A Corner of Tatarstan Is Open for Business

A Corner of Tatarstan Is Open for Business

Published: June 27, 2012 (Issue # 1715)


Yelabuzhskoye Gorodishche, the only remaining tower of a fortress-mosque built around the 11th century, stands defending the river’s edge in Yelabuga, located 215 kilometers east of Kazan.

YELABUGA, Tatarstan — Watching over the point where the Kama and Toima rivers meet in European Russia, the city of Yelabuga is a confluence of many types.

Its suburbs boast a Special Economic Zone with tax incentives, brand-new factories and high-end manufacturing that co-exist with state-supported industry. Centuries-old architecture and house-museums mix with modern restaurants and retail outlets. The Tatar and Russian languages combine on restaurant menus, building signs and in people’s speech. In fact, the city, located 215 kilometers east of Kazan, has two separate but similar names: It is called Yelabuga in Russian and Alabuga in Tatar.

Yelabuga (ye-LA’-bu-ga) is also typical of Tatarstan because of its investor-friendly business environment. Tatarstan is praised by both foreign financial institutions and individual companies for its uncommonly helpful officials, attractive tax rates and aggressive recruitment of Russian and foreign manufacturers, which build state-of-the-art factories and add jobs in the republic.

The regional government set up the Special Economic Zone outside the city limits in 2006 and, together with corporate players, has invested more than $2.5 billion since in the special zone. Companies there include U.S.-Russian car-making joint venture Ford-Sollers, French industrial chemical giant Air Liquide, and Danish insulation maker Rockwool, which opened its largest plant worldwide at the industrial park earlier this year.

In addition to its business ties and manufacturing strengths, the city has numerous historic spots. Settled in the 10th and 11th centuries by the Bulgars, the forefathers of the Kazan Tatars, the area was a trading and army outpost. Russian culture and religion advanced into the region, leading to the construction of churches in what would officially become Yelabuga in the 1700s. In the following years, the city was a merchant town.

Soviet poet Marina Tsvetayeva relocated from the Moscow region to Yelabuga as part of a wartime evacuation in 1941, living in the town with her son. A literary great who bridged the tsarist and Soviet eras, Tsvetayeva achieved fame as a lyrical poet and the status of a major Russian writer of the 20th century — but mostly after her death, as she was forced into exile in Europe and then hounded by the NKVD upon her return. She took her own life in August 1941 in Yelabuga and is buried here.

A memorial museum marks the place where she spent her final days, and it includes a library dedicated to the Silver Age of Russian and Soviet literature, a period that included Tsvetayeva, novelist Boris Pasternak and poet Anna Akhmatova.

The city also was home to landscape painter Ivan Shishkin, who was born into a Yelabuga merchant family in 1832 and left the region to study art in Moscow and then St. Petersburg in 1852. As with Tsvetayeva, there is a museum for the artist, a reconstructed version of the house where Shishkin spent part of his childhood.

His painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” can be found in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery and on the light-blue wrappers of Krasny Oktyabr’s Mishka Kosolapy chocolate.

What to do if you have two hours

Head to the Savior Cathedral, or Spassky Sobor, constructed on a site where churches have been torn down and built up at least five times in the past 400 years. Blue-green cupolas top the cathedral’s five main domes and its skinny bell-tower, while its white walls make for a plain canvas. A colorful approach to the cathedral is a stroll down Spasskaya Ulitsa, lined with pink buildings on the right and yellow walls on the left.

From there, head west on Naberezhnaya Ulitsa to reach building No. 12, the Ivan Shishkin House-Museum (elabuga.com/shishk/sch.html). It is a reconstructed version of the house in which the famed landscape painter spent much of his youth, with re-imagined interiors suggesting the comfortable life of his family. A tour lasts about half an hour.


The Savior Cathedral occupies a site where churches have been razed five times in 400 years.

From here, wind your way around the back to the main part of the city and take a peek at its serene streets. Because entrance doors aren’t separated from the sidewalk by stairs, many buildings look like they have pushed out of the ground. Most are just one or two stories, and the Savior Cathedral blooms from the edge of the city like a giant blue-and-white flower, dominating the landscape for kilometers on end. A typical street is Kazanskaya Ulitsa, with red-and-gray checkered sidewalks, turquoise buildings and yellow walls.

What to do if you have two days

Take a walk to Yelabuzhskoye Gorodishche, a squat stone tower that is a vestige of the region’s Bulgar heritage. The two-story structure stands on the city’s riverbanks and can be reached by a 15-minute stroll from the city center. Also called Chyortovo Gorodishche, it is the oldest architecture in Yelabuga, dating to the first centuries of its 1007 settlement, according to Regina Khabibullina, a research associate at the local tourist center. It was part of a fortress-mosque and was used as both a place of worship and a defense post, she said.

Also worth a visit is the Tsvetayeva museum (20 Malaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa), where her belongings, including the notebook purportedly found in the pocket of her apron after she died, are on display.

For another major figure in Russian history, stop by a museum dedicated to Nadezhda Durova (123 Moskovskaya Ulitsa, elabuga.com/durov/durova_02.html). Durova is considered the first female officer of the Russian army, taking part in the campaigns to beat back Napoleon in the 1812 conflict, and she gained a legacy as a cavalry woman. The museum showcases ornate military uniforms from the era and mementoes from her life.

What to do with the kids

For meals and fun, try the Shishka Family Cafe (21 Prospekt Neftyanikov, +7 (85557) 3-21-64.) Decorated with a woodsy scene like a Shishkin painting, it serves Tatar and Russian fare like stuffed blini, with a typical tab of about 200 rubles ($6) per person. There is a children’s menu and a playground across the street. It is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.


Manhattan (16a Internatsionalnaya Ulitsa, +7 (85557) 3-15-71) combines a nightclub, restaurant, bar, cafe, billiards and bowling under one roof. Open until 1 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it draws about 60 people per night. Nightclub entrance costs 150 rubles ($4.50) on Friday and Saturday. Men can get away with sneakers if paired with a smart jacket and jeans. Women should wear a skirt or dress to the restaurant. Reserve a table ahead of time.

If you want to catch a flick, try Brooklyn, a multi-screen movie theater located in the same complex. The cinema shows films until 11:30 p.m. Reservations can be made at +7 (85557) 4-66-11. Tickets start at 120 rubles, and the snack bar serves shwarma, blini and desserts.

For simple drinks with friends, there is a bar in the lobby of the Alabuga City Hotel, which is open 24 hours a day and has a small array of tables. There are also eight television screens watchable from the bar itself.

Where to eat


Parents and children take a relaxing family stroll near the Tarasov House, built in 1868 and now the city’s tourism center.

Alabuga City Hotel offers Gurman Hall (4a Kazanskaya Ulitsa, +7 (85557) 2-60-00; alabuga-?cityhotel.ru), a simple restaurant with a tree-filled view and a Russian, Tatar and European menu that includes smoked beef with fresh vegetables and a Kazan Salad of boiled beef, pickles, eggs, cheese, garlic and mayonnaise. The average bill for a dinner for one is 600 rubles ($18) without alcohol.

Yelabuga, the restaurant, is a local favorite (7 Ulitsa Stakheyevykh, +7 (85557) 7-52-30, elabuga-restoran.ru/index.html). With Russian and European fare, you can find classic fish soup, mutton and vegetable dishes there. The price per person is about 600 rubles minus liquor.

You can find European and Armenian cuisine in the wood-covered interior of Ararat (26 Prospekt Neftyanikov, +7 (85557) 2-57-01, tatararat.ru/elabuga). Try the house shashlik. The typical bill comes to about 400 rubles ($12) without alcohol. Reservations are required.

Where to stay

Alabuga City Hotel (see contact information under “Where to eat”), located about a kilometer from the Savior Cathedral, is widely considered to provide the best lodging available, and the service and cleanliness match the reputation. Expect to find piles of pillows, modern brown-and-white decor and an oversized bathroom in your room. A standard room with one double bed costs 3,500 rubles ($105), while an apartment with a Jacuzzi and a kitchenette goes for 7,700 rubles ($230) per night.

In the middle of Yelabuga itself is the Toima Hotel (4 Ulitsa Govorova, +7 (85557) 7-54-73, grc_toyma@mail.ru). A standard room goes for 1,950 rubles ($60), while high-end rooms are about 3,000 rubles ($90) per night. Another option is the Vizit (4 Ulitsa Tazi Gizzata, +7 (85557) 5-12-84), which is ranked as a three-star hotel by a regional hotel website. Its rooms cost from 2,000 rubles to 3,000 rubles per night.

Other helpful hints

If you are calling a business or person from a city landline, you can skip the city code (which is 85557) and just dial the last five digits. In orienting yourself, keep in mind that what locals call the “upper” part of the city is the western half along the Kama River, while the “lower” part is the eastern half along the Toima River.

How to get there

There are no direct flights from St. Petersburg to Yelabuga. Four airlines however — Aeroflot, Ak Bars Aero, Tatarstan and UTair — make the two-hour flight every day from Moscow’s Domodedovo and Vnukovo airports to the Begishevo Airport in Nizhnekamsk, a city south of the Kama River and about a 45-minute drive from the edge of Yelabuga. Taxis wait at the airport; there is no mass transit. Plane tickets start at about 7,000 rubles for a round trip.



A statue of local 19th-century writer Dmitry Stakheyev stands in front of Yelabuga’s pedagogical university.

Population: 70,000

Mayor: Gennady Yemelyanov

Founded: 1007

Interesting fact: “Cavalryman-Maiden” Nadezhda Durova, a heroine of the 1812 war against Napoleon,

is buried in the city and remembered with a museum here.

Helpful contacts: Yelabuga Mayor Gennady Yemelyanov (+7 (85557) 3-11-76; alabuga@tatar.ru; elabugacity.ru); Alabuga Special Economic Zone investor contact Dilyara Minibayeva, who speaks English (+7 (85557) 5-90-30, +7 (927) 480-0221,invest@sezalabuga.ru; www.alabuga.ru/en/index.php);

• Yelabuga tourist center, which is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9 Ulitsa Gassara, +7 (85557) 7-86-68; elmuseum@mail.ru; www.elabuga.com/turizm/tur01.html).

Sister cities: Alexin, Tula region, Russia; Safranbolu, Turkey.

Major Businesses

•Started in 1985 as a tractor factory, the Yelabuga Automotive Factory (1 Prospekt Neftyanikov;

+7 (85557) 5-57-75; elaz.ru) converted just three years later into a car factory. Today it supplies specialized vehicles and other equipment to oil and gas companies, both regional service firms and national giants such as Tatneft, Gazprom, Rosneft, LUKoil and Gazpromneft. Known as ElAZ, it is located in Yelabuga proper.

•Alabuga-Sote (104 Kazanskaya Ulitsa; +7 (85557) 7-56-01; alabuga-sote.ru) makes an array of dairy products, from sour cream to yogurt to kefir. It is one of the biggest production companies in the city.

/ Vedomosti

Russian Railways and the Finance Ministry dispute the company’s valuation as the government tries to privatize company stock.

•Prikamneft, the local arm of regional oil powerhouse Tatneft, provides equipment services and drilling (32 Prospekt Neftyanikov, +7 (85557) 25-0-25; www.ngdu.tatneft.ru/wps/wcm/connect/tatneft/ngdu/prikamneft/ob_upravlenii). It operates in segments as varied as information technology and energy.

Timur Shagivaleyev, General director, Alabuga Special Economic Zone

Q: Why should companies work in the Alabuga zone?

A: We aren’t promising infrastructure sometime in the future — it is already physically in place today. Also, we offer a unique package of customs and tax reductions. Third, we have strong administrative support for all resident companies. All equipment can be brought in without value-added tax. Those are really big savings, up to 50 percent. Apart from that, companies in our economic zone don’t pay income tax for the first five years. For the following five years, it’s 5 percent income tax. That’s a very favorable rate. In addition, you don’t pay property tax.

Q: What would you say to convince someone to build facilities in this zone?

A: Russia has sufficiently advantageous costs for raw materials: Electricity, gas, metal, plastics, etc. In choosing among special zones in Russia, China, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, companies look at which ones have the most competitive prices for raw materials, customs and tax benefits and infrastructure advantages, and they choose the site that is best for them.

It happens that we are not only one of the best sites in Russia, but we have also become competitive in the global arena.

Q: What types of developments or changes do you expect in the zone in the next two years?

A: It is quite straightforward. The amount of money invested into our zone by private investors stands at $1 billion, and the amount of promised investment is $3 billion. Accordingly, in two years, we will receive a minimum of $2 billion in investment, and more likely an amount closer to $3 billion to $4 billion. There will be another 30 new major factories.

Q: What places in Yelabuga do you recommend to visitors?

A: I recommend the Yelabuga restaurant. It’s a very good restaurant. For those who want to eat dishes based on upper-class Russian cuisine from the 19th and early 20th centuries, it’s the best place to go.

— Rachel Nielsen

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