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RYAZAN — There is a widespread belief in Ryazan that Koreans owe some of their digital excellence to a local plant called Plazma. But few would remember the South Korean firm’s name when talking about Plazma’s joint venture with the Koreans — a memory dating back to the mid-1990s.
Plazma’s deputy director Arkady Orlov has it right. It’s Orion PDP, formerly part of the conglomerate Daewoo and now a subsidiary of China’s leading home appliances manufacturer, the Sichuan Changhong Electric Company.
“We were ahead of all other world companies in mass producing color plasma panels,” Orlov said. “We were able to get Daewoo interested and convince them that we could create a TV.”
Main industries: oil refining, electronics, construction
Mayor: Vitaly Artyomov
Founded: 1095, not clear by whom
Interesting fact: Ryazan gave its name to the “Ryazan miracle,” a disastrous attempt by a local Communist boss to meet Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s unrealistic orders to triple national agricultural production as he set the country on a course of economic competition with the United States. In 1959, the region did triple its year-on-year meat production by slaughtering almost all of its bovine herd, including dairy stock and cattle borrowed from private households, an achievement Khrushchev boasted at the national Communist Party congress that year. Meat production, however, sharply declined the next year, and the Communists fired the party’s Ryazan regional boss.
Helpful contacts: City Hall spokeswoman Svetlana Yakunina (+7 4912-25-25-44; gorod.ryazan.ru); city legislature Speaker Fyodor Provotorov (+7 4912 -20-04-02); Lyudmila Kibalnikova, chairwoman of the regional branch of Opora (+7 4912-42-76-03).
Sister cities: New Athos, Abkhazia; Lovech, Bulgaria; Xuzhou, China; Omis, Croatia; Bressuire, France; Münster, Germany; Ostrow Mazowiecka, Poland; Krusevac, Serbia.
Despite setting no benchmarks for Plazma, the partnership with the Koreans still makes city residents proud of their homegrown company’s expertise in matters of high technology. The topic sometimes resurfaces in conversations in a city where the electronics industry, Orlov said, affects a quarter of the population of 525,000.
It does look like Orion PDP, now a major manufacturer of plasma television panels, saw its business blossom after teaming up with the plant in Ryazan. They set up a 50-50 research and development venture in 1994 — a fact recorded on Orion’s web site — that led the Korean firm to start producing color panels at home in 1997.
The Koreans ultimately decided not to invest in a Russian production line, which could have churned out some of the world’s first plasma televisions in 1998, Orlov said. Japan’s Pioneer sold the first plasma television to the public in 1997, while Orion PDP has since become Korea’s third-largest plasma panel maker, after Samsung and LG Electronics. “Not a single foreign high-tech company is interested in organizing deeply localized production in Russia,” Orlov said about the cooperation with Orion. “They all try to reserve that for their motherland.”
Plazma now makes plasma screens for products such as tanks and locomotives.
The city’s profile as one of the country’s electronics hubs probably explains why it was also one of the first in Russia to use light-emitting diodes for street lighting. Installed this past winter, the diodes illuminate the central street. With its plethora of skilled electrical engineers trained at the city’s State Radiotechnical University, Ryazan should establish an electronics technopark where they could work to invent new technology, said Vladimir Motorzhin, chairman of the regional branch of Delovaya Rossia, a national business lobby group. In another testimony of Ryazan’s infatuation with electronics, local authorities installed the Glonass global positioning system on public transportation and set up a web site for anyone to track down the nearest bus or streetcar.
Plazma (24 Ulitsa Tsiolkovskogo; +7 4912-24-90-02; plasmalabs.ru) makes plasma screens for products such as tanks and locomotives. It also produces LCD screens, industrial gas lasers and medical lasers. It exports some products to countries such as the United States, China and Israel.
The Ryazan Oil Refinery (8 Yuzhny Promuzel District; +7 4912-93-32-54; rnpk.ru) is owned by TNK-BP, the Russian-British joint venture, and produces motor and jet fuels, lubricants and other oil products. In 2008, it began producing the highest-purity Euro-5 class motor fuel. It has the capacity to refine 17 million metric tons of oil a year.
Ryazanwest (21 Sobornaya Ulitsa; +7 4912 21-57-36; ryazanwest.ru) is a Russian-German footwear company that uses Rheinberger technology.
Ryazan is the fourth-largest city in the Central Federal District after Moscow, Voronezh and Yaroslavl, and 31st largest in Russia, according to last fall’s census. Its spending is projected at 6.6 billion rubles, or $236 million, this year. Ryazan is about the size of Tucson, Arizona, which is the 33rd-largest city in the United States with an adopted budget spending of $1.3 billion for fiscal year 2011.
Ryazan is more than just about electronics. Electricity and heat-generating plants as well as TNK-BP’s oil refinery are some of its biggest employers and taxpayers.
In an example of recent foreign investment, Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Guardian Industries opened a $200 million facility to produce glass for windows in September 2009, betting on growth in home construction. The region around the city is rich in quartz sand, the raw material for the industry.
Czech company PPF Real Estate is investing in construction of a shopping mall in Ryazan, which will measure 66,000 square meters of gross leasable area and rank as the Central Federal District’s third largest outside Moscow and the Moscow region, after malls in Voronezh and Ivanovo. The mall’s first phase is opening later this year, with the second phase coming next year.
Finland’s Rautakesko could build one of its K-Rauta do-it-yourself stores in the city by 2015, said the company’s country director, Mikko Nissinen. The company has a land plot for the store but has yet to decide on construction, he said.
Founder of the advertising company Region, a 10-year-old small business. The Ryazan regional chapter of Opora, the national small and medium-sized business association, elected her as chairwoman this year.
Q: What sets Ryazan apart from other cities in central Russia?
A: Ryazan is very close to Moscow. On the one hand, it’s good to be just 90 minutes by car away from the country’s financial center. On the other hand, it’s a drain on skilled staff and impacts the level of prices in the city.
Q: Are the city authorities helpful?
A: It’s sometimes hard to push through any legislative changes on the municipal level. The regional government is always quicker and more constructive. It steps in when we can’t move ahead with the city.
Q: What can be improved locally as far as the advertising industry is concerned?
A: If a startup chooses property on the first floor of an apartment building for its business, it faces a huge problem merely putting up a sign. The business owner has to collect permission from all apartment owners and secure a copy of their deeds, which can trigger multiple trade-offs and makes it virtually impossible to put up a sign legally. How can we even talk about the investment climate if it’s so difficult for an entrepreneur to put up a sign and state his business to people? We have asked the city legislature to simplify the process.
— Anatoly Medetsky
In terms of science, Ryazan left an indelible imprint globally as the birthplace of physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who famously experimented on dogs to study and formulate the conditioned reflex. His family’s mansion, where a parish priest father and an illiterate housewife mother raised him and his siblings, now serves as a museum.
Other people of international acclaim who have lived in the city include Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote parts of his “Gulag Archipelago” here. Following an incarceration and internal exile, he spent 12 years in Ryazan, starting in 1957. For a few years, he, a physicist by education, taught physics and astronomy at School No. 2, which now bears a plaque attesting just that. Incidentally, the school — located at 7 Sobornaya Ulitsa — used to be the theological seminary where young Pavlov went to train for priesthood, making it an institution attended by two Russian Nobel laureates a century apart.
The wooden two-story apartment building at 17 Ulitsa Uritskogo, which was home for Solzhenitsyn and his first wife, Natalya Reshetnikova, until late 1966, still serves its intended purpose as a residential property. The couple occupied Apartment No. 3. They later moved to Apartment No. 11 at what is now 1 Ulitsa Yablochkova, a better brick building.
The city legislature declined to consider renaming one of Ryazan’s streets after Solzhenitsyn in 2008, turning down a proposal from its tourism committee. The local chapter of the national rights group Memorial will resubmit the proposal later this year, its chairman Andrei Blinushov said. “We will keep trying,” he said.
Some of Solzhenitsyn’s heritage is already gone. A businessman bought and razed the house, now within city limits, which the writer — concerned about the likelihood of KGB searches — rented to secretly work on the “Gulag Archipelago,” Blinushov said. A sleeker country house now graces the neighborhood, he said.
Until recently, Ryazan also stood out on the armed forces landscape as the Russian paratroopers capital. The city hosts the country’s only military school to train officers for the airborne force, the Higher Paratrooper Command Academy, but it suspended this type of enrollment last year. Instead, the institution — whose alumni includes the current president of the West African republic of Mali, Amadou Toumani Toure, and former Polish President Wojciech Jaruzelski — will help the armed forces train a corps of professional sergeants.
What to see if you have two hours
Speaker of Ryazan’s city legislature.
Provotorov, 46, has held top jobs in the Ryazan city government since 2006. He belongs to United Russia.
Q: How is Ryazan different from other cities in central Russia?
A: Ryazan has a colorful history, a unique geographical location, developed industry, and a multitude of military and civil higher learning institutions.
Q: What city project would you like to attract Russian or foreign investment to?
A: There are several: the large-scale reconstruction of transportation services, the construction of business centers, the creation of leisure and tourist areas in the city parks, the rebuilding of the historical look of the area around the Ryazan kremlin, and the construction of full-cycle residential compounds.
Q: What recent positive changes in the life of the city do you deem the most noteworthy?
A: I am pleased with the growth of the share of small and medium-sized business in the city economy, the increase of incoming investment, and the large-scale facelift of Ryazan’s city center.
— Anatoly Medetsky
Take a tour of the ancient local kremlin, whose foundation was laid in the 11th century. Most of the buildings at the site, which is now shared by a state museum and the Russian Orthodox Church, date back to the 17th century and later. Forty-minute tours in English can be organized by calling the museum at +7 4912-27-60-66 five days in advance. The price is 1,600 rubles ($57) total per a group of one to 25 people, regardless of the number of people. Work hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Mondays.
Don’t miss taking a look at School No. 2 at 7 Sobornaya Ulitsa where renowned physiologist Ivan Pavlov studied theology before his conversion into a secular scientist. It’s the same school where the acclaimed writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn taught physics after his incarceration and internal exile.
Another Solzhenitsyn-related place to see is his house at 17 Ulitsa Uritskogo, where he and his wife occupied Apartment No. 3 for most of their stay in the city. The downside is that the apartment hasn’t gained the status of cultural heritage and current tenants are unlikely to let visitors through the door. The Solzhenitsyns later moved to a better apartment at what is now 1 Ulitsa Yablochkova.
What to do if you have two days
Admire the authentic early 19th-century interiors at the estate where physiologist Ivan Pavlov grew up in the family of an Orthodox priest and that now houses his museum (25 Ulitsa Pavlova; +7 (4912) 25-40-72; pavlov.amr-museum.ru/engl/e_nav.htm). Take a walk across the apple garden where the future luminary strolled and take a look at the site where he liked to play gorodki, an ancient folk game that is similar in concept to bowling. The aim of the game, whose other prominent players included Peter the Great, Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Lenin, is to knock out skittles arranged in various patterns by throwing a bat at them.
Outside the city, there’s the Konstantinovo village, which was home to the famous poet Sergei Yesenin, who in his poems celebrated the lifestyle of the peasantry. It now hosts a museum that offers guided tours around the Yesenin estate with stories about the poet and life in the village in the early part of the last century. (+7-49137-33-2-57 or +7 910-566-64-97; museum-esenin.ru). Guides who speak English, German or French are available upon request. Work hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Monday. You can reach the museum by car, which is a trip of about 40 kilometers from Ryazan. Take the M4 highway toward Moscow to the town of Rybnoye and then travel northward by the signs. Another way of reaching the place is by bus from the central bus station.
Founder of Polynom, a 14-year-old printing house that prints newspapers, books and brochures among other things for the markets of Ryazan and the neighboring regions. Since 2003, it has printed the local editions of national newspapers such as Komsomolskaya Pravda and Novaya Gazeta.
Q: Is your proximity to Moscow good or bad for business?
A: Many skilled workers travel to work in Moscow on Monday through Friday and come back just for the weekend. It puts a lot of strain on the local labor market. We do get contracts from Moscow, but this bonus doesn’t offset the damage from personnel turnover.
Q: What is the main problem for the printing business in the city?
A: As in the rest of the country, the problem is a lack of opportunity to upgrade technology. Better equipment — if it’s not second-hand — is quite expensive. I don’t understand how I can find financing for a 2 million euro project that I have when domestic banks charge an interest rate of 20 percent to 25 percent. The banks in Germany and Holland that I’ve spoken to charge less, sometimes as little as 5 percent in interest, but they are afraid of working with a Russian business, fearing that it will dissolve or otherwise cheat them.
Q: Could the city government help with guarantees?
A: In Ryazan, you can forget the phrase “city government.” They are not seen or heard; they don’t have any money.
— Anatoly Medetsky
Ryazanians are very proud of the Paratrooper Museum (20 Ulitsa Kalyayeva; +7 4912 44-94-78), which has so far survived the austerity measures that Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has implemented to divert more funds toward the re-equipping of the armed forces. The museum is scheduled to reopen in July after a renovation that followed talk that it might be closed. Inside, take a look at the models of Russian and foreign fire arms, Russian medals and parachutes, and read the testimony of paratroopers involved in peacekeeping missions in Abkhazia, Bosnia and Kosovo as well as counterterrorism operations in Chechnya. A 100-seat movie theater offers a video on combat training for paratroopers.
The commander of the paratrooper forces, Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, who served as a guide here in 1977, inspected the progress of the museum’s renovation in May. One of the museum’s exhibits is a necktie pin that former U.S. President George W. Bush gave Shamanov as a gift. (Shamanov has been accused of human rights abuses during the Chechen war, and rights activists criticized Bush for the 2007 Oval Office meeting.)
One of the trendiest city clubs, Deep (4 Ulitsa Zavrazhnova; +7 4912 20-03-13), arranges the annual Miss Ryazan beauty pageant whose winner represents the city in the Miss Russia contest. Between pageants, the latest of which took place in November, the club strives to support its upmarket status by inviting some of the best Russian DJs to play. Maria Roganova, better known to clubbers as DJ MariFerrari and ranked by the Russian edition of Playboy as the country’s best-looking female DJ, performed here in April. The club also features a spacious underground dance floor.
Spirit (5 Ulitsa Pavlova; +7 4912-99-79-31) lays its claim for exclusivity by partly hiding — although providing bright lighting for — its entrance behind other buildings. In another attempt to set itself aside from competition, it chose a 19th-century factory building as its home. Dancing to modern tunes under the old vaulting, which has deliberately been left unchanged, creates an intriguing contrast.
If you feel like entertainment in a more classical sense, visit the Ryazan Drama Theater (7 Teatralnaya Ploshchad; +7 4912-45-15-58; rzndram.ru), founded in 1787. Its repertoire is heavy on comedies, and recent productions include Spanish playwright Lope de Vega’s “The Stupid Lady,” whose genre the theater defines as “a carnival of love,” and a comedy titled “The School of Seduction” by Russian playwright Valentin Azernikov. Performances start at 6 p.m. on holidays and weekends and at 7 p.m. on weekdays. Tickets cost 60 rubles to 250 rubles ($2 to $9).
Where to Eat
Local restaurant patrons recommend the Carroll beer hall (18 Pervomaisky Prospekt; +7 4912 90-21-01; carroll-club.ru), named after the English writer Lewis Carroll and themed — with a lot of wood and wrought pieces — after his most famous work, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” A place where Ryazan’s former governor frequently dined, Carroll offers sun-dried deer meat and roasted potato pirozhki filled with smoked salmon to go with its wide selection of draught beer. Main courses are European cuisine and include a tuna steak in coriander oil and tarragon sauce; and charcoal-grilled quail. Dinner for two with beer will cost no more than 3,000 rubles ($106).
Those looking for top-notch service might want to try out Cafe De Luxe (25a Ulitsa Yesenina; +7 4912-44-02-39), frequented by local aristocrats and businesspeople. The restaurant features dining halls on each of its three floors and offers French and Russian cuisine. Combine the two cultures by sampling the lamb meat baked in a hazelnut crust together with sterlet fish soup. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine costs about 3,000 rubles ($106).
Where to Stay
Hotel Lovech (4 Ulitsa Dimitrova; toll-free +8 800-100-17-07 or reservations +7 4912 93-69-00; lovech.ru) is one of the recently upgraded hotels conveniently located in the city center near a railway station. Rooms range from 2,700 rubles ($96) for an economy double to 6,000 rubles ($214) for a suite with a large bed and a study.
Hotel Forum (5e Proyezd Yablochkova; +7 4912-95-02-02; hotel-forum.ru) in downtown Ryazan features a spa center, but you can skip it if you book the presidential suite with a leather sofa, jacuzzi and a sauna for 15,000 rubles ($530) per night. A more modest standard double costs 3,000 rubles ($106), including breakfast.
Ryazan Mayor Vitaly Artyomov took office this past winter, and Ryazanians like to discuss how he is better or worse than the city’s previous chief executive. If you want to avoid politics, Ryazan’s energy-saving street lighting has been the talk of the town for a while.
How to get there
There is no airport in Ryazan, so a trip to the city will involve either a car, bus or train. By car, take the M4 highway leading southeast of Moscow. The trip takes about 90 minutes.
Regular commuter trains to Ryazan leave from Kazansky Station, cost 324 rubles and take 3 1/2 hours to get you there. Express trains under the brand name Sergei Yesenin are a bit quicker at three hours and offer a three-tier price range — from 317 rubles to 510 rubles — depending on the comfort of the train car. The highest-class ticket gets you a soft chair, foldable tables and a television. For the train schedule, check tutu.ru or rasp.yandex.ru.
The last option is a bus, which takes the same time (three hours) and costs the same (340 rubles) as a train. Buses leave about once an hour from a station near the Vykhino metro station.