlement; +7 4725-37-24-32) could be more to your taste if you are not a military enthusiast. Blinded since early childhood, Yeroshenko became famous for his writings in Japanese and Esperanto.

There are small sandy banks on the Oskol River you could visit if you prefer to stay in the city. Although the banks don’t rival the Caribbean in their quality, they are an excellent place to observe Stary Oskol residents in their natural habitat. The locals are so enthusiastic about swimming that up to 50 of them partook in a celebratory polar dip last February. The festivities included a 25-meter swim, followed by an outdoor gymnastics competition, and wrapped up with a 500-meter dash.

What to do with the kids

Gubkin, a town located within a 40-minute car ride of Stary Oskol, fulfills the functions of a local Disneyland. The small city has a colorful amusement park where children can ride on roller coasters and Ferris wheels.

For an even bigger dose of adventure, take the kids to the Ulybka resort (Fedoseyevsky Selsky Okrug, Raion Starooskolskogo Vodokhranilishcha; +7 4725-43-92-00; hotel-ulybka.ru), which is within 30 minutes of Stary Oskol. The resort has a manmade reservoir and numerous sauna facilities. Just be prepared to cover your children’s eyes when some guests unabashedly run out of the saunas to cool off. A two-room unit in a cottage house at the resort costs 4,200 rubles per night.

While in the city, take the kids to the park near the Komsomolets cultural center (1 Bulvar Druzhby; +7 4724-24-51-65). The park is a relaxing place for a walk in the summer, and in the winter a big New Year’s tree is put up here.

Nightlife

Despite its name, the Stary Oskol Theater for Children and Youth (15 Revolutsionnaya Ulitsa; +7 4724-22-62-01; oskol-teart.ru) stages productions for adults as well as children. The theater’s newest season features Russian classics and work by Soviet authors. A perfect view of the white ore mines from the area just outside the theater is a pleasant bonus to the night’s performance.

For MT

Pavel Shishkin,
Mayor

Q: What makes Stary Oskol attractive to investors?
A: The city has a good location, not far from the border between Russia and Ukraine. The transportation network covers all populated points of the city district and connects them to other regions of the Central Federal District.
The city also has an education system to prepare qualified professionals able to work in management, marketing, logistics, engineering, car manufacturing, technology and the maintenance of electrical equipment.

Q: What does Stary Oskol’s city hall do to attract investors, including foreigners?
A: Potential investors have become more interested in Stary Oskol after we started to practice new governing methods, such as strategic planning and marketing. We also recently adopted a long-term program called “Improving the investment climate to attract investments into the economy of the Belgorod region, 2011-15.”
The city administration does lots of work to help investors successfully start new projects. This includes filling out land-use forms, getting construction permits, and solving energy and gas supply issues. The city also has taken steps to reduce the number of administrative barriers and the amount of money needed to get permissions, and makes sure roads are in good shape. Enterprises are invited to take part in international exhibitions and forums, which showcase projects that help to increase the economic and investment potential of the city.

Q: The city celebrated its 418th anniversary on Sept. 10. What do you hope the city will look like in 10 years?
A: I think the infrastructure of Stary Oskol will match European norms in all ways. This includes convenient roads and comfortable homes for city residents. At the same time, I have no doubt that we will be able to preserve the unique character of Stary Oskol, with its rich culture and good, old traditions.

Q: Where is your favorite place to relax in the city?
A: Each place in the city has a special value for me, be it the walking zone near Ploshchad Pobedy, Bulvar Druzhby, Skver Metallurgov, the zoo, the arboretum or just one of the nearby villages. Everything is dear to my heart, and everything inspires me to be creative.

— Lena Smirnova

Stary Oskol clubs are popular mostly with the youth, but the newly built Ekvator (23 Lesnoi Mikroraion; +7 4725-43-32-82) also manages to draw in an older crowd. The club occasionally hosts themed 1980s dances where most visitors are well past their college years.

Where to eat

The Belgorod region doesn’t have a single McDonald’s. More upscale restaurants, however, are in better supply. The quiet and comfortable atmosphere at Cafe-Bar Domino (1 Olimpiisky Mikroraion; +7 4725-42-56-76; smir.ru) makes it a good place for a business meeting. The cafe’s salmon steak with a side of potatoes will cost you 352 rubles.

The Passion Restaurant (1 Mikroraion Nadezhda; +7 4725-46-10-81) is a more upscale option for business meetings. The restaurant has a Moscow chef and specializes in European cuisine. One of its signature dishes, lamb with spinach, marinated eggplant and mint pesto, costs 450 rubles.

For a fun time, head to Restaurant Tsentralny (37 Mikraraion Zhukova; +7 4725-42-68-54; rescentr.ru). The restaurant has a large assortment of tasty food at inexpensive prices, loud music and lots of dancing, all of which make it very popular with Stary Oskol residents. Beef in cream of mushrooms with a side of vegetables will cost you 221 rubles.

A trip to the city would not be complete without a visit to one of Slavyanka’s confectionary shops. The local confectioner operates five flagship stores in Stary Oskol, where you can get the full assortment of Slavyanka’s chocolate or cookie creations fresh from one of its local factories.

Where to stay

Stoilyanka (71 Komsomolsky Prospekt; +7 4725-24-74-81; stoilyanka.ru) is easily the most prestigious hotel in the city. It has welcomed foreign delegations and Russian politicians, including former President Boris Yeltsin, who stopped there during a campaign stop in 1996. It is also popular with Russian pop royalty such as Fillip Kirkorov, Leonid Agutin, Angelica Varum, Masha Rasputina and Lube. A single costs 3,000 per night.

Artists, football stars and businessmen go to Hotel Lider (6 Molodyozhny Prospekt; +7 4725-43-92-42; hotel-lider.ru), where a business-class single costs 2,700 per night. The hotel is part of a sports complex, which includes an arena, ice rink, fitness club, golf course and spa facilities.

Hotel Kosmos (8 Mikroraion Kosmos; +7 4725-31-22-87; kosmos-oskol.ru) offers its guests a chance to stay in apartment-like units. Each room has its own kitchen and some guests, which include foreign delegations to the Oskol Electrometallurgical Plant, stay as long as half a year. A deluxe unit with breakfast service costs 2,460 rubles per night.

Conversation starters

Ask the locals about the mysterious remains of a wooden wall behind Cinema Oktyabr (20 Ulitsa Lenina). The responses you get may surprise and confuse you. Some residents claim that it is a piece of a wooden kremlin, but others say the city never had any kind of kremlin, wooden or brick. Yet another group of people will argue that it is the remains of an old merchant’s house that burned down ages ago. The whole debate is likely to end with a boisterous archeological excursion to the site in question, where you will forget why the argument ever started and propose to just stroll through the oldest neighborhood of the city with your new friends.

How to get there

A train from Kursky Station will get you to Stary Oskol in 12 hours. The price for a round-trip ticket is about 2,500 rubles. Since only one to two trains leave from Moscow to Stary Oskol every day, a more convenient option could be to fly out to Voronezh and then take a two-hour bus ride to Stary Oskol. The flight from Moscow to Voronezh takes a little over an hour and costs 4,800 rubles.

Once in Stary Oskol, however, navigation becomes far trickier. Several bus stations around the city still carry the names of the enterprises that used to be in their neighborhoods but have now moved to other parts of the city. As such, don’t expect to see the store Detsky Mir at the station “Detsky Mir.” The store is actually located on Prospekt Alexeya Ugarova. And the store 100 Melochei is not at the bus station “100 Melochei,” as one would expect. Instead, look for it on Fontannaya Ploshchad.