- By Khristina Narizhnaya
- Oct. 16 2011 21:50
UFA — Ufa is best seen from the window of a landing airplane in the early fall. The concrete center is surrounded by multicolored 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.
Mayor: Pavel Kachkayev
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 stood on.
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.
Helpful contacts: Aidar Garyev, general director of the Corporation of Development of the Bashkortostan republic (78 Ulitsa Oktyabrskoi Revolyutsii; +7-347-280-82-32;
Yury Pustovgarov, president of the republic’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (3 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7-347-276-20-52,
Not surprisingly, customs from the long-gone Soviet era remain preserved 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 Moscow Times reporter 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 woodsy 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.
Selena Neftekhim (14 Ulitsa Mira; +7-495-755-95-04;
Stroitelny Trest No. 3 (10 Prospekt Oktyabrya; +7-347-246-14-06;
Elektrozavod (Elektrozavodskaya Ulitsa, Moscow; +7-495-777-82-26;
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, Krichevsky said.
"He would be a monopolist," Krichevsky said.
What to see if you have two hours
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 locks. The Monument to Friendship. The Church of Nativity. The movie theater. The mosque. I love it all.
— Khristina Narizhnaya
Take a walk around central Ufa. Wander down Ulitsa Gafuri, past the turquoise glass wave-like Congress Hall business center and the fountain with multicolored 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 Monument of Friendship, built in 1957 to celebrate 400 years of Bashkortostan being part of Russia.
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;
Shop for the famous Bashkortostan honey at one of the city's honey shops (2 Novosibirskaya Ulitsa, +7 347-274-46-84,
What to do with the kids
Q: How does it feel to be a foreigner in Ufa?
A: I’m like a monkey, just kidding. You either go with the flow or become lonely. I go with the flow. It’s a very good experience for me. All my friends here are Russian. I speak Russian most of the time. I like that Russians sometimes bend the rules. That is for me a sign that they think for themselves. It also means that every rule is tested and that my co-workers and I are constantly being challenged in every decision we take. This makes us better.
Q: What do you like about running a business in Ufa?
A: The administration has been very proactive. They did everything by the book, they guided when we didn’t have the knowledge. They wanted us to open. IKEA on its opening day outsold all IKEA opening days in Russia.
There is still a high curiosity among the Russian population. I get so many more questions. I have never had people with so many suggestions on how to improve my business.
There is a good learning culture in Russia, which means that new ideas are adopted very quickly. An example is the mobile phone. In Sweden it was adopted slowly, but in Russia every new type is assimilated very fast.
Q: What challenges have you faced in your work in Ufa?
A: A lack of people with both a good education and a high level of English. For example, a person might be really skilled, but we can’t hire him because someone would always have to translate. But sometimes we make exceptions. The skill is here, but it takes time to learn English.
Also, sometimes federal and regional legislation overlap and don’t always go hand in hand. But the administration is the bridge builder.
Q: What is your favorite place in Ufa?
A: There is a huge resource in nature — hunting, skiing, caves. The nearby Beloretsk and Pavlovsky ski resorts have really good hotels, really good skiing.
— Khristina Narizhnaya
During the summer you can visit Yakutov Park (65/3 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-292-39-27,
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 that Muscovites could only dream of — the average bill is 500 rubles per person.
La Ruche (20 Ulitsa Karla Marksa, +7 347-292-65-35,
World-famous DJs spin at Rise nightclub (1 Verkhnetorgovaya Ploshchad, +7 347-279-60-20,
The Opera and Ballet Theater (5/1 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-10-12,
Where to stay
Surrounded by woods and overlooking the Belaya River, President (2 Ulitsa Avrory, +7 347-279-80-08,
The centrally located Agidel Hotel (16 Ulitsa Lenina, +7 347-272-56-80,
New street curbs have been installed around the city recently that residents consider 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 Moscow and other cities in Russia and international flights to several locations, including the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Turkey, Egypt and Azerbaijan. The nearly two-hour flight from Moscow costs about 7,000 rubles ($230) with UTair airline round-trip. The airport is located a convenient 30-minute taxi ride from the city center.
Trains also travel to Ufa from Moscow's Kazansky Station. The roughly 1,500-kilometer trip takes about 26 hours and costs from about 2,000 to 3,500 rubles ($64 to $112).