West Kazakhstan Oblast
West Kazakhstan has a population of approximately 659,000 people. Nearly 300,000 live in Uralsk - the capital. The West Kazakhstan Oblast borders 5 Russian providences to the North -- Orenburg, Kuibyshev, Saratov, Volgograd and Astrakhan and in the east Aktobe oblast and the South Atryau oblast.
The climate is extreme continental: the mean temperature in January is 15 degrees C and in July 26 degrees C. The northern part is often swept by swift winds. However, temperatures can reach nearly 40 degrees C in the summer and -40 degrees C in the winter.
My City -- Uralsk:
Uralsk is located in the Northwest corner of Kazakhstan near the Russian border (find the Caspian Sea on the map and go straight up). From Almaty and Issyk, it is located nearly 62 hours by train and 3 hours by plane). I arrived in Uralsk on May 17, 2004.
Uralsk was settled in 1622 by Cossaks fleeing a tsarist punitive campaign, it was known as Yaitsky Gorodok until 1775, when its name changed following the Pugachaov Rebellion. Uralsk has a beautiful Pre-Soviet historical downtown and houses the oldest theatre in Kazakhstan and a museum with historic Cossak momentos. There are approximately 300,000 people who live in Uralsk, and approximately 40% of the population is Russian. Uralsk is situated on the border between Asia and Europe. When you cross the Ural River, you move between Europe and Asia. I live and work in Europe, but can easily get to Asia.
There is only one other volunteer that has been assigned to Uralsk. There is also one volunteer already living in Uralsk and several volunteers in the surrounding villages. It is definitely an isolated city, which is part of what I love about it.
Uralsk has benefited from oil money, and over the last 10 years it has received many donations from international oil firms. This money has gone toward many improvements in the city, including new parks, new stores, new theatres (Russian, Kazakh), new a symphony hall, and a new stadium. Additionally, the oil industry has been a huge boost to the Uralsk economy. The construction of the new $5 billion KPO plant employed nearly 10,000 workers. Additionally, they have a nationalization plan that will move Kazakhs into 85% of all positions at the facility.
Uralsk is host to a great winter festival:
According to a few current volunteers, I should expect to participate in the Eskimo Swim . On January 19th of each year, adjacent to the 1700's Russian Church, the river is blessed, and holes are cut in the ice. You stand on the frozen river, strip to your underwear, or bathing suit, like thousands of other Uralsk residents, jump in the river, dunk yourself three times, get out, drink a shot of vodka, eat a pickle, get rid of all of your sins, and earn a year of good health. This will be a bitter cold but fun experience, and I definitely think it sounds much better than confession. :)
Hopefully, you are ready to jump on the next plane and head to Uralsk for a little visit. See you here!
Photos of Uralsk
By Terry Young -- KAZ 14
For more photos of Uralsk visit the Uralsk photos section of this site.