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Russia Close-Up: Orenburg, the 18th Century Gateway to Asia

"Inter-ethnic cohesion and peace is like the air you breathe, you don't notice it".

Founded in 1743, Orenburg was called the Asian capital of Russia for many years, and its foundation as a military outpost occurred at the time in Russian history when the Empire was expanding ever eastward.

Below is a great video from the Russian evening news about the Orenburg region, and its pleasant trade hub, with beautiful photos of the city scattered throughout the text. (Full transcript of the video below the video)

Russia Insider is featuring a series of profiles of Russian regional centers, which you can find here

Video Transcript

Russia's Top Anchor Kiselyov:

The region in focus today is Orenburzhye. It shares a border with Kazakhstan that is almost 1,800 km. That's why Orenburg is traditionally considered the gateway to Asia.

Elena Erofeeva reports from the origin of the Orenburg down shawl.


A city with a glorious fortune and extraordinary history. Orenburg was founded three times, the last time right here in 1743. There was a time when it took you an hour to walk through the city or half an hour in a carriage. You could go from Europe to Asia, or get from one side of the Urals to the other.

This region is an exchange market, you can hear throaty Asian speech everywhere. Orenburg Region has become irredeemably multicultural. This is the typical cityscape: the Russian terem, the Ukrainian hut, the Kazakh yurt — all on one alley, housing altogether town residences of 10 nationalities. This exhibit is an authentic dermen — a millstone for grinding roasted wheat into fine powder. It's called talkan — a dainty supplement to tea, mixed sour cream and sugar, also the basis of halva. It's extremely difficult to spin the dermen.

Of course, it was Kazakh women who had to do it. While the meat is being cooked, tea is offered to the guests, in the Kazakh tradition, with milk. The rule is as follows: the less tea you pour into the cup, the higher your respect for the guest. During an unhasty conversation, the host will pour more tea more often.

Janibek Itkuzov, Chair of Kazakh Association in Orenburg: "Inter-ethnic cohesion and peace is like the air you breathe, you don't notice it".


Their neighbors are Ukrainians with oak beds, embroidered towels and orthodox icons in the corner. There is a Ukrainian oven, which is just like the Russian one. Bread is still baked there. For half a century the same recipe has been used. The yeast is mixed with the hop, gathered in the forest in late August.

This year is a record harvest in Orenburg with over 4 million tons of grain. The process of taking bread away from the warehouses is underway.

Half of the population in Orenburg lives in the country. The Orenburg down breed of goats is about 300 years old. They live freely, they browse in the mountains and hills. They graze on mountain grass, mat grass and flowers. They like it when it's -40 in the winter and +40 in the summer. In such harsh conditions, these goats grow white gold — down.

They tried to breed the Orenburg goats even in France, but they failed. The climate isn't suitable. Foreign perfumers were interested in the goats. During the autumn mating, they give a tangy smell.

Rashit Makhmutov, Chair of the Donskoy farm: "Goats don't smell that good, of course, but the perfumers wanted to mix that smell with an appropriate aroma, so it wouldn't pass".


But so far only down is taken from the goats, which is thin and warm. World-renowned Orenburg shawls are knitted from it.

There's no artel in the village Zholtoe anymore, but the dynasty of down knitters remains.

Venera Masalimova, down knitter: "Women used to gather, I was a child then, 5-6 years old, I always asked for knitting needles."


Today it's impossible to keep up with her knitting speed, the stitches make fine ornaments. First, the down is combed, then it's spun with a spindle. The shawls are made upon request, sometimes they are sold on the market. A shawl made from goat down costs 30,000 rubles.

The down knitters have their own economy, this is not a mass production.

Yuriy Berg, Governor of Orenburg region: "Orenburg region is developing in a stable way. We have two main areas of focus: manufacturing and agriculture. The largest Russian company Rosneft is active in our region, as well as Gazprom, Rusneft”.


Last year the Orenburg deposit turned 50. The raw materials are processed in a factory built in the 1970s.

Mikhail Chakhonin, factory director: "We have over 11 types of products. Take odorant for instance, which is sold not only in Russia but also abroad".


Here the gas pipeline Soyuz begins. It supplies Russia as well as Europe with gas. A helium factory is also located here, which is one of a kind in Russia.

Mikhail Morozov, deputy to factory director: "Most of our clients are medical organizations that manufacture tomographs, helium is also used in the space industry. The Swiss collider also has helium from Orenburg".

Orenburg strives for leading positions in many areas. The first presidential cadet college was opened here 7 years ago.

The state flag flutters in the blue sky. Marching in lockstep in shining polished shoes of children's size 35, the cadets of 5th grade look older. "Good afternoon, sir!" instead of the usual "Hello". Military discipline.

Tatyana Mashkovskaya, Head of the cadet college: "The main thing, as we put it here, is to love the motherland".

With a rifle behind the back and in a military form, the cadets are required to swim 50 meters for time. Nobody would complain even if they were tired or even exhausted. That's how they are being prepared for the military service.

Mikhail Bordyug, cadet: "It's not only the rifle, but also the uniform, which gets wet and pulls you down".


The cadet college has its own photo and TV studio. The children film movies about their worries and make news. Breaking news: the cadet team has just returned from an all-Russian robotics competition. The team constructed a robot that can safely remove unexploded shells.

Pavel Yashnikov, cadet: "One of the advantages of our robot is its cheapness. The Defense Ministry can produce such robots on a mass scale without serious spending".


This is not a prototype, but a new radio-locating station "Voronezh". It is located in the heath near Orsk. The calculations train skills in a test mode.

Scanning the atmosphere with a ray, the station can detect ballistic missiles within a distance of 6,000 km, from China to the Arabian Peninsula. It can recognize football-size space objects with high precision.

Alexander Samoilov, head of the unit: "With this station the creation of a radar field around Russia was completed. There isn't a single section which is not controlled by the ballistic missile early warning system".


The task of the combat unit is to detect and timely inform of a sudden missile attack. On land the borders of Russia are protected by the border patrol.

The Orenburg region has the longest borderline with Kazakhstan, about 2,000 km.

The border patrol squad sets out on a surveillance mission with a shepherd dog Karat. It's only 500 meters to the bordering state. There used to be illegal trafficking here. But the Customs Union opened the borders for customs-free trade. Now only illegal migrants sometimes cross the border.

How can we stop the illegal migrants without angering the Kazakhs?

Maxim Serebryakov, Head of border patrol squad, "The border between Russia and Kazakhstan is only a state border between two countries. Many relatives visit each other. This is a friendly border."


Just like in the mid-18th century, the Orenburg region is the stronghold of Russia. It's a gateway to Asia, open to those with friendly intentions and closed to those with hostile ones.

Elena Erofeeva, Irina Evsechek, Alexander Evtushenko, Kirill Puzirniy, Alexander Shestopalov for Vesti — News of the Week.

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