Ufa: Soviet Cafeterias and IKEA Furniture
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
Attracting investors to Ufa is a priority for Bashkortostan, whose finances were supported by its oil-refining and mining industries before tax law changes.
UFA — Ufa is best seen from the window of a landing airplane in the early fall. The concrete center is surrounded by multi-colored cottage roofs sprinkled on rolling hills, covered in yellow, green, orange and red trees, cut by rivers and lakes as still as glass.
Despite being a manufacturing and oil-refining center, the capital of Bashkortostan has some of the best-preserved nature in Russia. Nearby are hundreds of kilometers of virgin forest and mountains where some of the world’s finest honey is produced by wild honeybees.
Not surprisingly, customs from the long-gone Soviet era remain preserved along with the pristine nature. Government officials serve in an imposing white block of a building with endless hallways of creaking lacquered parquet floors covered in red carpets. They dine at a real Soviet cafeteria, with white cloth-covered tables and traditional Russian food.
Journalists and other visitors of the government — a reporter for The Moscow Times, the sister newspaper of The St. Petersburg Times, visited Ufa on a government-organized press tour — are accompanied by a member of the government at all times and are told not to meet with anyone or go anywhere alone. The main hotel for out-of-towners is located far from the city center, in a wooded area near a river.
The majority of the Ufa men wear black worker’s hats, wildly popular in the U.S.S.R. and ubiquitously worn by former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
But modernity is starting to creep into the republic. Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened its first store in the republic in August. French supermarket chain Auchan opened its first Bashkortostan location earlier this month.
Since President Dmitry Medvedev appointed a top RosHydro manager, Rustem Khamitov, as Bashkortostan’s president in 2009, great strides have been taken to modernize the republic. Attracting investors became a priority to replenish the republic’s budget, which had been supported by revenue from its oil-refining and mining industries prior to changes in federal tax law during the mid-2000s.
The republic’s government, previously closed to outsiders politically and financially, has set up a development corporation to help investors realize their local projects.
Traveling businessmen from other regions said the business climate has grown more open since the republic’s former president, Murtaza Rakhimov, who held the post for nearly 20 years, was replaced.
Ufa has long been a multicultural center. Ivan the Terrible set up a fortress in the city in the 16th century to protect central Russia from Asian invaders. The region was populated by Bashkirs, a nomadic Muslim Turkic tribe.
Today more than 100 nationalities live in Ufa, with major ethnic groups including Russians, Bashkirs, Tatars, the Chuvash, Ukrainians, Jews and Belarussians. Over the years, various nationalities have intermarried, and there are many mixed ethnicities living in the area.
One of the country’s largest Jewish community centers was built here in 2007, and Khamitov was the first republican president to attend a Hanukkah celebration last December.
Rabbi Dan Krichevsky said he feels safe in Ufa and is not worried about his son, who wears a traditional Jewish yarmulke hat. The greatest hardship Krichevsky faces in the region is access to reasonably priced kosher food. The food must either be shipped from Moscow or Israel, which can get very expensive.
Someone should open local kosher food production company, Krichevsky said.
“He would be a monopolist,” Krichevsky said.
What to see if you have two hours
Take a walk around central Ufa. Wander down Ulitsa Gafuri, past the turquoise glass wave-like Congress Hall business center and the fountain with multi-colored tiles to the equestrian statue of Bashkir hero Salavat Yulayev. Yulayev was one of the main figures in the Pugachyov rebellion fought in the 18th century to improve the situation of the Bashkir peasants. The nearly 10-meter-high statue is one of the largest horseman statues in Europe, and it overlooks the sloping tree-lined banks of the Belaya River.
From there, head east on Ulitsa Tukayeva to Ufa’s oldest mosque (53 Ulitsa Tukayeva), built during the early 19th century, and the nearby Friendship Monument, built in 1957 to celebrate 400 years of Bashkortostan being part of Russia.
The striking Lya Lya Tyulipan mosque.
To see the well-preserved wooden houses of Ufa, walk down Ulitsa Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii, one of the oldest streets in the city. The pale blue-and-white Nativity of the Mother of God church on nearby Ulitsa Kirova is the city’s most ornate church.
What to do if you have two days
Visit the Lya Lya Tyulpan mosque
(5 Ulitsa Komarova), located in the northern part of the city, overlooking the Belaya River. The red-and-white mosque, whose two minarets resemble tulips, was built in the 1990s and is one of the region’s most important Islamic centers.
The National Museum (14 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 347-272-12-50; museumrb.ru) is the republic’s major museum with exhibits of the region’s history and national Bashkortostan cultural artifacts, including traditional dress.
Shop for the famous Bashkortostan honey at one of the city’s honey shops (2 Novosibirskaya Ulitsa, +7 347-274-46-84, bashkirmed.com; 7/2 Ulitsa Akademika Koroleva, +7 347-244-34-46, efesin.ru). Locals warn to stay away from the markets since the honey there is unregulated and often counterfeiters either mix sugar or syrup into their honey or feed their bees sugar.
What to do with the kids
During the summer you can visit Yakutov Park (65/3 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-292-39-27, yakutov.ru), which has rides and games. During the colder months, visit the planetarium located near the park.
Where to eat
The Akbuzat (217a Ulitsa Mendeleyeva, +7 347-241-35-05) restaurant is located inside the hippodrome of the same name. Diners can watch equestrian races out of the windows of the restaurant as they sample European and Bashkir fare at prices Muscovites could only dream of — the average bill is 500 rubles per person.
La Ruche (20 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7 347-292-65-35, laruche.ru) is one of the fanciest restaurants in Ufa. The menu features a variety of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes, with elements of Asian and European cuisine that includes ingredients such as rucola, shrimp, octopus, Parmesan cheese and coconut milk. The average check is about 2,000 rubles per person.
World-famous DJs play at Rise nightclub (1 Verkhnetorgovaya Ploshchad, +7 347-279-60-20, clubrise.ru) for Ufa’s trendiest, best-looking crowd. The club is open every night from midnight and features a lounge and a restaurant, and sometimes screens films.
The Opera and Ballet Theater (5/1 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-10-12, bashopera.ru), where Rudolf Nuriyev, one of Russia’s most famous ballet dancers, got his start, has performances almost every night of the week. The theater’s repertoire includes classics such as “Don Quixote” and “Sleeping Beauty” as well as “Crane Song,” a Bashkir production. The city boasts 10 other theaters, including the State Bashkir Drama Theater (34 Ulitsa Zaki Validi, +7 347-272-7310, bashdram.ru), the State Tatar Theater NUR (36 Ulitsa 50 Let SSSR, +7 347-248-95-33, teatrnur.ru) and the State Russian Drama Theater (79 Prospekt Oktyabrya,
Eat at Akbuzat restaurant while watching races at Ufa’s hippodrome.
+7 347-233-00-73, rusdram.ru).
Where to stay
Surrounded by woods and overlooking the Belaya River, President (2 Ulitsa Avrory, +7 347-279-80-08, presidenthotel.ru) is the best hotel in Ufa, popular with visiting businessmen. Although the hotel hosts families, late at night the hotel bar’s tables are full, mostly with oil businessmen and prostitutes. The rooms range in price from 2,800 rubles for a standard single to 9,700 rubles for a luxury suite for two ($90 to $310).
The centrally located Agidel Hotel (16 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-56-80, agidelhotel.ru) boasts a billiards hall, a sauna, a beauty salon, a restaurant and a bar. Make sure to book in advance because its central location keeps this hotel in high demand. Prices range from 1,300 rubles ($40) for a single room to 6,050 rubles ($190) for a luxury suite.
New street curbs have recently been installed around the city that residents consider to be too high. The curbs have been blamed for many of the city’s ills, including a kidnapped baby, taken from a stroller on the street because the mother could not lift it over the high curb to go into a pharmacy. Complaining about the high curbs will make the locals feel closer to you.
How to get there
The easiest and fastest way to get to Ufa is by plane. The renovated Ufa International Airport hosts domestic flights to St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia and international flights to several locations, including the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan. The nearly three-hour direct flight from St. Petersburg costs about 10,000 rubles ($325) with Rossiya Airlines round-trip. Indirect flights are cheaper: From 7,000 rubles ($230) round-trip with a connection if you fly with Aeroflot. The airport is located a convenient 30-minute taxi ride from the city center.
Trains also travel to Ufa from St. Petersburg’s Moscow Railway Station. The roughly 2,000-kilometer trip takes about 42 hours and a second-class ticket costs around 2,000 rubles ($65).
Mayor: Pavel Kachkayev
KHRISTINA NARIZHNAYA / SPT
Many Ufa men wear black worker’s hats, popular in the Soviet Union.
Main industries: oil extraction, oil refining, gas, metals mining, auto parts, chemical production, agriculture
Founded in 1574 when Ivan the Terrible ordered a fortress built here
Interesting fact No. 1:
The city was initially named Tura-Tau after the name of the hill that it
Interesting fact No. 2:
During World War II, the Soviet Ukrainian government relocated to Ufa following the eastward retreat in 1941.
Sister cities: Ankara, Turkey; Halle, Germany; Las Pinas, Phillippines; Orenburg, Russia; Paldiski, Estonia.
• Aidar Garyev, general director of the Corporation of Development of the Bashkortostan republic
(78 Ulitsa Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii; +7-347-280-82-32;
The 10-meter-high Yulayev statue.
• Yury Pustovgarov, president of the republic’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (3 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7-347-276-20-52,
• Selena Neftekhim (14 Ulitsa Mira; +7-495-755-95-04; selena.su), created in 1998, extracts gas and oil and is one of Russia’s biggest producers of diesel fuel, auto fuel, aviation fuel, industrial oils, bitumen, polymers and plastics.
• Stroitelny Trest No. 3 (10 Prospekt Oktyabrya; +7-347-246-14-06; trest3rb.ru) is a group of construction-related companies that were founded in the Soviet era. The group provides various services, including development and investment, construction of housing and commercial real estate.
• Elektrozavod (Elektrozavodskaya Ulitsa, Moscow; +7-495-777-82-26; elektrozavod.ru), Russia’s largest producer of electric parts, has two branches in Ufa. A recently constructed branch produces a large share of the country’s power, distribution and unitized transformers. The second branch is a Soviet-era electric parts factory integrated into the company in 2004 and today produces electricity-generating parts and reactors.
At 60, he has worked in the Ufa administration since 1994 and has been mayor for the last eight years.
Q: Why should foreigners come to Ufa?
A: Lakes, forests, rivers, good climate and mountains. It’s a good spot for skiing and snowboarding. We have over 100 nationalities and we all live in peace.
Q: Why is Ufa a good place for business?
A: We live conservatively within our means. We try to create good conditions for investors. Our city’s Moody’s rating has gone up four times in five years. The business climate is more transparent now.
Q: In what should investors put money into Ufa?
A: If someone wants to build a logistics center in Ufa, we’ll give them a hectare and bow deeply before them. We’ll be happy for any manufacturing, housing construction or retail. We have oil, but there is not enough oil for everyone.
Q: What is your favorite part of Ufa? ?A: Oktyabrskaya Ulitsa is all made of wood. A hanging bridge where lovers put padlocks. The Friendship Monument. The Church of the Nativity. The movie theater. The mosque. I love it all.