- By Alexander Bratersky
- Jan. 22 2012 00:00
Mayor: Sergei Koliukh
Main industries: Aviation, heavy machinery, agriculture
Founded in 1586 as a fortress to protect the borders of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Interesting fact No. 1: The early Soviet government proposed making Voronezh the capital of Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Interesting fact No. 2: The city is the birthplace of two world-known novelists, Ivan Bunin and Andrei Platonov, and the place of exile of poet Osip Mandelstam from 1934 to 1937.
Helpful contact: Yelena Gudkova, head of City Hall’s international relations department (+7 473-253-0610).
Sister cities: Sliven, Bulgaria; Brno, Czech Republic; Leon, Spain; Charlotte, North Carolina, United States.
VORONEZH — When President Dmitry Medvedev appeared on television last November to speak about Russia's answer to the U.S. missile defense system, he proudly announced that a new early warning radar, called the Voronezh DM, would be located in Kaliningrad.
Voronezh locals said they were proud that the radar is named after their native city. But some also joked that it wouldn't help to attract many tourists to the city, once difficult for foreigners to access because of its integration into the country's military-industrial complex.
"The last thing that we want to do is to scare foreigners," one city official said.
The radar, built by a Moscow company, actually has nothing to do with Voronezh, a city of 980,000 inhabitants that still has several Soviet-era enterprises, including VASO, the aviation company that produced the Tu-144, the Soviet replica of the legendary Concorde supersonic jet. The only operational Tu-144 is stored in the city.
Voronezh, located near the Ukrainian border and 500 kilometers southwest of Moscow, also proudly calls itself the birthplace of the Soviet Union's first videocassette recorder, produced in 1984 and a carbon copy of the Japanese-made Panasonic.
VASO (27 Tsiolkovsky Ulitsa; +7 473-244-8666;
TMP (31 Solnechnaya Ulitsa; +7 473-239-2968;
Amtel-Chernozemye (41 Rostovskaya Ulitsa; +7 473-244-5009;
The city's military ties date back to 1585, when the city was founded as a fortress under orders from Tsar Fyodor Ioannovich to defend Moscow's kingdom from the Tatars. The first city was fully destroyed in 1590, after being attacked by Ukrainian Cossacks. It has been rebuilt many times and went though a complete reconstruction after World War II.
Voronezh's ability to bounce back is a source of pride for residents.
"Voronezh was completely destroyed during the war, and it was rebuilt from scratch in the late '40s and early '50s, followed by the mass construction of new districts from the 1960s to 1980s," said Mayor Sergei Koliukh.
Throughout its history, Voronezh has been known for its rebellious spirit. After the authorities levied an enormous tax burden on the city, which was suffering from a poor grain harvest, in 1605, locals rallied behind False Dmitry who was fighting the rule of Tsar Boris Godunov. Almost 100 years later, the locals supported another anti-tsar uprising led by Stepan Razin.
Q: What attracts investors to Voronezh?
A: The city has many competitive advantages: its location, a well-developed urban infrastructure, a large labor force with various skill levels, a diversified economy, and a vast scientific, technological and industrial base. Rainer Hartmann, the chairman of the Association of European Businesses, says the region meets all the criteria for doing business.
We believe foreign investors are attracted by the opportunity to localize their business in Voronezh, a city located close to the capital. We have established a fruitful cooperation with Germany’s Siemens, Italy’s Pirelli, the French company Leroy Merlin and American hotel operator Hilton Worldwide, which plans to open a Hampton by Hilton in early 2013.
Today we are welcoming businesses to invest in the construction of roads, logistic facilities, new hotels, a waste-recycling company and world-class cafes and restaurants.
Q: What are the main problems that the city is facing today?
A: Narrow roads and the fact that about 70 percent of the city’s infrastructure, which has not been updated in years, is worn out and does not meet modern requirements. As a result, we were forced to abandon railroad transportation in the city. The local economy was focused on the defense industry, but 90 percent of the companies failed to find a niche in today’s market conditions.
On a bright note, we have renovated several roads and built a new water-pumping station to resolve a water shortage.
Q: What are your favorite places in the city?
A: I recommend visiting Uspenskaya Church and Akatov Monastery, walking through the historic part of the city center and the embankments, and, of course, stopping by Scarlet Sails, the only park in Russia that meets European standards.
— Alexander Bratersky
In 1947, local poet Anatoly Zhigulin founded an anti-Stalinist underground youth movement in the city. Zhigulin, who was jailed and freed after the dictator's death, described the movement and his ordeal in the gulag in his 1988 autobiographical novel "Black Stones."
Not everyone is aware, however, that the city became the cradle of ship construction for the Russian Navy under Peter the Great in 1696. Historians say the tsar chose the city because of the larger-than-life trees growing in the area at the time. The Voronezh River is also close to the Don River, which flowed to the Azov fortress and its Black Sea harbor filled with Turkish ships. A total of 215 ships were built in the city under Peter the Great, including the first major ships for the fledgling Navy, the 58-gun Goto Predestinatsia (God's Providence), the 70-gun Stary Dub (Old Oak) and the 80-gun Stary Oryol (Old Eagle) in 1700.
But with its defense industry in decline for years, Voronezh has tapped into its other advantages, such as its rich, black earth, skilled workforce and location close to Moscow.
The city's proximity to Moscow nearly turned it into the capital of the Russian Republic during the early Bolshevik era, while Moscow would have been the capital of the Soviet Union, said Edward Pesov, a deputy governor under Voronezh region Governor Alexei Gordeyev, a former deputy prime minister and agriculture minister.
Voronezh might also market itself as a nice getaway, especially during the summer, because it is full of historical landmarks, and its center, packed with cozy restaurants and cafes, resembles a small European city.
Voronezh's Ballet and Opera Theater is known across Russia, and several local universities attract medical and agricultural students from African and Latin American countries.
What to see if you have two hours
Walk across the city's main Prospekt Revolyutsii to admire historical buildings from tsarist Russia and more modern architecture such as the Voronezh Shut Puppet Theater. Built in 1984, the theater looks like a monument in its own right with puppet characters on top of its columns.
In front of the building stands a sculpture of a lonely dog in honor of a Gordon setter portrayed in local writer Gavriil Troyepolsky's well-known book "White Bim Black Ear." The international award-winning book, written in 1971 and made into a movie six years later, tells the story of a white setter with a black ear that became homeless because of his owner's illness and goes off on a globe-trotting search for his owner.
Another local landmark worth seeing is a monument of a kitten sitting next to a crow on a tree near a McDonald's restaurant located on 4 Ulitsa Lizyukova. Both characters are from a Soviet cartoon that takes place in Voronezh. Bored of living in the city, the kitten asks a crow to help it travel to Africa. The crow obliges and turns the kitten into a hippo. But the kitten finds the continent unfriendly and asks to be brought back. A local newspaper once said the kitten has beaten Peter the Great as the city's unofficial mascot.
Q: What needs to be done to improve the business climate in Voronezh?
A: I think that the improvement of transportation flows in the city would improve the business climate significantly. Traffic jams are worse here than in Moscow, although things have become better under the new governor. I also believe that we need to develop cities around Voronezh to help them meet European standards.
I am also worried about my furniture production business. We can make furniture comparable to European furniture — we work only with natural wood — but we are worried that energy tariffs might become higher because of Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Q: How did you get involved in horse breeding?
A: I was inspired by God. This is a hard job. There are no laws that regulate horse breeding, but the Orlov breed of horse is the symbol of our region and we can’t lose it. The Orlov is named after Prince Alexei Orlov, who spent money awarded by Catherine the Great on an Arabian horse, which he bred to get the Orlov horse. Today we have 120 horses, among which my favorite is Ukladka, presented to me for a birthday.
Q: What would you recommend to see in Voronezh?
A: I highly recommend visiting the Hoper conservation park (Varvarino settlement; +7 473-534-8134; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). It has very beautiful nature, and you can swim in Voronezh Lake in the summertime. I also would recommend visiting our Russkaya Usadba hippodrome (2/3 Sovkhoznaya Ulitsa, Byabayakovo settlement; +7 473-294-0005). We have experienced trainers who can teach you how to ride a horse. Many parents who want to get their children away from the computer come to us, and the kids get so excited riding the horses.
— Alexander Bratersky
While walking around the city, don't miss the 18th-century German Mary Magdalene Lutheran Church, built during the time of Catherine the Great. The elegant blue building on 72 Moskovsky Prospekt was a place of worship for German expatriates living in the Voronezh area and involved in working for the local shipyard. The building was occupied by an electricity company during Soviet times and was restored as a church in 2008.
What to do if you have two days
Kramskoy's Voronezh Regional Art Museum (18 Prospekt Revolyutsii; +7 473-255-38-67;
Stop by 3 Bolshaya Dvoryanskaya Ulitsa to admire the modest wooden house where Ivan Bunin, a Russian classic novelist and a Nobel Prize winner, was born in 1870.
You can also take a trip outside the city to the Khokholsky district to see the world-famous Kostyonki, a Paleolithic site known for its high concentration of human and mammoth remains. The site's name means "small bones" in Ukrainian, and it was discovered during the construction of Peter the Great's naval fleet. A historical museum was built on the site in 1979. (2 Solnechnaya Ulitsa, Khokholsky district; +7 473-220-55-26; http://
What to do with the kids
The Voronezh Shut State Puppet Theater (50 Prospekt Revolyutsii; +7 473-255-1736;
A must-see in the spring and summer is the Scarlet Sails park (Voronezh Aliye Parusa, 93 Arzamasskaya Ulitsa). It is known for its collection of roses, brought over in 2011 by the French gardener Philipp Mangi, who said the park reminded him of France. The park was completely renovated in 2011, and equipped with attractions for toddlers and older children.
PROspekt Club (46 Prospekt Revolyutsii; +7 473-290-3904;
If you are looking for a quieter atmosphere to take your business partners, try the Kosmos nightclub (13 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa; +7 473-235-6060;
The Voronezh Opera and Ballet Theater (7 Lenin Square; +7 473-255-3927;
Where to eat
The Kirovsky restaurant (1 Ulitsa Kirova; +7 473-271-2767) located close to the regional parliament building, offers a cozy, homey atmosphere in which to sample a selection of Russian and European dishes. In fact, the restaurant proudly calls itself a "home" — a description that is not far from the truth because it offers affordable Russian food. A meal for two without alcohol costs 2,000 rubles ($65).
But if you want to spend an evening in a more prestigious place, try the Parma Italian restaurant (24 Prospekt Patriotov, +7 473-270-78-77;
Where to stay
Petrovsky Passazh (54 20-Let VLKSM; +7 473 255-6070;
The Azimut Hotel (9 Plekhanovskaya Ulitsa; +7 473-296-5219;
But if you want to try something different, check out Voronezh City Inn (+7 473 251-5626, 256-2626;
Local football fans are proud of the local team Fakel-Voronezh and are happy to talk about it and the state of Russian football in general. Another topic is politics, and discussions often revolve around Governor Alexei Gordeyev, the only governor who served as a deputy prime minister during Vladimir Putin's tenure.
How to get there
UTair flies to Voronezh from Moscow's Vnukovo Airport daily. Tickets for the one-hour flight cost about 5,000 rubles ($150) roundtrip.
Trains to Voronezh run daily from Paveletsky Station, and roundtrip tickets cost from 3,000 rubles ($100) for a regular seat to 5,000 rubles ($150) for a cabin with a bed. The trip takes 10 to 13 hours.