A Town of Wolves and Protestants

A Town of Wolves and Protestants

Published: October 17, 2012 (Issue # 1731)


A view of northern Tambov. Residents, nicknamed ‘Tambovskiye wolves’ after the animals that lived here, were once known for resisting the dictates of communism and the Orthodox Church.

TAMBOV — Not many foreigners know of Tambov, but if you mention the city to a Russian, you’re bound to get the answer “Tambovsky volk tebe tovarishch,” loosely translated as “Tambov’s wolf is your friend.”

Sarcastic in the past, the phrase refers to the large number of wolves that once lived in the forests around this city 480 kilometers southeast of Moscow. The term “Tambovsky volk,” widely used in both movies and Russian folklore, has become an endearing nickname that locals like to be known by.

The wolf has become a de facto mascot for the city. Its picture is on everything you can possibly imagine — or at least this is how it feels. The wolf is featured on buildings, paintings, T-shirts, cars and, of course, bottles of vodka.

Tambov’s wolf, however, is only a minor detail associated with this ancient city, established in 1636.

Moscow envisioned Tambov as a fortress to protect it from Crimean Tatars, but no historical evidence exists that it ever served its original purpose. Instead, with its rich, black soil and strategic transit position between Moscow and the Black Sea, the city soon became an important trade center for the region.

With the arrival of communism, local entrepreneurs lost their farms, businesses and possessions. That led to a civil uprising under the leadership of Pyotr Tokmakov, a former Army officer, and Alexander Antonov, the chief of staff of one of the rebel armies at the time. The uprising is widely known as the Tambov Rebellion, or Antonovshchina. Locals managed to drive away the Communists and return the farmland to peasants, although only for a short time. This period was captured in Andrei Smirnov’s “Zhila-Byla Odna Baba” (Once Upon a Time There Was a Woman), which was named best Russian movie at the Nika Awards in 2011.

At the other end of the social spectrum, Tambov is believed to be the birthplace of the Russian Protestant movement. In the early 1600s, about a century after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, a group of peasants in Tambov started a reformation of their own. They refused to obey the Russian Orthodox Church, fought against icons, and organized their own church hierarchy.

Calling themselves Molokany, mainly for their practice of defying the church by drinking milk during Lent, they were deemed heretics by the tsar and severely persecuted and exiled from Russia. Current-day Baptists and other Protestant denominations in Russia trace their roots back to the Molokany.

On the cultural side, Tambov is strongly associated with Sergei Rachmaninov, a great Russian composer of the past century. He spent a number of summers in Ivanovka, his family estate near Tambov, where he wrote a number of his earlier masterpieces. Every four years, the city holds the International Rachmaninov Competition of Young Pianists (www.rachmaninov.ru/cp.htm). The competition includes public recitals, and prominent international pianists play at the final performance.

Then there is Gavrila Derzhavin, a great poet who became the governor of Tambov in 1785. His legacy includes schools, a drama theater, a printing house and the first newspaper published outside Moscow, Tambovskiye Izvestiya. The Tambov State Drama Theater, on Lenin Square, has become a significant landmark.

These days, Tambov attracts many people from various corners of Russia and other former Soviet republics because of its proximity to Moscow and amazingly rich soil. Some people move their whole family here to start a new life growing tomatoes, while others build a house or buy a dacha as an investment.

What to see

if you have two hours

A walk along the riverside is a great way to spend a couple of hours and really get a good feel for the city. Start at the main park, Park Kultury, and head south toward the Dynamo stadium. Look out for the golden onion domes of the Orthodox churches and enjoy a cup of coffee or even a serving of shashlik at one of the numerous cafes along the way.

Finding the park is easy. Buses travel directly to the park and to the Dynamo stadium from virtually every part of the city, including the train station and the airport. A one-way bus ticket costs about 10 rubles ($0.30).

What to do

if you have two days

Art galleries, museums, concerts, shopping or a picnic in the forest — the choice is yours.

The Tambov Regional Museum (3 Derzhavinskaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 6313; tambovmuseum.ru), which traces the history of the city, has an interesting history of its own. The museum occupied the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral, the oldest Orthodox church in the region, from 1929 through 1991. But with the Soviet collapse, it moved to its current location, an attractive pre-revolutionary building with columns. Some of the exhibits feel crowded for lack of space, but the museum boasts an impressive collection of artifacts and taxidermy, all historically related to places in and around Tambov.

For paintings, check out the Art Gallery (97 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 6458; tambovart.ru), which has a collection of original works by Russian painters such as Ivan Aivazovsky and Semyon Shchedrin.

Don’t miss the central market (21 Kommunalnaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 6444; bazar-tambov.narod.ru), where you can pick up a local bargain, toys for the kids or other gifts for people at home. Most prices are clearly marked, but be mindful of pickpockets because the place is usually extremely busy. Walk east along the Kommunalnaya mall toward Lenin Square. This is where the most popular souvenir and jewelry shops are.

If you have time for a picnic, take a taxi to the prigorodny les (suburban forest). It’s only a 10-minute drive from the city center, and you can relax in an idyllic clearing where the forest meets the river.

What to do with the family

If you are traveling with the family and don’t know any locals, it is best to stay in town. Visit Park Kultury, which offers rides and attractions for all ages.

The Tambov Puppet Theater (15 Internatsionalnaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 1158; kukla-tambov.ru) is popular with local children. Founded in 1930, the theater has an amazing collection of puppets.

To really fit in with the locals, check out fishing spots along the Tsna River in the city limits and in the rural areas. However, it is advisable to go fishing with a local acquaintance or at least with someone who speaks Russian. The inability to carry on a conversation with a fellow fisherman may lead to disaster, spoiling a perfect evening. Some people may see a foreigner as an easy target and an opportunity to express their nationalistic views in colorful and somewhat salty language.



The embankment along the Tsna river is a popular place for residents to take walks at any time of year.

Classical music concerts, theater and movies are the most common types of recreation in Tambov. The city also has clubs and nightclubs, of course, but many of them are associated with excessive drinking and are generally considered unsafe.

Check a local newspaper for the day’s concerts at the Rachmaninov Institute (59 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 5220; rachmaninov.ru). The concert hall at the institute has amazing acoustics and is popular with prominent pianists and chamber orchestras.

The Tambov State Drama Theater (15 Internatsionalnaya Ulitsa; +7 475 271 9580; tambovdrama.ru) is one of the oldest theaters in Russia and is renowned for its rich entertainment program every season. Check its website to see what is playing during the current theater season.

TambovConcert, also known as Filarmonia (5 Derzhavinskaya Ulitsa; + 7 475 272 0010; tambovconcert.ru), is the main venue for classical music and Russian pop shows. Concerts are performed nearly every weekend, so there are good opportunities to see a classical performance in a charming setting.

Where to eat

In Tambov, people love spending time outside, but not many of them go out to eat. In the past, the few local restaurants were associated with the rich, excessive drinking and substandard food. Now, new restaurateurs and owners of cafes and bars are trying to win people’s trust by presenting safe establishments. The new restaurants are family-friendly and often smoke-free.

Restaurant Ultra (164 Sovietskaya Ulitsa; +7 475 256 5756) has a great atmosphere, an enticing menu and polite staff. It’s one of the restaurants that the local elite dine in with their families or use for business meetings. In the words of one local businessman, “You can eat anything here.” This is a good place for a night out. A dinner of Arizona chicken, a succulent chicken breast with mushrooms, or steak in red wine sauce will cost between 400 and 1,000 rubles per person without alcohol.

Going out with locals? Be prepared to give up your right to choose your meal. It is not uncommon for everyone around the table to order the same dish. A common restaurant-table discussion revolves around the question “What are we going to eat?” Having agreed on a dish, everyone orders the same thing.

Cafe Italiansky Dvorik (Italian Quarter) is a popular Western-style cafe-restaurant on the upper floor of the Festival Park shopping mall (1 Bulvar Entuziastov; +7 475 263 3934). With formal dining tables and comfortable leather couches, it is a great venue for a light lunch of caesar salad or gourmet pizza or a cup of coffee. Free, unrestricted Wi-Fi is available.

There are more great places to eat. Make sure to ask locals for a recommendation, or check a list online.

Where to stay

Good hotels are not something Tambov is known for. Just as there have been multiple attempts to fix the roads, the pressure is also growing on the hospitality industry to improve the city’s image.

Hotel Derzhavinskaya (4 Ploshchad Lva Tolstogo; +7 475 248 3500; tambov-hotel.ru) is situated along the main city street, Sovietskaya Ulitsa, and is the most popular place among foreigners. Prices range from 1,600 rubles ($51.60) for a single to 7,600 rubles ($245) a night for a VIP room. The hotel also offers a visa support service — a formal invitation document that is required to obtain a tourist visa from overseas.

If you like to go for bike rides in natural surroundings, try Hotel Spartak (13 Lunnaya, prigorodny les; +7 475 272 1441; hotel-spartak-tambov.ru), which is in the forest near the city. The hotel, with rooms ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 rubles ($48-80) per night, offers bicycles for rent and a cafe with some of the best shashlik in town.

Conversation starters

Ask people where the phrase “Tambovsky volk tebe tovarishch” came from. Everyone has a story. Ask them if there are still wolves in the forest now.

Show an interest in the unusual number of new Orthodox churches being built in the city. Tambov had many churches, most of which were blown up in the 1930s. Some of these churches are being rebuilt from the ground up, and many locals wonder whether it is money well spent, given the low wages and other social problems in the city.

Cultural tip

When dining, be prepared to drink vodka. If you don’t drink, at least allow your glass to be filled. It’s OK to raise the glass for a toast and then place it back on the table without drinking from it.

How to get there

UTair flies twice daily from St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport to Tambov via Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport. The flight takes around five hours including changeover in Moscow and costs from 4,666 rubles ($150) one way.

Trains depart daily to Tambov from St. Petersburg’s Moscow Railway Station, en route to destinations southeast of Moscow. The journey takes 17 to 20 hours and tickets cost 2,938 rubles ($95) in second class and 1,277 rubles ($41) in first class one way.


Population: 280,161


New apartment buildings are overshadowing the older architecture of the city.

Main industries: Manufacturing plants, farming

Mayor: Alexei Kondratyev

Founded in 1636

Interesting fact: Tambov was once best-known for its honey industry. A beehive and three honey bees feature on the city’s coat of arms.

Sister cities: Bar-le-Duc, France; Genoa, Italy; Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S.

Helpful contacts:

• Mayor Alexei Kondratyev

(28, Pervomaiskaya Ploshchad;

+7 475 272 0539;


• Alexei Markovsky, Head of Investment and Strategic Projects Committee

(182 Sovietskaya Ulitsa;

+7 475 247 5732;


• Tambov Information Agency Call Center (191 Sovietskaya Ulitsa;

+7 475 253 3800)

Major Businesses

• Revtrud (51 Kommunalnaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 0576; revtrud.com) manufactures radio transmission devices for civil and military communication purposes, as well as various building materials, including door frames and paving bricks.

• Electropribor (36 Morshanskoye Shosse; +7 475 257 7303; elektmb.ru) was founded in 1954 to develop and produce aviation electronics. It remains an important player in the supply chain for the domestic aviation and space industry.

• Takf (22 Oktyabrskaya Ulitsa; +7 475 272 9725; uniconf.ru/en/takf/), a local confectionary factory founded in 1946, is now part of the United Confectionary Manufacturers, a leading confectionary holding in the country.

Oleg Betin,

Tambov governor

Q: What is the most attractive industry to investors in Tambov and the surrounding region?

A: Investors actively fund agriculture. There are more than 60 large agricultural projects being developed in the region concurrently. Judging by the progress so far, the year-to-date results indicate that investments in fixed assets will total 82 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) in the Tambov region.

Q: What is your attitude toward foreign investors and tourists?

A: We actively participate in economic forums presenting the potential of the region to prospective investors. We offer investors technology and transportation infrastructure, both greenfield and brownfield.

On Oct. 24, I will present a paper at the United Nations on a project called Green Valley that we plan to launch in Michurinsk, a town in the Tambov region. We have a real chance to become a platform for the development and production of healthy food. This is a global project that would take us to a new international level in offering new technologies in food production.

As for tourism, we do welcome guests from other countries and regions. In 2010, we had 2,000 foreign tourists, and the number grew by five times in 2011 to 10,000.

Our region is ranked first among the cleanest areas in Russia by the Green Patrol organization. This attracts visitors from overseas, where people place special importance on preserving the environment. We offer a range of services to tourists, including country cottage accommodation, sightseeing and adventure tours, craft workshops and the chance to take part in festivities and the daily life of local rural communities. (For an overview, visit the Tambov Tourism Portal +7 475 279 2402; turtmb.ru.)

Q: What places would you recommend visiting?

A: Would you like to visit an apple kingdom? Then come to us, to Russia’s epicenter of gardening in Michurinsk (a one-hour trip by car, bus or train from Tambov). Enjoy the magical taste of real fruit and learn about the life and work of the great Russian scientist Ivan Michurin. Visit the museum in the house that he designed on the bank of the Lesnoi Voronezh River (Institute of Genetics and Selection of Fruit Plants, Michurinsk; +7 47545 5-79-30). Seedlings of fruit trees and bushes from special families of plants developed by the great scientist’s followers are available for purchase.

Would you like to visit the home of Natalya Goncharova? Come to Znamenka. The wife of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin was born and baptized here in the local church on Aug. 27, 1812, just days after the Battle of Borodino.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you can organize a canoeing trip down the Vorona, one of the cleanest rivers in Russia, and you can spend a few nights at Russian Village (Karandeyevka;

+7 475 532 4620; ekoturstar.ru ), a tourist complex on a steep bank of the river built in 1907.

And then there is Ivanovka, a musical center of national importance. It is one of the gems of our region, the museum estate of Sergei Rachmaninov (Ivanovka; +7 475 587 7442). For 27 years, this brilliant composer found inspiration for his immortal masterpieces in this beautiful corner of the Tambov region.

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