Story of how Vyksa has found a twin in South Ural.

Joint mural household

Vyksa and Satka were meant to meat. The same as Privolzhye and South Ural. United Metallurgical Company and Magnezit Group. OMK-Uchastiye and Sobraniye Funds. Just the fact that both towns independently started implementing art projects which even big cities can be jealous of, makes them soulmates.

Vyksa hosts Art Ovrag Urban Culture Festival, and Satka hosts Satka Street Art Fest and My Satka Architectural Festival. Bloggers, culture experts, and officials name by turns Satka and Vyksa as a little urban capital of Russia. Recently, in September 2020 representatives of VEB.RF and Monogoroda.RF visited Vyksa. “The town has a big tourist future. I think that Vyksa can lay claim to being an art capital of monotowns of Russia”, General Director of Fund Irina Makiieva said.

Vyksa is the place where the art residence for artists from all over the world and Ex Libris public space function. Satka welcomes European and Russian artists and sculptors who are residents of Ural Industrial Biennale. Besides, Art Satka creative public space has been opened recently.

Vyksa elaborates the concept of Batashev Park, the first industrial and tourist park in Russia. Satka creates Stroganov Center. Even the names of cultural and educational centers are connected with the founders of towns and plants!

Note: the Stroganovs are the largest landowners in Ural and Siberia, owners of salt, copper, and ferrous fields, builders of metallurgical plants, philanthropists, founders of museums, libraries, educational institutions. 

In the middle of 18 century, Sergei Stroganov and his heritor Aleksandr Stroganov founded Troitsko-Satkinskiy Iron Smelting and Metallurgical Plant.

Brothers Ivan and Andrey Batashev are Russian merchants, armorers, “metallurgic manufacturers”, landowners, and philanthropists. Vyksa Metallurgical Plant is one of 18 plants of the Batashevs’ empire.

The towns are also connected through their names: five letters and the meaning. Vyksa (Finnish) means “flow, stream”, Satka (Bashkir) means “crossroad, road junction, interstream area”. Both towns were established as metallurgical plants along the sides of picturesque ponds almost at the same time (Vyksa is one year older than Satka and was founded in 1757). Both towns are located far from regional centers at a distance of about 200 km and has no direct railway transportation with them. Vyksa and Satka are monotowns with a population of about 50,000 where more than quarter of population are employees at town-forming companies: OMK and Magnezit. The large business makes life in Satka and Vyksa bright, special, and breaking the stereotypes about Russian reality.

Also, murals which are gigantic paintings on the walls of residential houses, plant workshops, public buildings... they give us the right to name Satka and Vyksa twin-towns.

- We could even organize a joint mural household, joked Aleksandr Kastravets, Counselor of Chairperson of OMK Board of Directors, when in the middle of August delegation consisting of employees of OMK-Uchastiye Fund, Vyksa Urban District Administration and Art Ovrag Festival curators headed by Irina Sedykh, Chairperson of Fund Supervisory Board, came to Satka in order to exchange experience and start implementing joint social and cultural projects.

Town with Abilities

“Satka is one of the most surprising towns of Russia! It’s possible to say that Satka is a small urban capital of our immense homeland! You can see by yourselves: Satka is a small town with a population of about 40,000, however, the town was marked by street artists from all over the world, and the street art quality in Satka is at the same high level as in Moscow and Saint Petersburg!” This post was published in summer 2020 by popular blogger Iliia Varlamov after his trip to diffetent towns and cities of South Ural together with urbanist Arkadii Gershman.

Varlamov and Gershman are not alone in their assessment of towns and cities in South Ural. All of a sudden, famous Russian designer and blogger Artemii Lebedev included Satka in his personal top-30 must-visit towns and cities, and even named it the best town on the Earth. Artemii Lebedev’s studio developed a signature style for Satka.

By the way, you can observe Satka in details. Read the article “Satka: Monotown with Abilities”, look at the photos in Iliia Varlamov’s blog and watch the movie “Satka: Monotown with Surprises” on YouTube.

But I remember the other Satka: a dusty and gray town with typical “khrushchyovka” and “stalinka” in the downtown, “modernized design layout” blocks in a new bedroom suburb, with ramshackle houses in an old part and stables for local residents’ cattle, paling and dull concrete fences, wastelands, poplar fluff in summer and dirty snow in winter.

Waste heaps surrounding the town looked distressing. In 1901, they started recovering magnesite, a mineral which serves as a raw product for the manufacture of refractory materials. That’s why we can see waste heaps in the town. There’s also a gigantic bell pit which is called Karagay open-pit mine (1,550 m long, 1,100 m wide, 368 m deep) which is used to extract stone. Some people compare the open-pit mine with the Mir mine in Yakutia. Besides, there’s a mine with workings under residential quarters in the downtown. Gigantic Magnezit workshops occupying two thirds of the town where the mineral is crushed, burnt, prepared and turned into refractory materials. There’s no such full-cycle manufacture in Russia. Besides, there are no many plants like this one abroad.

My family came to Satka in August 1998 at the day of default. At that time, the town was the same as many other former industrial towns which during the Soviet epoch obtained palaces of culture and sport, quite suitable residential quarters, and plants which suffered to different extent from economic reforms of the beginning of 90s. Satka is a lucky town: Magnezit is the largest enterprise in the post-Soviet territory that manufactures refractory materials. It gradually obtained new assets in Siberia, China, Slovakia, Ukraine. No metallurgic, cement, or glass plants in the world function without using magnesite refractory materials. Citizens always had and still have work and stable salary. In Chelyabinsk Region, Satka could compete with Magnitogorsk with regard to the number of expensive cars per capita.

However, there was one “but”. Or a question. What would happen to Satka with a population of 50,000 if the town-forming enterprise with 12,000 employees experienced some problems? Or if magnesite resources were run out. Or if the company started robotizing manufacturing processes (that is now happening, there’s less hard manual labor).

Long before the moment when monotowns’ problems became revealed in Russia and a program aimed at their salvation was approved, Satka citizens started saving the town from economic mono-dependency by their own efforts.

Diversification Plan

Satka Municipality Strategic Development Plan 2020 was elaborated in 2007, and it was not an official document. (At that time, I worked as an assistant of District Head for Public Communication, Marketing and Branding and I was an insider observing the process of elaborating the plan).

The initiators of elaborating the strategic plan were shareholders of Magnezit. They came to the administration and suggested elaborating a possible variant of Satka economic development, assessing risks and consequences of closure and scaling back of extractive industries. By the time, Satka District had already learned a lesson related to economic mono-dependency. In 2002, the only bauxite mines in South Ural (Mezhevoy settlement) were closed and thousands of people lost their jobs.

Strategy Plan 2020 was elaborated after brainstorming sessions with the participation of heads of companies of different incorporation forms, teachers, doctors, cultural workers. Scientists from Saint Petersburg Leontiev Center helped citizens of Satka District to find a perfect post-industrial path. Participants agreed that it was necessary to get rid of the “magnesite curse” of Satka and the “iron-ore curse” of Bakala (one more monotown in the territory of Satka District where the oldest in Russia iron mines are located). A task was to find an alternative to raw-materials based manufacture.

What was the town’s destiny? “Soft” economic diversification with gradual reduction of conventional production share, shift from large business to small and medium and from production to services. Tourism shall become a new economic engine. That’s what was written in Strategy 2020.

Tourism in Ural? You’re so funny...

Tourism? You must be mad in Satka if you accept this experiment in the region of “rugged Chelyabinsk men”. You will have to dig a sea in order to attract tourists. That’s what Irina Akbasheva, Assistant and then Deputy Head of Satka District for Economics and Strategic Development, always heard from other people (now, she is the First Deputy Minister for Economic Development of Chelyabinsk Region) when she demonstrated the tourism development program during different forums, including the International Investment Forum in Sochi.

However, the one who laughs best is the one who can calculate well and predict at least two steps ahead. The idea of developing tourism was on the surface. Where can you develop tourism if not in Satka District? The district is called Ural Switzerland for magnificent mountainous landscapes and picturesque river bends. Zyuratkul National Park occupies the third part of the district territory. The oldest functioning HPP and the first electroferroalloy plant (in Porogi) are located in Satka District, including Sikiyaz-Tamak Cave Complex which is compared to excavations of legendary Troy...

Besides, it should be noted that Satka District is rich in people with incredible energetics. For example, Yurii Kitov, who built Sonkina Laguna entertaining complex along the pond side near the iron smelting plant and cathedral. It’s called Ural Disneyland, however this comparison isn’t precise enough since it doesn’t express the author’s wild fantasy and concept of this “tourist miracle”. The picture is really magical: blast furnaces of Stroganov plant, waste heaps, cathedral, former merchants’ mansions repaired a la Saint Petersburg style, medieval castles, rotunda with the words “Wealth. Happiness. Success”, park sculptures, and an island.

Varlamov, however, doesn’t approve Kitov’s taste and lack of common sense. By the way, Kitov is the owner of three garment factories where armor vests and military uniform are manufactured as per the order of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. I don’t argue about the taste, but when in the middle of this summer a part of prohibitions to visit tourist attractions in Chelyabinsk Region was canceled and tropical heat came to the region, more than 3,000 people came to Sonkina Laguna every day. Perhaps, the combination and contrasts of brutal and blunt industrial power of 18 century with modern, sometimes too pretentious buildings of 21 century make Satka so different from other towns in the world. Except for Vyksa.

And the mission to diversify the economics of the region turned to be possible: the proportion of people working at the main plant is being gradually reduced, and the proportion of those working in the sector of small and medium business as well as tourism and hospitality is growing. Now, the Administration of Satka District involves scientists and general public in the preparation of a new strategic development plan 2035.

Big Plans - Small Town

Satka’s experience of strategical planning served as a basis for the elaboration of strategies for 15 monotowns in Chelyabinsk Region. And when in 2008 economic crisis broke out, industrial towns started losing their position and the government had to approve a state program in order to support them. Satka together with first 20 monotowns was included in a pilot project by the Ministry of Regional Development of the Russian Federation. In 2010, the town raised about 26 bln rubles for the economic diversification on the principles of state and private partnership. The following municipal structures helping to develop different business areas and attract tourists to the town were established in Satka: the Center of Investing Development and Entrepreneurship, the Center of Tourism and Hospitality.

New forms of cooperation between local government, society and private business, namely Magnezit Group occurred: two big non-budget sources of socially beneficial activities such as Sobraniye Cultural Initiatives Support and Preservation Fund and Satka District Development Support Fund.

Experts of the Higher School of Economics conducted a large-scale study which resulted in a new document, i. e. Satka District Social and Cultural Development Strategy. That’s why all the events happening in Satka such as the Days of Swiss, French and Italian Culture, International Festival of Classical Music named after Elena Obraztsova, Russian Museum Masterpieces Exhibition, creation of new generation libraries, meeting of Philosophy Club (Philosophy Friends in Satka), renovation of leisure places, etc. are the part of this concept aimed at spreading big art and culture among citizens of a small town. 

Sunny Place

The central street in Satka is called Solnechnaya but not Lenin. A perpendicular street is called Proletarskaya, the next one is Metallurgov Street.

Today, Proletarskaya and Solnechnaya Streets are red calico and sunny yellow. Ivan Korzhev, sculptor and architect, developed the concept of “red” Proletarskaya Street. Solnechnaya Street is made in gray and orange corporate colors of Magnezit Group. New buildings located on Metallurgov Street and named by people “Orange Paradise” are painted in orange and red colors. Conceptual elements of central streets are tree branches or moose horns. We can see these elements in street lanterns, traffic-lights arch, decorative fencing, benches, trash bins, house facades.

On the entrance to Satka from Chelyabinsk side - Karl Marx and Kommunisticheskaya Streets, private house facades of the first line are being improved by using colorful metal sidings. By the way, Varlamov doesn’t approve it: “it’s cheap and looks nice only from distance”. However, tourists like the idea since these streets with ideological names are deemed to be a local “Italian Quarter” for them.

There’s also an embankment along the pond side with unusual art objects which became a part of the town after My Satka Architectural Festival, long-distance pedestrian paths. Besides, bicycle routes through all the town boroughs are to be created. Evgenii Terentiev, Head of Satka District Development Support Fund, tells that this year 300 old and damaged poplar trees were sawed down and more than 3,000 new trees and bushes were planted instead: cedars, fir trees, linden trees, apple trees, lilacs, white cedars, willows...

Officials at the Fund read Varlamov’s opinion, and found his criticism to be fair. The town with protruded road curbs and stairs in the middle of sidewalks is not considered to be convenient.

- First and foremost, the town must be convenient for pedestrians and disabled people, Evgenii Terentiev comments. - That’s why we have started a big program which is to be completed next year: Solnechnaya, Proletarskaya and Lenin Streets will become accessible for bike rides and for disabled people using wheelchairs. No more road curbs and other inconveniences.

And what about street art? The town is full of street art masterpieces. Murals on the walls of residential houses and public buildings were created by artists from Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, SAR within Satka Street Art Fest which has been conducted by Sobraniye Fund, Magnezit Group, and Satka District Administration since 2017.

Residents of Satka participate in the creation of wall paintings. Valeriia Tsoi, Head of Sobraniye Fund for Cultural Projects told us a story how during the festival in 2018 a 10-year old boy Vasia Suslov became friends with Hendrik Beikirch. artist from Germany (he painted a gigantic monochromatic painting, i. e. the portrait of Mariia Porfirievna and her great-granddaughter Arina on the wall of the residential house). The boy brought water and sweets to Hendrik, and when he left Vasia took a piece of plywood and drew an airplane for the first time in his life.

- I asked him: “Vasia, why did you draw an airplane?” - and he answered: “Because Hendrik is now flying to Germany aboard this plane”, Valeriia told. - Next day, he drew Hendrik’s portrait, then he drew a star. I sent these drawings to the artist, and he was moved to tears.

One year later, Hendrik came back. Together with Vasia and other boys, he created new large-scale works within Satka Dreamville Project.

The idea of coloring the town using bright colors turned to be so attractive that this year one of the Satka businessmen upon his own initiative invited artists from Chelyabinsk, and they changed the kindergarten facade like it was made of Lego pieces and figures.

By the way, one of the places of interest in Satka is Magnezit corporate museum. In 2015, museum modernization project obtained the grant from Vladimir Potanin Charity Fund in “Museum Design” nominated category. In 2018, the museum became the winner in the Corporate Museum Contest in “Exhibition of the Year” nominated category.

However, tourists do not limit themselves by only museum walls and always go to the viewing platform of Karagay open-pit mine. Besides, they can visit functioning Magnezit workshops, even the places with prohibited access. It’s possible with the help of a virtual reality helmet.

Let’s Be Brothers

But how was the meeting of Vyksa with its twin-town Satka? Delegation participants from the town of metallurgists visited the main local places of interest and Zyuratkul National Park. In the end of the trip, they met with Aleksandr Glazkov, Head of Satka Municipality, discussed the opportunity to cooperate in the area of culture, education, tourism, creation of convenient urban environment. The delegation participants were interested in the following main topics: development and implementation of two strategies. i. e. social and cultural development of the district, tourism development program, activities of Sobraniye Fund and Satka District Development Support Fund.

- We, as a large corporation, also want the government to be interested in developing tourism, noted Aleksandr Kravets, Counselor of Chairperson of OMK Board of Directors. - Besides, we are interested in the strategic planning experience which resulted in real and important outcome, efficient cooperation between the government, society, and the town-forming company. We are also in the same boat with the town administration, but we need to understand how to focus our efforts to get results in systematic work and strategic development planning.

- We have even more things in common than we thought, though we came well-prepared and studied your projects in order to ask questions and obtain a new experience. Now, there are so many interesting ideas in our heads, we need to process and conceptualize them, noted Yuliia Mishina, General Director of OMK-Uchastiye Fund.

Igor Ponomariov, First Deputy of Vyksa Administration Head, added: “A hypothesis that problems in small towns and instruments we elaborate to solve them are the same has been confirmed. It means we follow a right path and after this meeting we will know some useful information and our cooperation will continue”.


Top-5 Places of Interest in Satka District:

Zyuratkul National Park is a specially protected natural territory with an area of 88.3 thousand ha. The main part is Zyurarkul Lake, the most high-mountain lake in the European part of Russia which is surrounded by mountains.

Porogi is the oldest HPP and first electroferroalloy plant in Russia (1910). Porogi Dam on the left side of Bolshaya Satka is the only hydraulic structure in the world which was built by means of laying crude stone (sandstone).

Ayskaya Valley is the valley of the largest river in the mining and metallurgical zone of South Ural. The Satka part of Ay River Valley is 83 km long and is deemed to be a state hydraulic natural landmark. The river flows through picturesque cliffed coast.

Sikiyaz-Tamak Cave Complex is a compactly located cave town consisted of 43 karst cavities. In 15 caves, traces of ancient people have been discovered dating back to seven historical eras: from the Upper Paleolithic to the Middle Ages.

Sonkina Laguna is an entertaining complex located along the town pond side. The complex includes a stylized medieval castle made of a natural stone, multi-dome cathedral, Roman suspension bridge, “Thai village”, “Spanish yard”, windmills, pirate bay, etc.

Text by Svetlana Kulagina