Ufa

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UFA — Ufa is best seen from the window of a landing airplane in the early fall. The concrete center is surrounded by multicolored cottage roofs sprinkled on rolling hills, covered in yellow, green, orange and red trees, cut by rivers and lakes as still as glass.

Despite being a manufacturing and oil-refining center, the capital of Bashkortostan has some of the best-preserved nature in Russia. Nearby are hundreds of kilometers of virgin forest and mountains where some of the world's finest honey is produced by wild honeybees.

Ufa

Population: 1,062,300

Mayor: Pavel Kachkayev

Main industries: oil extraction, oil refining, gas, metals mining, auto parts, chemical production, agriculture

Founded in 1574 when Ivan the Terrible ordered a fortress built here

Interesting fact No. 1: The city was initially named Tura-Tau after the name of the hill that it stood on.
Interesting fact No. 2: During World War II, the Soviet Ukrainian government relocated to Ufa following the eastward retreat in 1941.

Sister cities: Ankara, Turkey; Halle, Germany; Las Pinas, Phillippines; Orenburg, Russia; Paldiski, Estonia.

Helpful contacts: Aidar Garyev, general director of the Corporation of Development of the Bashkortostan republic (78 Ulitsa Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii; +7-347-280-82-32; kr-rb.ru);
Yury Pustovgarov, president of the republic’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (3 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7-347-276-20-52, tpprb.ru)

Not surprisingly, customs from the long-gone Soviet era remain preserved with the pristine nature. Government officials serve in an imposing white block of a building with endless hallways of creaking lacquered parquet floors covered in red carpets. They dine at a real Soviet cafeteria, with white-cloth covered tables and traditional Russian food.

Journalists and other visitors of the government  a Moscow Times reporter visited Ufa on a government-organized press tour  are accompanied by a member of the government at all times and are told not to meet with anyone or go anywhere alone. The main hotel for out-of-towners is located far from the city center, in a woodsy area near a river.

The majority of the Ufa men wear black worker's hats, wildly popular in the U.S.S.R. and ubiquitously worn by former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

But modernity is starting to creep into the republic. Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened its first store in the republic in August. French supermarket chain Auchan opened its first Bashkortostan location earlier this month.

Since President Dmitry Medvedev appointed a top RosHydro manager, Rustem Khamitov, as Bashkortostan's president in 2009, great strides have been taken to modernize the republic. Attracting investors became a priority to replenish the republic's budget, which had been supported by revenue from its oil-refining and mining industries prior to changes in federal tax law during the mid-2000s.

Major Businesses

Selena Neftekhim (14 Ulitsa Mira; +7-495-755-95-04; selena.su), created in 1998, extracts gas and oil and is one of Russias biggest producers of diesel fuel, auto fuel, aviation fuel, industrial oils, bitumen, polymers and plastics.

Stroitelny Trest No. 3 (10 Prospekt Oktyabrya; +7-347-246-14-06; trest3rb.ru) is a group of construction-related companies that were founded in the Soviet era. The group provides various services, including development and investment, construction of housing and commercial real estate.

Elektrozavod (Elektrozavodskaya Ulitsa, Moscow; +7-495-777-82-26; elektrozavod.ru), Russias largest producer of electric parts, has two branches in Ufa. A recently constructed branch produces a large share of the countrys power, distribution and unitized transformers. The second branch is a Soviet-era electric parts factory integrated into the company in 2004 and today produces electricity-generating parts and reactors.

The republic's government, previously closed to outsiders politically and financially, has set up a development corporation to help investors realize their local projects.

Traveling businessmen from other regions said the business climate has grown more open since the republic's former president, Murtaza Rakhimov, who held the post for nearly 20 years, was replaced.

Ufa has long been a multicultural center. Ivan the Terrible set up a fortress in the city in the 16th century to protect central Russia from Asian invaders. The region was populated by Bashkirs, a nomadic Muslim Turkic tribe.

Today more than 100 nationalities live in Ufa, with major ethnic groups including Russians, Bashkirs, Tatars, the Chuvash, Ukrainians, Jews and Belarussians. Over the years, various nationalities have intermarried, and there are many mixed ethnicities living in the area.

One of the country's largest Jewish community centers was built here in 2007, and Khamitov was the first republican president to attend a Hanukkah celebration last December.

Rabbi Dan Krichevsky said he feels safe in Ufa and is not worried about his son, who wears a traditional Jewish yarmulke hat. The greatest hardship Krichevsky faces in the region is access to reasonably priced kosher food. The food must either be shipped from Moscow or Israel, which can get very expensive.

Someone should open local kosher food production, Krichevsky said.

"He would be a monopolist," Krichevsky said.

What to see if you have two hours

For MT

Pavel Kachkayev,
Mayor
At 60, he has worked in the Ufa administration since 1994 and has been mayor for the last eight years.

Q: Why should foreigners come to Ufa?
A: Lakes, forests, rivers, good climate and mountains. Its a good spot for skiing and snowboarding. We have over 100 nationalities and we all live in peace.

Q: Why is Ufa a good place for business?
A: We live conservatively within our means. We try to create good conditions for investors. Our citys Moodys rating has gone up four times in five years. The business climate is more transparent now.

Q: In what should investors put money into Ufa?
A: If someone wants to build a logistics center in Ufa, well give them a hectare and bow deeply before them. Well be happy for any manufacturing, housing construction or retail. We have oil, but there is not enough oil for everyone.

Q: What is your favorite part of Ufa?
A: Oktyabrskaya Ulitsa is all made of wood. A hanging bridge where lovers put locks. The Monument to Friendship. The Church of Nativity. The movie theater. The mosque. I love it all.

Khristina Narizhnaya

Take a walk around central Ufa. Wander down Ulitsa Gafuri, past the turquoise glass wave-like Congress Hall business center and the fountain with multicolored tiles to the equestrian statue of Bashkir hero Salavat Yulayev. Yulayev was one of the main figures in the Pugachyov rebellion fought in the 18th century to improve the situation of the Bashkir peasants. The nearly 10-meter-high statue is one of the largest horseman statues in Europe, and it overlooks the sloping tree-lined banks of the Belaya River.

From there, head east on Ulitsa Tukayeva to Ufa's oldest mosque (53 Ulitsa Tukayeva), built during the early 19th century, and the nearby Monument of Friendship, built in 1957 to celebrate 400 years of Bashkortostan being part of Russia.

To see the well-preserved wooden houses of Ufa, walk down Ulitsa Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii, one of the oldest streets in the city. The pale blue-and-white Nativity of the Mother of God church on nearby Ulitsa Kirova is the city's most ornate church.

What to do if you have two days

Visit the Lya Lya Tyulpan mosque (5 Ulitsa Komarova), located in the northern part of the city, overlooking the Belaya River. The red-and-white mosque, whose two minarets resemble tulips, was built in the 1990s and is one of the region's most important Islamic centers.

The National Museum (14 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 347-272-12-50; museumrb.ru) is the republic's major museum with exhibits of the region's history and national Bashkortostan cultural artifacts, including traditional dress.

Shop for the famous Bashkortostan honey at one of the city's honey shops (2 Novosibirskaya Ulitsa, +7 347-274-46-84, bashkirmed.com; 7/2 Ulitsa Akademika Koroleva, +7 347-244-34-46, efesin.ru). Locals warn to stay away from the markets, since the honey there is unregulated and often counterfeiters either mix sugar or syrup into their honey or feed their bees sugar.

What to do with the kids

For MT

Joakim Hogsander,
Head of Mega Mall Ufa, which added an IKEA store in August and is the biggest foreign investment project in Bashkortostan. The 46-year-old Swede also manages IKEA Real Estate in Russia and the CIS.

Q: How does it feel to be a foreigner in Ufa?
A: Im like a monkey, just kidding. You either go with the flow or become lonely. I go with the flow. Its a very good experience for me. All my friends here are Russian. I speak Russian most of the time. I like that Russians sometimes bend the rules. That is for me a sign that they think for themselves. It also means that every rule is tested and that my co-workers and I are constantly being challenged in every decision we take. This makes us better.

Q: What do you like about running a business in Ufa?
A: The administration has been very proactive. They did everything by the book, they guided when we didnt have the knowledge. They wanted us to open. IKEA on its opening day outsold all IKEA opening days in Russia.
There is still a high curiosity among the Russian population. I get so many more questions. I have never had people with so many suggestions on how to improve my business.
There is a good learning culture in Russia, which means that new ideas are adopted very quickly. An example is the mobile phone. In Sweden it was adopted slowly, but in Russia every new type is assimilated very fast.

Q: What challenges have you faced in your work in Ufa?
A: A lack of people with both a good education and a high level of English. For example, a person might be really skilled, but we cant hire him because someone would always have to translate. But sometimes we make exceptions. The skill is here, but it takes time to learn English.
Also, sometimes federal and regional legislation overlap and dont always go hand in hand. But the administration is the bridge builder.

Q: What is your favorite place in Ufa?
A: There is a huge resource in nature hunting, skiing, caves. The nearby Beloretsk and Pavlovsky ski resorts have really good hotels, really good skiing.

Khristina Narizhnaya

During the summer you can visit Yakutov Park (65/3 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-292-39-27, yakutov.ru), which has rides and games. During the colder months, visit the planetarium located near the park.

Where to eat

The Akbuzat (217a Ulitsa Mendeleyeva, +7 347-241-35-05) restaurant is located inside the hippodrome of the same name. Diners can watch equestrian races out of the windows of the restaurant as they sample European and Bashkir fare at prices that Muscovites could only dream of  the average bill is 500 rubles per person.

La Ruche (20 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7 347-292-65-35, laruche.ru) is one of the fanciest restaurants in Ufa. The menu features a variety of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, with elements of Asian and European cuisines that include ingredients such as rucola, shrimp, octopus, Parmesan cheese and coconut milk. The average check is about 2,000 rubles per person.

Nightlife

World-famous DJs spin at Rise nightclub (1 Verkhnetorgovaya Ploshchad, +7 347-279-60-20, clubrise.ru) for Ufa's trendiest, best-looking crowd. The club is open every night from midnight and features a lounge, a restaurant and sometimes screens films.

The Opera and Ballet Theater (5/1 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-10-12, bashopera.ru), where Rudolf Nuriyev, one of Russia's most famous ballet dancers, got his start, features performances almost every night of the week. The theater's repertoire includes classics such as "Don Quixote" and "Sleeping Beauty" as well as "Crane Song," a Bashkir production. The city boasts 10 other theaters, including the State Bashkir Drama Theater (34 Ulitsa Zaki Validi, +7 347-272-7310, bashdram.ru), the State Tatar Theater NUR (36 Ulitsa 50 Let SSSR, +7 347-248-95-33, teatrnur.ru) and the State Russian Drama Theater (79 Prospekt Oktyabrya, +7 347-233-00-73, rusdram.ru).

Where to stay

Surrounded by woods and overlooking the Belaya River, President (2 Ulitsa Avrory, +7 347-279-80-08, presidenthotel.ru) is the best hotel in Ufa, popular with visiting businessmen. Although the hotel hosts families, late at night the hotel bar's tables are full, mostly with oil businessmen and prostitutes. The rooms range in price from 2,800 rubles for a standard single to 9,700 rubles for a luxury suite for two ($90 to $310).

The centrally located Agidel Hotel (16 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-56-80, agidelhotel.ru) boasts a billiards hall, a sauna, a beauty salon, a restaurant and a bar. Make sure to book in advance because its central location keeps this hotel in high demand. Prices range from 1,300 rubles ($40) for a single room to 6,050 rubles ($190) for a luxury suite.

Conversation starters

New street curbs have been installed around the city recently that residents consider too high. The curbs have been blamed for many of the city's ills, including a kidnapped baby, taken from a stroller on the street because the mother could not lift it over the high curb to go into a pharmacy. Complaining about the high curbs will make the locals feel closer to you.

How to get there

The easiest and fastest way to get to Ufa is by plane. The renovated Ufa International Airport hosts domestic flights to Moscow and other cities in Russia and international flights to several locations, including the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan. The nearly two-hour flight from Moscow costs about 7,000 rubles ($230) with UTair airline round-trip. The airport is located a convenient 30-minute taxi ride from the city center.

Trains also travel to Ufa from Moscow's Kazansky Station. The roughly 1,500-kilometer trip takes about 26 hours and costs from about 2,000 to 3,500 rubles ($64 to $112).