Russian Rust Belt Renewal: Manufacturing Returns to Grimdark Soviet Post-Industrial Town

Novokuznetsk, the oldest city of Siberia, is turning 400. The 1930's saw the city's prosperity. Back then, it was called Kuznetsk and later — Stalinsk. During the Soviet industrialization, the city became the largest center of metallurgy and coal mining. Having experienced a decline in the 90's, the industry of Novokuznetsk is on the rise again.

Russian Rust Belt Renewal: Manufacturing Returns to Grimdark Soviet Post-Industrial Town
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Mayakovsky wrote about Novokuznetsk: "I know the city will rise and the garden will blossom thanks to such people who live in the Soviet land".

Alexander Balitsky with the details from the city of Mayakovsky's dreams.

"The mine is 500 meters deep. One must have a manly character".

Stepanych's brigade is descending into the mine which is half a kilometer deep.

Evgeny Solominov, drill operator: "If we don't work, industry will freeze. Every branch needs coal".

It's not easy to reach the deposits. The face is narrow; the coal combine occupies almost all space. Its large rotary saw — auger — chip off black shiny coal pieces from the wall. The miners call it "shaving".

Russia's true coal vault Kuzbas is breaking new records. 241 million tons of coal were mined here last year.

"Attention! Detonation".

Today, more than a half of all the ore is mined by open-cut mining. It's cheaper and safer. The miners still have to go deep underground to get metallurgical coal. Here's the F-class coal; the "F" stands for "fat." It's almost pure coke, an indispensable ore in metallurgy. This facility cleans this premium-class coal removing all the impurities to ensure its benchmark quality.

Evgeny Grechukha, head of the refined coal facility: "It's so tasty when it's clean, just like chocolate".

The combustion of clean coal produces no soot which improves the quality of metals and is highly valued in the market. 80% of coal is exported, for example, to Japan and South Korea. Kuzbas is also the backbone of our domestic metallurgy.

A unique facility, basically the father of the Kuzbas industry — Kuznetsk Steel Works. Today, it's still one of the largest steel companies in the world. It's 1,240°C (2260°F) inside. The huge red-hot blanks get rolled, stretched, and gradually shaped. The perfectly straight 100-meter rails. All Russia tram rails and almost all railroad ones were produced here.

Andrey Lapchenko, YEVRAZ ZMSK: "Our whole country is caught in the web of our rails. You can even say that we've produced enough rails to build several roads to the moon and back".

— It's 11:32 p.m. And you're still at work.

Alexey Golovatenko, YEVRAZ ZMSK: "I'm always at work. You probably won't believe me but I came here at 2 a.m. The facility operates 24/7".

In the 1930's, Mayakovsky wrote about the working people of Kuznetsk: "I know the city will rise and the garden will blossom thanks to such people who live in the Soviet land." Mayakovsky had never been to Kuznetsk. However, his rhymes became prophetic. In front of the poet's monument, the citizens of Novokuznetsk recite their own poems devoted to their home city.

Even some of Dostoevsky's works have poetic descriptions of Kuznetsk. Uncle's Dream is an example.

Irina Mirovich, Dostoevsky Museum: "Dostoevsky wrote that in the middle of the steppes, mountains, and forests of Siberia there are some small wooden shabby towns with 1,000-2,000 dwellers. Kuznetsk used to be like that: wooden and unattractive".

40 Dostoevsky Street. Fyodor Dostoevsky came here three times to visit his future wife Maria Isayeva. They got married here. Several female characters in his novels have her distinctive features. However, their relationship ended in tragedy. Maria died shortly after their wedding.

Irina Mirovich, Dostoevsky Museum: "A true drama was unfolding in Kuznetsk: All those scandals, passions, and intrigues — Dostoevshina appeared much earlier than his novels."

The guides cherish the memories of the love story of Dostoevsky and Isayeva. They say he once spent a day in jail for coming here from Barnaul without the permission to leave. Back then, the cells were located in the soldier barracks of the old Kuznetsk fortress.

Pyotr Lizogub, Novokuznetsk Regional Museum: "This outpost was built in 1618; for more than 100 years, it had been the most southern town that had been constantly attacked by nomads".

Over the past 400 years, Novokuznetsk has become one of the largest industrial centers of Russia. Today, it's getting its second wind. Previously, it had been one of the most polluted cities of Russia. But today, the authorities pay particular attention to green initiatives.

Sergey Kuznetsov, mayor: "Today, we have the technologies and the skills to transform industrial waste into competitive market products. So we're creating a large Eco-technopark here in Novokuznetsk".

Here's a water purification facility in the Yubileynaya mine. Here's the water directly from the mine. After it undergoes five stages of filtration and special processing pure water is discharged into the river or gets reused in the mine.

Ivan Stepanov, purification technician: "It's got no impurities, no dredge, no iron, and no manganese. There are no heavy metals in it".

— Yeah, it's fine.

The region gets additional profit thanks to the increased global prices for metal and coal. It's being allocated for the development of the economy and social sphere. The citizens help Sergey Tsyvilyov, governor ad interim, elaborate the 2035 development strategy. Everyone can submit a proposal or a project online. There are already 13,000 of them.

Sergey Tsyvilyov, governor ad interim of the Kemerovo Region: "Our citizens want us to build more schools, kindergartens, and sports courts to improve public amenities, to build cycle paths and many other things. I like the fact that our interests are the same. We're moving in the right direction together. The main goal of our strategy is to make our region comfortable for its citizens".

Another proposal is to launch a speed commuter train from Kemerovo to Sheregesh through Novokuznetsk. In 1997, there was only one lift and no hotels in this ski resort. Today, they are built one after another, attracting tourists from all over Russia in winter. The region's also beautiful in summer.

"My brother-in-law once said: "Forget the Canary Islands, I'm staying here for my vacation". The nature here is very beautiful".

From a depressive miner settlement, Sheregesh transformed into an advanced tourist cluster with the local Bigfoot being its main trademark. However, it's not the only reason tourists come to the city of tempered steel and will. For the locals, the mountains aren't just a source of income but also a vocation.

Alexander Balitsky, Stanislav Ponomarenko, Valery Glushakov, and Valery Golikov — News of the Week, Kuzbas.