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Small Towns of Russia

All small towns in the world have similarities – people know each other, pace of life is slower than in large cities. Usually, living in small towns is nice. Is that true for Russia?

In Russia, main life is happening in Moscow and St’Pete. Ten more cities with the population over a million together are like 1/3 of St’Pete both in terms of influence and in wealth. And St’Pete is like 1/10 th of Moscow. But Russia is a huge country, we have 11 time zones and hundreds of small towns. How is life there?

As I wrote in a disclaimer – I do not travel within the country much. I used to do some work-related travel, but now my job does not need me to travel to regions, so my areal is either Moscow or other countries. Still, let me tell you couple of stories.

Bryansk

In the end of 90s I was doing a radio show together with a Canadian producer in a town Bryansk, which is only 6 hour train ride away from Moscow. Bryansk is not a small town – it has over 400K inhabitants. This town’s best time was in the Soviet times, when 3 military factories were providing employment for people and rockets for the security of the country. When the plants got closed down, the majority of citizens lost their jobs. I have spent 12 hours in this town, during which I met with local people from all social levels – from the former director of the plant to retired folks to students. It was an incredible experience for me to see how people adjust to new circumstances. Some people just carry on, relying on whatever pension state provides (and since this pension is not enough – they planted potatoes, carrots etc. in the backyard), some people started their own business (we met with folks, who started to sell ACs and computers), some people relied on their skills (mostly language or programming) to go elsewhere for a job or study without planning to return. I had very mixed feelings – on the one hand I saw poverty, however – I saw a lot of energy. I was not sure if I am happy or sad for them.

Kasimov

The other small town, that I want to write about is Kasimov, a really small town (30K+ inhabitants), on the banks of Volga river. I visited this town several times in 2013 for work. (I was in charge of marketing for a chocolate company, which had a plant there). It did feel rather sad than happy to go there. 350 km from Moscow (terrible road, which takes 5 hours) and you are in a very picturesque place in terms of nature, but in the city that had seen better times. Churches, houses, infrastructure – it all looked like nothing was renovated in the last several centuries. Chocolate factory was the only modern facility there and local people do love this business as it provides a steady income for many of the citizens. There is also another factory, which produces fishing nets, but I am not sure how many people they employ.

I had some time to take photos, here is the gallery:

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Writing this post from a small and very picturesque town in Montenegro, I was thinking about a huge difference between life in small towns in Russia and in Europe. Even if you compare towns in more or less similar locations (in terms of weather, proximity to touristic sites and big cities etc.) – Russian towns are much more poor and much less happy. It is sad, but true!

How To Bring Life To Small Towns Of Russia?

I thought – what could be done to fix that? From a perspective of a marketing person – a lot could be done!

Let’s take Kasimov as an example. Nature alone could bring tourists to the city during summer. Volga river with sand beaches is gorgeous. There is enough local food to feed an army. There are also some sights and the town has interesting history of being both Russian and Tatar (half of the population is Christian, half is Muslim and they live well together). There is also an amazing samovar museum, one of a kind. That museum alone would’ve been a focus point of attracting tourists. People who live there do handcrafts, they would’ve sold souvenirs.

Why all that is not happening? A) 350 km is not far, but try to drive there! Road is terrible! SUV, driven by an experienced driver, gets there in 4-5 hours in Summer. Once I went there with a bus of media people in February during a snow storm and it took us 8 hours to get to Kasimov. B) The State does not support small business. Local people may have wanted to open shops or cafes or B&Bs, but taxes on small business are huge and procedure is complicated. That discourages people from launching new businesses. C) there is no marketing support for this tourist destination. Tourists are simply not aware of it!

Any Best Practices in Russia?

Very few. The best “model case” is Veliky Ustiug – town that was unknown for ages, but then somebody rebranded it to become a home town of Russian Father Frost. Now, there are hotels and restaurants there and it is not easy to book rooms/tables during the high season.

I believe that at least 1/10 of the small towns in Russia could be branded, promoted, helped with infrastructure etc. People, who live in these small towns will get jobs and will be more happy, State will get it’s share in taxes.

I wish I could make a difference and make that happen!

How are things in small towns in your countries? Are small towns happy places? What do people do there? Do they want to stay or leave? 

Leave a Reply

  • jon - 5 years ago

    awesomely goods

  • Ranbir Kumar - 4 years ago

    9 time zones or 11

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Hi Ranbir,

      In 2010 we had a “time reform” under which number of time zones was decreased, but in 2014 that decision was reversed. Hence the 9 vs 11 time zones confusion. Also during that time daylight saving changes were canceled. We used to change time twice a year, but that no longer happens.

      • Ranbir Kumar - 4 years ago

        Thanks Tanya for the update. Few friends over there and will try to keep up with them on time zones. Learning Russian to understand culture in the meanwhile.

  • Anonymous - 4 years ago

    Dear Tatiana, I believe you have one factual mistake in this article regarding hometown of Russian Father Frost. It is not Uglich, but Veliky Ustyug as we all know.

    Br,
    Tatiana

    • Tanya Golubeva - 4 years ago

      Thanks Tatiana! You are right – of course it is Veliky Ustyug)) Will correct that now!

  • Lars Bekken - 4 years ago

    An unusually interesting site you’ve got here. On the topic “small towns”: my experience from Russia so far, is St. Petersburg and a couple of short trips to Moscow. However, I will visit other places too, in the near future. I’m from Norway. I have also been wondering what is the difference between life in smaller, less “significant” places, compared to the big cities that most people know about. Quite a lot, I understand.