Yekaterinburg

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Yekaterinburg

Population: 1,350,100

Main Industries: machinery, defense and aerospace, and personal care products

Mayor: Alexander Yakob

Founded as a metallurgical factory in 1723 by Vasily Tatishchev, a statesman, and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, a German-born military officer and mining engineer. Named after St. Catherine, the namesake of a wife of Peter the Great and subsequently Empress Catherine I.

Interesting Fact: A CIA spy plane flown by Francis Gary Powers was shot down by a Soviet missile over Yekaterinburg in May 1960. As his U-2 spiraled down, Powers parachuted and was apprehended by locals near the village of Kosulino about 10 kilometers from the city.

Helpful contact: City Hall spokesman Denis Sukhorukov (+7 343-354-5509)

Sister cities: Guangzhou, China; Incheon, South Korea.

Many foreign travelers to Yekaterinburg expect to learn more about the last days of Russia's last monarch, Nicholas II, his German-born wife Alexandra and their children, executed here by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

What they often don't expect — after reading some Western books on the subject — is to see a bustling modern city with a skyline punctured by high-rise towers of hotels, business centers and apartment buildings.

Lyuba Suslyakova, a self-employed tour guide, specifically mentions Helen Rappoport's book, titled "Ekaterinburg," as a source of information for the travelers who choose to interrupt their Trans-Siberian Railroad journey for a few days in the city.

Indeed, the book about the last days of the Romanov dynasty, first published in 2008, introduces the country's fourth-largest urban settlement in a way that makes it sound like it's lost in the middle of an Asian wilderness.

"The city has an oddly Western-sounding name, but Asia is all around," Rappoport writes. "Nestling on the eastern slopes of the Urals, the low horizon lies open to expanses of swampy taiga, the forests of pine, birch and larch extending far to the north and east, where wild bears, elk, wolves and mountain cats roam."

The city does have a lot of greenery — covering about one-fourth of its area — but it's far from being a backwater, Suslyakova said. Just one piece of evidence of civilization's embrace is the 21-floor, five-star Hyatt, constructed by France's Bouygues and designed to evoke an ice cube with its glistening glass walls and curved shape.

Major Businesses

Uralmash, or Urals Machine-Building Corporation (Ploshchad Pervoi Pyatiletki; +7 343-336-6979; uralmash.ru), is co-owned by OMZ and Metalloinvest and makes drilling rigs, mining and steelmaking equipment and cranes for Russian and international customers.

Nikolai Semikhatov NPO Avtomatiki (145 Ulitsa Mamina-Sibiryaka; +7 343-371-5728; npoa.ru), a state-owned enterprise, produces flight-control systems for launch sites in Russia and the Kourou launch site in French Guiana. It also manufactures control systems for transportation and the energy, mining and communications industries as well as various gauges for utilities services.

Kalina (80 Komsomolskaya Ulitsa; toll free +7 800-500-3798 or +7 343-365-8338; kalina.org) is one of the country’s largest manufacturers of perfumes and personal care products, such as toothpaste and soaps, for the market of the former Soviet Union and Germany. Its brands include Chyorny Zhemchug (Black Pearl) and Chistaya Linia (Clean Line).

Sladko (19 Ulitsa Sibirsky Trakt; +7 343-254-4303; sladco.ru) is a confectionery factory owned by Norwegian conglomerate Orkla. The factory specializes in sponge cakes.

Yekaterinburg bills itself as home to the world's northernmost skyscraper, the 188.3-meter-tall business center Vysotsky, which will open its doors in late November. It's about one degree higher in latitude than the 190-meter-tall HSB Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden.

Vysotsky is also Russia's tallest building outside Moscow. In fact, it's one of just two buildings outside Moscow that are more than 40 stories high, according to SkyscraperPage.com, a Canadian web site dedicated to high-rises. Yekaterinburg is also home to the other out-of-Moscow skyscraper.

Moscow has 15 taller than 40 stories.

Andrei Gavrilovsky, whose company constructed the Vysotsky tower, said Yekaterinburg's high profile in the construction world stemmed from the convergence of ambitions of two powerful groups: businesspeople and the local government. Both want Yekaterinburg to stand out among other cities, he said.

"Mayors of other cities with more than 1 million people — whenever they come to visit — walk around open-mouthed," Gavrilovsky said, proudly.

Yekaterinburg's incumbent and previous mayors have encouraged high-rise construction by streamlining paperwork, he said.

Local businesspeople have helped fund construction by pre-purchasing space in his high-rises, as opposed to many similar projects in Moscow that relied on banks for financing, said Gavrilovsky, whose company Antei is named after Antaeus, a mythical Greek half-giant who depended on contact with Mother Earth for his indefatigable strength.

Alexander Ziminsky, upmarket sales director at Penny Lane Realty, said "very" expensive land in downtown Yekaterinburg was another reason for developers to seek a larger number of floors for their projects. Crafting an attractive business image for the city, he said, is another key goal.

A number of international events have also helped raise the city's profile. The name Yekaterinburg rings a bell for heads of state and finance officials in China, Brazil and India. It is the city that in 2009 hosted the first summit of BRIC, which comprises these three countries and Russia, and designates the world's fastest-expanding emerging economies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the city as well for a meeting of the Petersburg Dialogue, a German-Russian annual discussion forum, in 2010. There, she met with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The government often picks far-off cities for high-profile international conferences — northern Khanty-Mansiisk and far eastern Khabarovsk have hosted Russia-European Union summits — to let the world discover the country beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. But Suslyakova said her German customers had not heard of the Merkel footprint on Yekaterinburg.

The city may again bathe in the international spotlight if the government stands by its initial bid to use it as one of the host cities — the easternmost of them — for the football World Cup in 2018.

For MT

Vladimir Okunkov
Owner of Khit Sezona (Hit of the Season), a chain of stores that he founded in 1996 to sell seeds and other seasonal goods. A member of the regional chapter of Opora, a small-business lobby group, he won a case against the Federal Tax Service last year over a tax bill.

Q: What makes Yekaterinburg unique?
A: The city is centrally located, at the crossroads of the Urals Federal District. The district’s other large cities are just a short trip away. People can go to them on business and come back the same day.

Q: How can city authorities improve conditions for entrepreneurs?
A: They need to speed up the issuance of permits for construction, renovation and putting buildings into operation. It currently takes a long time and can last for years.

Q: Where is the best place to invest in the city?
A: The city needs to develop its roads and public transportation. Roads are narrow, and just one overpass has been built in the past 20 years.

— Anatoly Medetsky

The government has also chosen Yekaterinburg for a bid to hold the World Expo in 2020, Kremlin aide Arkady Dvorkovich said this month. Rival candidates Izmir, Turkey, and Ayutthaya, Thailand, forecast that 39 million and 30 million visitors, respectively, will show up for the exhibition. The application deadline is Nov. 2.

With an influx of international football fans and exhibition attendees still up in the air, Suslyakova said the city draws enough tourists to keep her busy five days a week in the summer. She describes Yekaterinburg as convenient because it is the most compact of the 10 Russian cities with a population more than 1 million.

Moscow and St. Petersburg probably aren't comparable because they are larger by a wide margin. But the others are in about the same league as Yekaterinburg with its 1.35 million people.

"It's 15 minutes by foot from the railway station to the city center," Suslyakova said. "A walking tour around downtown takes just two hours."

For those willing to stray off the beaten tourist track, Suslyakova mentioned Uralmash, the city's northern neighborhood of the eponymous heavy-industry giant. It gave its name to a notorious but long-gone underworld gang that thrived in the 1990s, and offers a peek at the legacy of German prisoners from World War II, who constructed roads and five-story apartment buildings in the neighborhood as the plant grew.

A more artistic outcome of German forced labor can be found in the city center. The government used the prisoners of war to spruce up the City Hall building, turning it from a bare constructivist structure into an edifice that glorified communism — with columns and statues of workers, collective farmers and officers of the NKVD secret police. As if foretelling the city's latest architectural ambitions, this building also incorporates a tower — and a spire to make it look more imposing.

What to see if you have two hours

Follow in the footsteps of pilgrims, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Britain's Prince Michael of Kent by entering the Church on Blood in Honor of All Saints Resplendent in the Russian Land, or the Church on Blood for short (34a Ulitsa Tolmacheva. Metro Dinamo). This place of public worship rests on the foundations of engineer Nikolai Ipatiev's house where a Bolshevik firing squad executed Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, their five children and all their servants, bringing the more than 300-year-old Romanov dynasty to a gruesome end in July 1918 as an army of White Guards was about to retake the city. Workers tore down the house in 1977 on orders from future President Boris Yeltsin, who was the city's Communist boss at the time, leaving the basement intact. Built in commemoration of the execution, the church opened in 2003 and doubles as a museum, featuring exhibits that tell about the 78 days the royal family spent in captivity in the Ipatiev house. During Easter week, the church allows visitors to ring its bells, providing earplugs and a professional bell-ringer for advice.

If you care for some souvenirs, take a walk down the pedestrian-only Ulitsa Vainera, dubbed the local Arbat after the better-known tourist street in Moscow. It's within walking distance of the Church on Blood.

What to do if you have two days

For MT

Alexander Yakob,
Yekaterinburg mayor

Yakob, 53, assumed office in December 2010 after serving as deputy mayor since 2006. A United Russia member, he took his first job as a radio equipment adjuster in 1975 and climbed his way up the industrial career ladder to director of a medical equipment plant before leaving for public office in one of the city’s districts in 1995.

Q: What sets Yekaterinburg apart from the other major cities of the Urals Federal District?
A: The location in the middle of the Eurasian continent and on the border between Europe and Asia defines the city’s key role in Eurasian trade and transportation. Regarding the economy of the Urals Federal District, the city has a considerable role in a number of areas: It accounts for 24.7 percent of the district’s retail trade.

Q: What city project would you like Russians or foreigners to invest in most of all?
A: In order to handle the city’s growing foreign trade and role in the national economy, it needs a modern transportation and logistics center that could be integrated with the global system of the movement of goods. We also need better conditions to serve increasing passenger traffic on international and domestic transportation lines.

Q: What recent positive changes in the life of the city are the most noticeable?
A: The unemployment rate declined to 1.1 percent last year, while the Russian average was 2.5 percent.

— Anatoly Medetsky

Treat yourself to a little time travel by going for a stroll in Literaturny Kvartal (Literary Quarter), the city's old district with wooden mansions decked out with cast-iron railings and lanterns. Afterward, walk onto the nearby dam embankment, known by its diminutive Russian name of Plotinka, the most beloved leisure spot in the city on the banks of the Iset River. One of the old buildings there is the residence of the governor of the Sverdlovsk region, whose capital is Yekaterinburg. Spend 45 minutes on a boat tour along the river, and a guide will tell you all about the historical landmarks as you cruise by (call +7 343 222-2445 to book a trip with the city's tourist service or fill out a form at its.ekburg.ru).

For a bird's eye view of the city, climb atop the 76-meter-tall, 22-story shopping mall-cum-business center Antei (10 Krasnoarmeiskaya Ulitsa). The entrance fee is 50 rubles, and working hours are noon to 11:30 p.m.

The fairly compact Yekaterinburg Zoo (189 Ulitsa Mamina-Sibiryaka; +7 343-215-9800; ekazoo.ru) stands apart from other zoos in Russia by offering a look at the fossa, a carnivore endemic to Madagascar that largely preys on the lemur. Also, unlike the other zoos, this one owns an arapaima, a fish that weighs 225 kilograms and whose length in its natural habitat in the Amazon River can reach 5 meters. An adult ticket costs 200 rubles and includes permission to take photos and videos.

If you feel curious about what former President Boris Yeltsin was up to before he outlawed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and authorized sweeping capitalist reforms, come see his alma mater, the Ural State Technical University (28 Ulitsa Mira), which is also a remarkable piece of architecture.

Take a short trip of 17 kilometers away from the city to the seven chapels and monastery at Ganina Yama, an abandoned copper mine where the Bolsheviks secretly buried the last tsar and his family in 1918. It wasn't until 1979 that geologists rediscovered the burial site. Drive four kilometers on Serovsky Trakt to a sign bearing the monastery's name in Russian (Monastyr vo Imya Svyatykh Tsarstvennykh Strastoterptsev, or Monastery of the Holy Imperial Passion-Bearers), and then follow the signs.

Nightlife

Havana Club (36 Ulitsa Mamina Sibiryaka; +7 343-355-9414; clubhavana.ru) is a premier destination not only for fans of hot Latin American rhythms, but also any fun-loving person. Waiters sometimes dance to the beat between serving meals. Two-hour salsa classes start at 8 p.m. every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Hills 18/36 Club (193 Ulitsa Bazhova; +7 343 222-1836; hills1836.com) offers the city's nightclubbers a 10-meter-long bar served by six bartenders at any given time. Open only on weekend nights, the club has also received accolades as one of the most elegant hangouts here. Guests can dance to house and deep house music, and will occasionally see presentations of luxury goods like yachts and jewelry.

Where to Eat

For MT

Boris Zyryanov,
Owner of holding company Mikron,
which runs the Mikron International Business Center, where half of the tenants are foreign businesses, and Multiklet, a firm that makes multi-cell microchips. Zyryanov touted Multiklet to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a videoconference in May where Putin proposed creating a new business organization, the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, as a high-power lobby group with easy access to the prime minister. Zyryanov also is chairman of the regional chapter of Delovaya Rossia, the business lobby group.

Q: What sets Yekaterinburg apart from the other large cities in the Urals Federal District?
A: As the informal capital of the Urals, Yekaterinburg has the most people and more modern buildings. It has business centers that are quite state-of-the-art and the biggest airport. We have many consulates, flights by many foreign airlines and really good education services that attract youth from the entire federal district. And, of course, there’s the huge exhibition center Innoprom.

Q: What should city authorities do to improve conditions for entrepreneurs?
A: The key thing that needs to get done — and there’s no breakthrough in sight yet — is to make commercial land available to businesspeople to build offices and small businesses like gas stations, restaurants and cafes.

Q: What projects does the city need investment in most of all?
A: There’s no central place for entrepreneurs to go for free nongovernmental advice on running a business. There are groups that offer consulting services, including those for innovative businesses, at no cost, but they often struggle without proper offices.

— Anatoly Medetsky

Troyekurov (137 Ulitsa Malysheva; +7 343-378-8118; troekurov.ru) made headlines in July 2010 when President Dmitry Medvedev and German Chancellor Angela Merkel chose the restaurant for a dinner as part of their meeting here. At other times, Troyekurov diners largely comprise local government figures and businesspeople who can afford the steep prices and enjoy eating with silver cutlery while admiring the opulent interior of crystal chandeliers, embossments on the ceiling and gilding. The menu, also available in English, offers meals of Russian and European cuisine — but doesn't include the items served to the heads of state because a Kremlin chef cooked that dinner with his equipment brought from Moscow. Try the pelmeni stuffed with deer meat; quail fried with foie gras and pear; and a pie filled with brisket meat, beef stroganoff, fried cabbage, stewed mushroom and mashed potatoes and served with sour cream. Dinner for two with wine costs 6,000 rubles ($210).

The Italian restaurant Paparazzi (25 Prospekt Lenina, 3rd floor of the Yevropa shopping mall; +7 343-253-7080; paparazzi-pizza.ru) owes its name to those pesky photographers who tend to chase down celebrities like its owner, the actor and film director Fyodor Bondarchuk. It has become a place of choice for visiting theater and television personalities such as Yulia Menshova, who was spotted there in May. The outlet's menu includes duck leg with a dressing of buckwheat and mushrooms in a wine sauce, and Osso Bucco, veal shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth and served with mashed potatoes and mushrooms. The average bill for a two-person dinner with wine is 3,500 rubles ($125).

The bar Churchill (48 Ulitsa Khokhryakova; +7 343-216-2800; restoraciya.ru/place/cher) offers Russia's best selection of whiskey in the opinion of Erkin Tuzmukhamedov, a leading sommelier who runs a Moscow whiskey academy. Churchill offers a variety of brands under one roof, unlike Moscow bars that tend to charge brand owners an access fee, in exchange for agreeing to ignore rival drinks.

Where to Stay

The Hyatt Regency (8 Ulitsa Borisa Yeltsina; +7 343-253-1234; hyatt-ekaterinburg.ru) describes itself as the Urals' first five-star hotel. It offers downtown accommodation within walking distance of places such as the governor's office, the Church on Blood, the zoo and the Opera and Ballet Theater. Rooms start at 6,950 rubles ($235) per night and top out at 48,530 rubles ($1,650) for the executive suite.

Park Inn Yekaterinburg (98 Ulitsa Mamina-Sibiryaka; reservations at +7 343-216-3606; parkinn.com/hotel-ekaterinburg) offers non-smoking and handicapped-accessible rooms, multilingual staff, and free visa support with a downloadable visa form on its web site. Rooms range from 6,800 rubles ($230) to 8,150 rubles ($275) per night.

Conversation starters

Having to cope with the frigid northern climate, the brief summer and winter air temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius, Yekaterinburg residents warm up when they talk about spending some quality time on a sun-drenched beach somewhere in the Seychelles. Alternatively, make them feel proud by reminding them that the city is a possible host of the football World Cup in 2018.

How to get there

Yekaterinburg has an international airport called Koltsovo (koltsovo.ru) that receives flights from all three Moscow airports. Hop on any of the at least 16 flights that take off every day and last 2 hours 20 minutes. One-way tickets start at 4,900 rubles ($175) on discount carrier Sky Express and 6,775 rubles on Aeroflot.

Daily trains travel to the city on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Check the schedule at rasp.yandex.ru or tutu.ru, where you can also see ticket prices, upward of 1,860 rubles ($65), and the travel time (between 25 1/2 hours and 32 1/2 hours). Trains leave from the Yaroslavsky, Kazansky or Belorussky stations for the 1,820-kilometer trip.