Kursk: Visit to Central Russia Region
I spent a few days walking around Kursk city, which lies about 450km southwest of Moscow, and one day traveling around its outskirts by car. I visited the city’s universities as well as a village and mining town outside the city.
Rather than write in detail about the region’s history, which you can read on Wikipedia, I will share a few impressions and photos. The link to my full Kursk photo gallery can be found here.
I was surprised by the number of foreign students in Kursk. I didn’t know the city is home to one of Russia’s best medical universities. The university offers classes in English, which – along with the relatively low price – attracts some foreign students.
I met a young, 2nd year student at the university from Malaysia – the first Malaysian I have met in Russia in my 15 years here. He said he chose to study in Kursk because it was about half the price of the medical universities in his homeland.
He said it costs roughly 200,000 rubles to study in Russia ($3,600 based on 55rub/$) whereas it would be between 300,000 and 600,000 in Malyasia. With the massive ruble decline this year, Kursk could potentially actually attract more foreign students.
The foreign students were most visible in the McDonald’s on Lenin Street, where they sit in the cafe area talking and enjoying fast food.
I was also surprised by the number of large shopping centers in Kursk considering the city’s size of 400,000. There were about three or four already and another two being built. I saw a photo of young people protesting the construction of another mall, demanding instead an extreme sport park.
While traveling to the mining town of Zheleznogorsk, we passed bus stops that were colored with Russian and foreign cartoon characters. It seemed to be an initiative of Zhelenogorsk.
Several cities and towns across Russia have done similar thing – the aim being to visually improve a gray cityscape scared by unappealing Soviet infrastructure.
I found the Zheleznogorsk initiative to be entertaining and only wish other cities and towns would do more of this. In fact, some of the new housing going up in Zheleznogorsk is being painting in various, bright colors.
We saw construction of a huge pig farm and slaughter house between Kursk city and Zheleznogorsk. The timing and location is probably not accidental….Russia has imposed food bans on Europe and is trying to boost location production of foods, including meat. Kursk lies in Russia’s fertile Black Earth region.
New housing was not going up just in Zheleznogorsk. I saw a huge residential project at the edge of Kursk that was partially completed. Whether the current economic slowdown and ruble decline will halt or slow the project remains to be seen.
On a negative note, some residents I spoke to voiced concern about the region’s future, highlighting the lack of good jobs. Job creation is mainly in trade and services, not production facilities, said the father of an engineering student. He doesn’t expect his son to return to Kursk when he finishes his studies in Moscow.
Like in many other Russian towns, the low salaries in Kursk are also pushing the best qualified people to move to Moscow. Young foreign language teachers at Kursk university earn around 14,000 rubles a month, or less than $300 using today’s exchange rate.
Igor, a Kursk journalist for roughly the past 25 years, highlighted the growing gap between the rich and poor in the region and the crime that is leading to. In his personal opinion, the crime situation is worse than in the 1990s.
Finally, while Kursk has a charming historic center, many historic buildings are in disrepair and one well-known local artist worries the city will lose more of its heritage.
With the drop in iron ore prices, Kursk regional revenues will likely decline, making it tougher for the local government to upgrade buildings….unless new business can be created to fill in the gap. Agriculture may be the quickest answer – though that takes time to develop.
Select Kursk Photo Gallery