Sunday, 5 December 2010

Urals Federal District - an Overview

It's 4,730 miles (7,613 kilometres) from the Togolese capital, Lome, to Ekaterinburg, capital of the Urals Federal district.  It's so typical of Russia that my first two posts are taken up by explaining the nature of the Russian Federation and the bureaucracy involved in administering this massive country!  This post is intended as an overview of the Urals Federal Region and its six constituent parts.

If the Urals Federal District were a country, it would be the 17th biggest country in the world.  It's a bit smaller than Indonesia and bigger than Libya.  It's also slightly bigger than the biggest US state, Alaska.  Although this massive region only contains 8.5% of Russia's entire population (UFD has the same amount of people as Greece), the people and businesses in this region pay a whopping 42% of Russia's tax bill.  It's by far the richest region in Russia and produces 90% of Russia's natural gas and 68% of Russia's oil. 

During the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90's, the governor of the Urals Region, Eduard Rossell, tried to establish a Urals Republic.  It lasted a mere 10 days, before being dissolved by the (ironically, Urals-born) Russian President, Boris Yeltsin.  With all of its wealth, I can understand why the Russian Federation would be reluctant to let go of the Urals Region. 

The Urals Region was 'opened up' to Russian colonisation in the 1550's, after the defeat of the Tatars, paving the way for Russian colonisation of the entire Ural Region, Siberia and the Far East.  The Urals Federal District today is made up of four oblast or regions and two autonomous okrug.  They are:

Kurgan Oblast (1) - a 'small' region, about the size of Ireland, north of the border with Kazakhstan.  This region has a population of about 1 million people, most of whom are Russian and is administered from the city of Kurgan.  Kurgan is one of the oldest Russian settlements in the region, being founded in the mid-17th century and is a stopping point on the Trans-Siberian railway.

Sverdlovsk Oblast (2) - is the heart of the Urals Federal District and with its administrative centre at Ekaterinburg, capital of the whole Urals region.  The region is named after a Jewish Bolshevik, Yakov Sverdlov.  It was common practice after the Russian Revolution to rename 'Tsarist' cities like Ekaterinburg after prominent revolutionary figures, especially dead ones like Sverdlov (who died in the 'Spanish flu' epidemic of 1919). 

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many cities decided to revert to their original names, the most famous being St Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad).  In a particularly Russian manner, ie. not hedging one's bets, whilst the cities returned to their Tsarist names, the oblast retained their Soviet names (just in case!).  Hence we have Ekaterinburg as the capital of Sverdlovsk region and St Petersburg as the capital of Leningrad region!

Tyumen Oblast (3) - is another 'small' region, about the size of Tunisia!  It has a much more mixed population, being only 70% Russian, with around 7% each of Tatars and Ukranians.  Before I moved to Russia, I didn't really realise how ethnically diverse it is - again, associating everything with Russian culture and ethnic Russians. 

It might surprise people to know that Tyumen Oblast, as an example, has dozens of different ethnic groups (in a population of about 3 million people) and is one of the most ethnically diverse regions in the Russian Federation.  These groups include Germans, Greeks, Koreans, Roma, Armenians and Bulgarians, to name but a few.  It might also surprise you to know that there are half a million ethnic Germans in Russia and about 100,000 ethnic Greeks!  I'm sure that they are all Russian-speaking and they hold Russian passports, although they keep links to their 'home' culture and language, with varying degrees of success. 

Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug (4) - is the homeland of the native Khanty and Mansi tribes.  They are Ob-Ugric peoples and their Uralic languages are distantly related to both Finnish and Hungarian!  Long before the Russians arrived on the scene, the Urals region gave birth to a range of cultures, including Hungarian tribes, possibly the Celts and some people even believe that all Indo-European cultures came from this region!  If I have time in a later blog, I'd like to explore some the language families of this part of Russia, as I find this subject fascinating and an area of Linguistics that I know very little about.

Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (6) - is a region in the far north of Russia, bordering the Arctic Ocean.  It is about six times the size of England, but with the same population as Bristol!  It is the homeland of another Ob-Ugric tribe, the Nenets, although they only make up 5% of the total population.  I have a personal connection with Yamalo-Nenets AO, in that my sister-in-law spent some time living and working in its second biggest city, Novy Urengoy.  I never got the chance to go there, but I remember her stopping off to stay with us in Moscow, before embarking in the three or four day train journey to this remote region. 

Chelyabinsk Oblast (5) - centred around the city of Chelyabinsk, is a place I know practically nothing about.  I do know that it is one of the places that the Decembrists, early 19th-century revolutionaries, mostly from St Petersburg, were exiled to.  Among the Decembrists were many of St Petersburg's intellectual elite and their exile to the east, led to the Urals and Siberian regions being considered havens for intellectual and political freedom.  Many Decembrists were, famously, followed into exile by their wives, inspiring generations of Russian writers and poets, when their turn came to reinterpret the events of Russian history. 

I think the whole region languishes in obscurity for most people from the West, being somehow hidden behind the veneer of Russia.  There's a lot more to this region than meets the eye and I want to spend the next few weeks unravelling the secrets of this region and measuring the impact Urals culture, people and industry has had on Russia as a whole. 

Image credits:

Yet more evidence that I must have been Russian in a former life is our common love of flags.  I find the array of Russian flags really beautiful and have used sources in Wikimedia Commons to find flags for this blog, as well as the map of the Urals region.  The history of each of these files is quite complicated and sometimes involves several wikiusers, so it's probably easier for me to provide the links to the original file descriptions (below):

Flag of Ekaterinburg:

Map of the Urals Region:

Flag of Kurgan Oblast:

Flag of Sverdlovsk Oblast:

Flag of Tyumen Oblast:

Flag of Yugra (Khanty-Mansi AO):

Flag of Yamalo-Nenets AO:

Flag of Chelyabinsk Oblast:
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