Warning: this is going to be a long, slightly boring post on how I got here and my first impressions of Ukhta. Feel free to skip all the text and look at the pictures.
After two days of traveling, I’m finally here in Ukhta and I’m quickly adjusting to the city. Getting here, however, was not quick at all. In fact, the exact opposite of quick — all together, it took about 40 hours (10 hr plane ride to Moscow, 30 hour train ride from Moscow to Ukhta) to get from DC to Ukhta. Reader, in case you didn’t know, Russia is an enormous country — and that is an understatement. Of course I could have flown, but I didn’t want to die in a fiery, metal heap, so I chose the more traditional route.
The train ride itself was very pleasant, despite being disgustingly sweaty from hauling ass around Domodedovo Airport and the Moscow metro. My traveling companions, Maksim and Slava, were these two burly, tough-looking engineers who turned out to be completely harmless and quite chivalrous. They were absolutely shocked by the fact that I was going all the way to Ukhta by myself.
“You’re from America? Really? Good God, is it that bad over there that you have to come to Ukhta to find work?” Maksim asked incredulously. I stressed that I wanted to come and that I was excited to see a part of Russia that I had never seen before. They just laughed at me and then proceeded to scold me for traveling alone. Why is it that everyone here in this country scolds you? The conversation turned to politics, and Maksim and Slava just went OFF on the Russian government. Looking around nervously, I asked them if it was okay to talk about the government like this. Slava laughed at me (there was a lot of laughing at me) and reassured me that it was okay to verbally bash the government.
Traveling for that long made me feel very, very small. I would look out the window and see never ending birch trees, and then a few hours later, I would look out again, and lo and behold — more birch trees. With an occasional run-down village here and there. Russia is SO BIG.
I have only been in Ukhta for two days now, but so far I’m digging the small-city vibe. I’m very grateful that Nadya, my host contact, puts up with showing me where everything is. WIthout her, I’d probably end up terribly lost and wandering alone in a village miles from the city. Even though I have only been here for two days, I have already noticed that people are much nicer here and don’t disrespect me because I’m a foreigner, which is something that I felt when I was in St. Petersburg. I also haven’t been groped by any men, which is a HUGE plus. What the city lacks in glamour, it makes up in its hospitality and friendliness.
A little about the city: Ukhta (or Ukva as it is known in the Komi language) was discovered because it had an abundance of oil/gas/natural resources and was officially founded in 1943. Ukhta has a pretty dark history — a Gulag was built here, and there are a lot of people today are descendants of political prisoners. They’ve since created a museum in memoriam of those who were shot in the Ukhtinskii Gulag. Now, the city greatly benefits from their abundance of oil and gas.