Russia’s Top 10 most interesting Cities


10. A city where 20% of population is addicted to heroin

Russia is the biggest consumer of heroin in the world. It started in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and started a 10 year war. The war kick started the Afghan opium trade to fund the Afghani’s in the war. Though it was sold all over the world, the Russians became the main consumers.

The Russian border is longer than the distance from New York to London. It is easy to understand that with such a large border to secure how the drug smuggling is out of control there.

Novokuznetsk is a city in Russia near the border with Kazakhstan. It used to be an industrial powerhouse in Siberia, but now the city has been in decline. They say that 20% of the city is addicted to heroin. The government doesn’t really support rehabilitation centers, so they are all privately owned.

A relatively new and terrifying drug is appearing in Novokuznetsk called krokodil; named for how it turns your skin into appearing like that of a crocodile. The drug’s main ingredient is eye drops and it’s injected into the veins. If injected wrong, it eats the person from the inside out. It’s become popular, because it is cheaper than heroin.



9. One of Russia’s most polluted cities

The city of Norilsk, in Russia is considered to be the world’s most polluted city. It’s an industrial city of around 100,000 inhabitants. It has extremely harsh climate, the average temperature for the year is 15.5F.

The city smelts Nickel Ore, which is directly responsible for severe pollution. The city experiences acid rain and smoke. Some scientists estimate that 1% of the entire global emissions of sulfur dioxide come from this city.

The pollution by heavy metal is so bad in this city, that it is now economically feasible to mine the surface soil. The soil around the city has high concentrations of platinum and palladium. CNN has claimed that there is no living tree living withing 30 miles of the nickel smelter called Nadezhda (“The Hope”)

APTOPIX Russia Feature

8. Moscow’s dogs learn to use subway system

Moscow, Russia, has a very large population of homeless canines. A small minority of them hang out in its metro and have attracted international attention for using the trains to commute to areas they want to get to. A few theories are bouncing around about how they learned how to tell the difference between the trains to get where they want to go.

One theory is that they have an ability to judge the length of time spent on the trains and the time periods at which certain trains arrive. Another is that they recognize the place names when they are announced over the train’s loudspeaker.

Others think it could be the scents of the different stations, but it’s likely that it’s a combination of all three. Of course, it could be different for each dog.



7. Another polluted city in Russia

Dzerzhinsk, Russia is the most chemically polluted city in the world… at least according to the Guinness Book of World Records! And is ranked in 5th or 6th place as the most polluted overall by some sources.

So what makes it so polluted? Well one contributing factor may be that the manufacture of chemical weapons took place there between 1941-1965. On ending production, much of the chemical waste was buried on the factory grounds.

Not only that, but the city had and still has many large industrial establishments that produce masses of products, many of which are chemicals or chemically based.

The effect? It is has been stated that the life expectancy is 42 years for men and 47 years for woman. This is WELL below the average of both Russia and much of the world.

But is Dzerzhinsk really so bad? Maybe not. Some sources seem to disagree and suggest that it’s not as bad as all that. In fact, sod the sources, I’m going to go there and see for myself what it’s like… I bet I come back alive!!


6. Russia’s coldest city

Yakutsk is well-known to fans of the board game Risk as that funny country between Siberia and Kamchatka. It’s also known as the coldest city in the world. The world’s coldest temperature outside of Antarctica was recorded not far from Yakutsk in the basin of the Yana River. During the winter, average lows drop below freezing in September and don’t climb back out until May. In January the average high is minus 34 degrees F; the record low for the month is a bone-blasting minus 81.4 degrees.



Many of its more than 200,000 residents carve out a living in the region’s mining industry, and the city is home to numerous theaters, museums and even a zoo. In 2008, the area hit the news when a series of pipes burst in two nearby villages, forcing residents to huddle together for warmth around makeshift wood stoves. When truckers in this region make resupply runs to nearby villages, they don’t turn off their engines for the duration of the two-week trip.


5. Baikonur, Russia, One of two cities in the world

that can send humans into orbit

When three astronauts rocketed off the Earth and headed to the International Space Station, they left from southern Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, on the outskirts of a city of the same name. The city, with a population around 36,000, has some major claims to fame: the first artificial satellite (Sputnik), animal (Laika), and person (Yuri Gagarin) launched into orbit from this place.

Today, Baikonur is one of only two places on Earth with the facilities to send humans into orbit (Jiuquan, in China’s Gobi desert, is the other; America launched its final shuttle from Cape Canaveral in 2011). With every manned-spaceflight launch every few months, and every return, we see in the news a few pictures of this remote place, but the life of the city beyond the Cosmodrome — its residents, its politics, its culture — remain a mystery. Now the New York Times has provided a closer look, and the picture we see is a sad one: For all the investment in manned spaceflight going to Baikonur (in both a financial and a cultural sense), the city is struggling. “Nomadic herders from the nearby steppe are moving into abandoned buildings,” the Times’s Andrew E. Kramer writes. This city, the home of some of our planet’s most advanced space science, did not get its first MRI machine until 2011.

The town exists in a strange state of political suspension. When the Cosmodrome was built, it was squarely in USSR territory. Today that land is Kazakhstan, and Russia rents the town from the Kazakh government for $115 million a year. The mayor is Russian, Kramer writes, as are “nearly all the high-paying space jobs.” When the Soviet Union dissolved, the town was about two-thirds Russian, one-third Kazakh. Now it’s the opposite. This, coupled with the inequality, has created “a low boil of ethnic tension,” Kramer reports. “In 2011, young Kazakh men ran in a mass down a central street yelling, ‘The head is a dog,’ ” referring to the mayor.

Meanwhile, the space programs that use the Cosmodrome are spending huge sums of money. In May, NASA “extended the contract for astronaut launchings for a year, until mid-2017, for an additional $424 million.” Astronauts and other NASA personnel stay in a hotel on the town’s outskirts, “where the cheapest room is about $340 a night, rarely venturing into the town.” To get to the launch site, Kramer says the astronauts must ride over a pothole-marked, rutted road, lined by grazing camels. In miniature, this is the unevenness of progress in our time.

“It’s painful for me to think of my town,” the editor of the local newspaper tells Kramer. “We are not ahead of the planet in anything but space.”



4. Russia’s Chess City

“Al Jazeera’s Russia correspondent met with the president of the World Chess Federation and head of Russia’s Buddhist Republic of Kalmykia, to see how chess has become a catalyst for development in an otherwise impoverished city.

The tiny Russian Republic of Kalmykia is the only Buddhist region in greater Europe. Its capital, the city of Elista, has the largest Buddhist temple of its kind on the continent.

But courtesy Kirsan Illiumzhinov, the head of the Republic and president of the World Chess Federation (Fide), residents of Kalmykia have more to revere than Buddhism. They also have chess.

The game is everywhere, played in town squares, taught in the classrooms, and has an entire village dedicated to it – Chess City – the newly created facility which hosted the world championships in October 2006.

Chess City is a monument to Illiumzhinov’s dream to make his beloved homeland the home of world chess.

Illiumzhinov said: “This is my dream. A dream that I have made into real life. Everybody can see, this is no dream, this is the real Chess City.”

Illiumzhinov has created a middle class suburbia for this 50-year-old province, but the capital has no middle class to live in it. Many have said Illiumzhinov’s obsession with chess has misguided his plans to redevelop the city.

Behind the glistening facade of the new district he has created, the lack of inhabitants has led to crumbling decay. But the multimillionaire former car dealer-turned-president has pledged to continue generating more middle class districts to give life to lifeless parts of Elista.

The president, a former chess professional, was local champion by the age of 14, and almost earned the title Chess Master.

When pressed if the $100 million spent on the grand temple and Chess City would have been better spent on roads, schools, hospitals, Illiumzhinov said: “I have spent two billion on roads and schools. Ten years ago there was no gas pipeline to people. Now, 90 per cent of Kalmyk people can use gas in their houses, and now they have access to water.

Illiumzhinov has breathed life into the tattered economy. But, more than that, he believes, chess has put Kalmykia back on the world map.”




3. Tiksi, one of Russia’s Northern most cities

Tiksi (Russian: Тикси) is an urban locality (a settlement) and the administrative center of Bulunsky District of the Sakha Republic, Russia, situated on the Arctic Ocean coast. Population: 5,055 (2010 Census preliminary results); 5,873 (2002 Census); 11,649 (1989 Census). It is one of the principal ports for accessing the Laptev Sea. It is served by the Tiksi Airport and saw other military construction projects during the Cold War at Tiksi North and Tiksi West airfields

In August 1901, Russian Arctic ship Zarya headed across the Laptev Sea, searching for the legendarySannikov Land (Zemlya Sannikova) but was soon blocked by floating pack ice in the New Siberian Islands. During 1902 the attempts to reach Sannikov Land continued while Zarya was trapped in fast ice. Leaving the ship, Russian Arctic explorer Baron Eduard Toll and three companions vanished forever in November 1902 while travelling away from Bennett Island towards the south on loose ice floes. Zarya was finally moored close to Brusneva Island in the Bay of Tiksi (Bukhta Tiksi), never to leave the place again. The remaining members of the expedition returned to Saint Petersburg, while Captain Matisen went toYakutsk. The name Tiksi means “a moorage place” in Sakha language. Tiksi’s winters are very cold, with temperatures remaining well below zero from November through February. The summers have mild days, but cool nights. Tiksi has a very dry climate which can be classified as a desert climate. The majority of Tiksi’s precipitation falls during the summer months.

2. Russia’s newest city, Innograd

As usual, the Russians are not intimidated. They are building their own Silicon Valley in a small rural village 12 miles west of Moscow called Skolkovo. Despite the seeming improbability of Silicon Valley, the Russians have come to realize that the valley’s success really boils down to three factors- the influence of a prestigious university, the presence of high-tech government initiatives, and the availability of land.

Skolkovo, Moscow School of Management is Skolkovo’s Stanford. Though founded just recently in 2006, the school’s leadership has included powerful players since its inception. The Skolkovo School has thus far lived up to most expectations and filled a void in Russia, serving as a leading business school focusing on entrepreneurship and management of high-tech businesses. Time will tell what sort of catalytic breeding ground for ideas Skolkovo will be, as its first classes of graduates are just now emerging from its innovative experience-based curriculum and into the world of high-tech business ventures.

At the moment, the Skolkovo School is the one of the few pieces of infrastructure (either physical or intellectual) that is currently in place. Designed by British architect David Adjaye, its campus is an iconic and futuristic-looking start to a village looking to capture the future within its borders. The only other piece of intellectual infrastructure that the village possesses is the nearby Russian Satellite Communications Center, which is a government-run facility specializing in digital forms of transmission. Though it seems that these two institutions alone wouldn’t be enough to carry the region ahead, they fulfill two of the three factors in the Silicon Valley formula- the prestigious academic institution and the government-backed high-tech initiative. The last factor, open space, is one that Skolkovo has plenty of, though much of it could soon be filled.

The plans for Innograd (or ‘Innovation City’- Skolkovo’s nickname) are grand, and so was the competition for its design. The international contest, judged by the Board of Trustees of the Skolkovo Foundation and an international jury of architects, designers and planners that make up the Skolkovo Urban Council, came to its conclusion less than a month ago. The winner? The French design firm AREP, whose designs used the land’s topography to form separate villages joined by a central gateway of civic buildings and open spaces. This is contrasted with the losing finalist OMA’s design for two adjacent supergrids that temporarily fragment when they encounter a geographic feature and reassemble into a geometry of long lots with agglomeration potential.




1. Russia’s oldest City

First mentioned by Ancient Greek historians, Derbent maintained strategic importance in the region for millennia and may have been the cradle of Islam in Russia.

The city’s present-day name is Persian in origin and is translated as “narrow gates”. In Arabic it was called Bab al-Abvab, or “the gate of all gates”. Many other names it had over its turbulent history also play on the idea of a closed doorway in one way or another.

The reason is that Derbent is located in a spot where the Caucasian Mountains are only 3 kilometers from the Caspian Sea. It is also one of only two crossings over the mountain range. Naturally, it was a perfect spot to levy taxes on passing merchants and fending off raiding forces.

The spot was of great interest to a number of empires over its history. Several Roman expeditions to conquest the Caucasus had its capture as one of the key objectives. Later it was one of the points of competition between Byzantine Empire and the pre-Islamic Persian Sassanid Empire.

In the mid-5th century AD, Derbent received its present name and its most spectacular feature – the twin stone walls stretching from the mountains to the sea. The walls are 12 meters high on the average, three meters wide, and are separated by 300 to 400 meters. They even stretch some 500 meters into the Caspian Sea. The oldest part of the city is situated between the two structures.

Originally the walls had 73 towers, but the southern one was partially dismantled in the 19th century, so only 46 remain. The fortifications also had 14 gates, but only nine of them still exist. The Narin-Kala fortress, which still stands as the highest point of the city, is also part of the cyclopean defense structures.

Historically the Derbent walls have been associated with Alexander the Great, who was said to have built them to defend the civilized south from the barbarian north. In reality the famous Macedonian general had nothing to do with them.

The city’s Juma Mosque, the oldest in Russia, is the legacy of the Arab rule. It was built in mid-7th century by Arab Caliphate conquerors over a 6th-century Christian basilica. Many historians believe it was through the mosque that Islam spread northwards into Russia. At the height of Arab rule the city was the largest in Southern Caucasus spurring the population of more than 50,000.

Derbent first became part of the Russian Empire in 18th century, when it was taken from the Persian Empire in the expansion effort of Peter the Great, but was lost a decade later. It changed hands several times as the two nations struggled for dominance in the region, and finally settled in Russia’s hands in 1813.

Today Derbent is slated to become one of five key tourist destinations in the Russian Caucasus, as part of the ambitious investment project in the region.




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