The Paper Trail Leads to Syktyvkar
Published: November 16, 2011 (Issue # 1683)
Syktyvkar’s architectural plan shows little unity. Old wooden houses and new brick homes exist side by side in the city center, although more and more wooden houses are getting torn down.
If you’ve lived in Russia and have scribbled anything on paper, chances are you’ve left your mark on a Syktyvkar product.
Perhaps you are in a job that doesn’t require you to write on paper. But you have, at some point, probably calculated a restaurant tip on a napkin. Then you, too, have appreciated Syktyvkar’s bounty.
Even if you have merely flattened a cardboard box or blown your nose into a tissue — it will be hard to say you’ve never used anything from Syktyvkar.
The northern city is one of Russia’s top suppliers of paper and pulp products. Its large wood and paper companies — Mondi Syktyvkar, Syktyvkar Tissue Group and Syktyvkar Plywood Mill — churn out more than 490,000 tons of office paper, 265 million toilet paper rolls and 170,000 meters of plywood, among other products, each year.
Local enthusiasm for pulp and paper dates back to 1926 when the now struggling Syktyvkar Timber-Processing Complex began to form. The complex secured a supply of wood products for the paper industry and even gave birth to some spinoff companies, including the Syktyvkar Tissue Group. And as time went by, the paper industry progressed from supplying standard necessities for the Soviet market to the craftsmanship of triple-ply, colored toilet paper to be shipped across Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Getting these products to store shelves, however, can be a challenge for company managers. Syktyvkar’s location in the Komi republic is fairly remote. The city is the end station for a railway line and two major roads. A journey by train from Moscow to Syktyvkar takes almost 28 hours.
The transportation situation is expected to improve with the completion of construction on the Belkomur Railway, which will connect Syktyvkar to the White Sea ports. There is also work being done to build a highway from Syktyvkar to Naryan-Mar, a river port town that sits beyond the Polar Circle.
Syktyvkar’s remote location was one of the factors that made it a popular exile spot for Russians and foreigners. The city became an exile destination in the second half of the 19th century and has gathered a variety of exiles and prisoners, including anti-monarchists, kulaks and German soldiers.
Sitting around the table with Syktyvkar residents can lead to a tangled mapping out of ancestral lines. Virtually everybody in the city has ancestors who were not born in Syktyvkar but came either voluntarily or by force.
Lidia Klimusheva first came to Syktyvkar when she was 6 years old to attend her aunt’s wedding. She later returned to the city for her university years, got married to a local man and, she admits, fell in love with the city forever.
“Did I ever want to leave the city? No! Never!” she said. “Here everything is my own: the air, the people and the streets. Everything! Everything is close and dear.”
More than 70 different nationalities live in Syktyvkar, with Russians making up just over half of the population. Komi, the area’s indigenous inhabitants, are the second-largest group. They became a minority population of about 30 percent following a rise in immigration to the Komi republic in the post-World War II period.
Komi have their own language, although this knowledge has been declining. The Komi language is no longer used in schools or government institutions, and very few local Russians speak it.
The indigenous populations subscribe to the Russian Orthodox Church, but their beliefs also show traces of their own Komi mythology.
One popular myth tells the story of the hunter Yirkap who makes a pair of enchanted skis for himself. The skis let Yirkap travel very fast, but also get him in trouble with two witches, one of whom ultimately drowns him.
Syktyvkar’s cold weather, like in Yirkap’s story, is frequently mentioned in Komi folk tales. In the winter, temperatures in the city fluctuate around minus 15 degrees Celsius. The weather is often the first thing that outsiders ask about before coming to the city and the first thing the locals proudly bring up. But even though Syktyvkar residents are happy to prove that they are impervious to the cold, some city visitors wouldn’t object to adding a couple more degrees of warmth.
“If I became mayor of Syktyvkar, the first thing I would probably do is move it closer to the south, somewhere in Crimea,” Andrei wrote on a Syktyvkar city forum after visiting the city. “It needs to be closer to the sun and good weather, where you can abandon coats and jackets.”
Andrei is from Ukraine, so perhaps his affection for warm weather is not surprising. Local residents, however, appear unfazed by such comments and embrace the cold winter months. As one Komi saying goes, “A cold summer is warmer than a warm winter.”
The Alley of Heros commemorates locals who died during World War II.
And for those needing a more savory reason to embrace the weather, another Komi saying promises, “The winter is long, so everything will be eaten.”
What to see if you have two hours
Walk through the streets of Syktyvkar to get a feel for the small city. Stefanovskaya Ploshchad is the town’s central plaza with a statue of Lenin. Nearby is the newly reconstructed white St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Walk to Teatralnaya Ploshchad to see the statue of the republic’s first poet, Ivan Kuratov, surrounded by fountains that light up on summer nights.
To get a glimpse of the region’s literary tradition, visit the Literature Museum of Ivan Kuratov, (2 Ulitsa Ordzhonikidze, 8-212-24-05-12, en.museumkomi.ru), located in an 18th-century house owned by the merchant Sukhanov and one of the oldest buildings in the city. The museum features a historic collection on the development of the area’s language, literature and poetry.
What to see if you have two days
Sosnovy Bereg is Syktyvkar’s Rublyovka, located a 10-minute drive from the city, on the picturesque bank of the Yelya-Ty Lake. Here you can visit the cottage village’s park, see the city’s elites, or just walk along the quiet lake and breathe the pine-scented air.
To find out more about local culture and Komi history, visit the National Museum (6 Kommunisticheskaya Ulitsa, 8-212-24-11-73, museumkomi.ru). The museum has a collection of more than 250,000 items pertaining to local history and culture, an extensive photo archive and often hosts master classes on Komi crafts and other educational events.
Where to stay
Hotel Palace (62 Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa, 8-212-39-14-00, palace-hotel.ru) is conveniently located on four floors of the city’s largest, central mall, Torgovy Dvor. The recently built hotel boasts large rooms at prices ranging from 4,400 rubles ($145) for a single standard, to 7,700 ($250) rubles for a double luxury suite.
Centrally located Hotel Avalon (133 Internatsionalnaya Ulitsa, 8-821-225-7500, avalonhotel.ru/en/), built in 2007, is one of the newest and most modern hotels in Syktyvkar. Prices for rooms range from 4,200 ($140) rubles for a standard single to 10,400 rubles ($340) for a luxury suite.
Where to eat
Take in the city’s sights, listen to live music and enjoy Mediterranean food at the Penthouse restaurant (62 Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa, 8-212-39-13-33, rpenthouse.ru), located on the 15th floor of the city’s central mall, Torgovy Dvor. The menu, custom-created by chef Mario from Baden-Baden, includes delicacies such as penne in basil sauce with king prawns, escargot in garlic sauce and spices, grilled trout with almonds, vanilla creme brulee and raspberry panna cota. The average check for a dinner for two is 4,000 rubles ($130) with alcohol. Pushkinsky Restaurant (20/2 Ulitsa Pushkina, 8-212-21-62-29, restoran-pushkinski.ru) features several dining rooms with eastern, classic, green and hunter themes. The average check for a dinner for two with alcohol is about 3,000 rubles ($100).
For a taste of the local high culture, visit the Savin State Academic Drama Theater (56 Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa, 8-212-24-31-92, komidrama.ru). The theater’s repertoire includes classics like “Hamlet” and productions of modern local plays, including “Pannochka,” based on Nikolai Gogol’s “Viy,” and “Wedding With a Dowry,” a comedy about marriage that has won the theater national praise. The lineup also includes family-oriented plays, such as an adaptation of children’s classic “Chipolino,” an Italian story about an onion.
If you want to dance at a nightclub but are sick of bumping into drunk teenagers, head to the newly opened club SSSR (31 Ulitsa Malysheva, 8-212-29-74-80). The dress code is strict, and bouncers require you show a passport that proves you are at least 25 at the door.
A cement torch stands in Syktyvkar as a monument to its labor history.
Talk to the locals about the beauty of the local nature. The Komi republic has some of the best forests in Russia, which turn a variety of red, orange and yellow hues during the short but picturesque fall season.
How to get there
The Syktyvkar Airport, located a short drive from the city center, has flights to other cities in the Komi republic as well as flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Round-trip tickets from St. Petersburg are about 9,000 rubles ($295) for the two-hour flight with Nordavia, UTair or Aeroflot. The departure and arrival tableau does not always work, so checking with the staff may save you from confusion.
The trip by train takes about 34 hours, including getting on a second train in Mikun that takes you to Syktyvkar. Third-class tickets one-way cost about 2,000 rubles ($65). Trains leave every other day from St. Petersburg’s Ladozhsky Railway Station.
Main industries: timber, woodworking, pulp and paper products
Interesting fact: Beating out many cities, Syktyvkar’s name changed early in 1930 instead of the 1990s. The city traded its original name, Ust-Sysolsk, for Syktyvkar, which means “City on Sysole” in the local Komi language.
• Mayor Ivan Pozdeyev (22 Ulitsa Babushkina, +7 8212-294-537-294100, syktyvkar.komi.com;
• Larisa Turkova, head of the department of economics and analysis (22 Ulitsa Babushkina,
+7 8212-294-537-294122, syktyvkar.komi.com/content/view/2814/430);
The newly reconstructed St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located near the city’s
central plaza, Stefanovskaya Ploshchad.
• Olga Lysova, chief specialist in the department of analysis and investment programs (22 Ulitsa Babushkina, +7 8212-294-537-294159)
Sister cities: Lovech, Bulgaria; Taiyuan, China; Debrecen, Hungary; Cullera, Spain; Los Altos, California, U.S.
• The Mondi Group (2 Prospekt Bumazhnikov, +7 8212-69-95-55, mondigroup.com) is an international paper and packaging company that operates across 31 countries. It is Europe’s largest maker of office paper with key operations based in Russia, Central Europe and South Africa. Mondi Syktyvkar is one of Russia’s largest producers of paper products, and it employs 100,000 people in the city.
• Syktyvkar Tissue Group (4 Prospekt Bumazhnikov; +7 8212-62-02-20; veiro.ru) is Russia’s third-largest company in the production of sanitary products. It specializes in market base paper, toilet paper, paper towels and napkins, which are sold widely across Russia and the CIS. The company’s managers planned to conduct its first IPO in May 2011, hoping to raise up to 700 million rubles, but the IPO was later postponed due to market uncertainties.
• As a paperless alternative to Syktyvkar’s paper complex, Komitex (10 2nd Promishlenaya Ulitsa, +7 8212-28-65-01, komitex.ru) produces non-woven and synthetic fibers in Russia. The company’s product line offers more than 50 types of merchandise, which it supplies to more than 700 companies in Russia and abroad.
Q: Why should investors come to Syktyvkar?
A: Syktyvkar has a favorable economic climate. The city has attracted more than 500 million euros ($680 million) in foreign investment in the last four years alone. The timber, transportation, energy and utility sectors are definitely the leaders in terms of attracting investment.
Q: How is City Hall improving the investment climate?
A: We have adopted a strategy for the socio-economic development of the city that will be effective until 2025. At the moment, we are working with major city producers to come up with a program for the city’s economic development over the next four years. These documents will prescribe a range of activities for stimulating investment activity.
Q: Do you encounter logistical difficulties because of the city’s location?
A: Syktyvkar is located away from the main national and international transportation routes. Of course, this is a disadvantage. But the construction of the Belkomur Railway and the Syktyvkar-Naryan-Mar federal highway will solve the situation. These projects will give a powerful stimulus to the economic development of the city.
Q: What are your favorite places in Syktyvkar?
A: My favorite place is Kirov Park. The park is located on the banks of the Sysola River, at the mouth of which our city was born.