Designed for Stalin as the world’s first completely planned city, Magnitogorsk has yet to go up against its dubious past – from the constrained work that fabricated it in record time, to the serious contamination that has tormented its inhabitants.
In July 1931, Ibragim Akhmetzyanov touched base in Magnitogorsk in a wooden train unit with his wife and eight youngsters. The sight that welcomed them was somber.
In the middle of the frigid, windswept steppe, a cluster of tents and ramshackle barracks stood at the foot of the ominous “Magnetic Mountain”, a landform so full of iron ore that compasses could not function near it and birds avoided flying over it.
Between the mountain and the shallow Ural River, specialists were raising the crown gem of the Soviet pioneer’s initial Five-Year Plan, the Stalin Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Complex – one of the biggest steel plants on the planet.
The “first builders” of Magnitogorsk have been lauded in poetry, film and song; Soviet propaganda stressed the contribution of young communist volunteers and members of the Komsomol, a national youth movement that started largely in Magnitogorsk.
Be that as it may, Akhmetzyanov was not a volunteer. He was a seized worker who had been commenced his ranch in Tatarstan by the socialist powers and sent to Magnitogorsk, where he and his family were compelled to work and live in a settlement encompassed by gatekeepers and security fencing. It was the constrained work of these purported “uncommon resettlers” that made the record-brisk development of the plant conceivable.
They lived in tents for the harvest time, then an earth-stunned dormitory through the cruel winter and hot summer, without fundamental luxuries or medicinal consideration. As indicated by Akhmetzyanov’s grandson Salavat, a student of history who as of late composed a book about these exceptional resettlers, 10,000 individuals kicked the bucket of yearning, chilly and ailment in the initial five years of development, including a child and little girl destined to Ibragim and his wife.
“The story of thousands of resettlers has been forgotten,” Akhmetzyanov says. “When it comes to the war we don’t hide our losses and retreats, but here, on the topic of the 1930s, they’ve been tiptoed around.”
“If the regime had been interested in the people, the city would have built on less aggressive deadlines, and without the colossal amount of human casualties,” says Gennady Vasilyev, a local history teacher who compiles “books of memory” with the names of Magnitogorsk residents who suffered from Soviet repressions. “We have a saying that the victors aren’t judged, but this we do need to judge.”
Celebrated as the “steel heart of the country”, Magnitogorsk is a city that has yet to confront down its past – and not only the historical backdrop of the constrained work amid its development. Many years of substantial industry have dirtied the air and water, however few inquiries are asked of the now exclusive Magnitogorsk Iron and Steelworks (MMK). More than 30,000 of the city’s 400,000 occupants still work at MMK, and with authority unemployment at just 1.44%, the city hasn’t endured the urban curse of other summary manufacturing plant towns.
Magnitogorsk lies close to the northern edge of the steppe: the brownish, featureless meadows that broaden west toward the Volga River and east into adjacent Kazakhstan. Many people commute from Europe to Asia for work each day, travelling from the residential western side of the Ural River to the steel mill on the eastern side. A small Cossack fort was founded here in 1743, but the area remained mostly untouched by the outside world until the “year of the great break” in 1929, when the Bolsheviks made it the focal point of their first five-year plan to pull the still largely agrarian Soviet Union into the industrial age.
Iron and steel became the watchwords of the era. “We are becoming a country of metal,” Stalin declared, and this metal was to be forged in Magnitogorsk. It became the very embodiment of the push to create an industrialised, socialist society.
“Magnitogorsk was no mere business for generating profits; it was a device for transforming the country: its geography, its industry, and above all its people,” historian Stephen Kotkin writes in his book Magnetic Mountain.
“Magnitogorsk was the October revolution itself, the socialist revolution, Stalin’s revolution.”
Ironically, to make this socialist revolution, the Soviet Union had to call on its capitalist rival, hiring the American firm Arthur McKee & Co in 1930 to design the steel plant and train Soviet engineers to build it. Magnitogorsk was reportedly inspired by the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, then the largest in the world. The first years of construction, however, were chaos, as the impossibly short deadlines set by Moscow collided with the total lack of infrastructure, chronic fires and a shortage of skilled workers and equipment.
Unexpectedly, to make this communist unrest, the Soviet Union needed to approach its industrialist rival, contracting the American firm Arthur McKee and Co in 1930 to outline the steel plant and prepare Soviet specialists to manufacture it. Magnitogorsk was allegedly motivated by the US Steel plant in Gary, Indiana, then the biggest on the planet. The main years of development, be that as it may, were mayhem, as the inconceivably short due dates set by Moscow slammed into the aggregate absence of framework, constant fires and a lack of gifted specialists and hardware.
Magnitogorsk’s builders staged “socialist competitions” to complete tasks on unbelievably tight deadlines. The results were rarely of top quality: a competition between teams on the left and right banks of the river in 1930 produced a dam that wasn’t deep enough, and was eventually submerged by a larger one. But the main thing was that another victory could be chalked up to the Bolshevik project, and workers were filled with “labour enthusiasm”, as Kotkin reports.
All the work energy on the planet couldn’t keep specialists in the midst of the unforgiving conditions, in any case, and several thousands fled. The state fathomed this work lack through a crusade to confiscate professedly well off “kulak” laborers of their property, which started in 1930 and extended in 1931.
The primary train units of “exceptional resettlers” touched base in Magnitogorsk in May 1931. As indicated by Vasilyev, 40,000 groups of confiscated laborers were sent to the Chelyabinsk area, a significant number of them Turkish-speaking Tatars and for the most part to Magnitogorsk. Their “exceptional” settlements, enclosed in spiked metal, were Magnitogorsk’s own little islands in the unlimited “Gulag archipelago” of work camps depicted by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Also, more than 26,000 non-political convicts had been sent to Magnitogorsk before the end of 1933.
The packed, generally soil amazed tents and broken-down military enclosure in which early inhabitants lived were pounded by snowstorms in the winter and tidy tempests in the late spring. Rats, blood suckers and lice tormented their tenants. Different newcomers returned to rustic ways, building mud cabins dove profound into the ground.
Swarmed, icy, squalid conditions, consolidated with the absence of clean water and shortage of sustenance and therapeutic consideration, brought about plagues of typhus, jungle fever and red fever. In the mean time, party authorities delighted in a nearly extravagant life in the lush “American town” that was initially worked for masters from the United States in 1930.
“Special carts went around the barracks and asked, ‘Do you have any dead today?’ And everyday they took bodies,”
Akhmetzyanov says of the winter of 1931.
“Children died first of all, and the elderly.”
While the presence of the unique resettlers isn’t denied, it’s not promptly examined either, and a late drive to set up a landmark to them has yet to manage natural product. The organization of one locale banished Vasilyev from talking with relatives there, and he can’t discover a backer to distribute his books on a bigger scale. Indeed, even today, the Magnitogorsk Iron and Steelworks site makes no notice of this constrained work on its history page.
According to Vasilyev:
“We need to immerse children in this topic; they are the ancestors, they should know who they are.” “The subtitle of each of my books is, ‘This should never happen again.”
“People say, ‘Why dig this up, even if it’s true?”
“The problem is that no one is giving money; all the study of these topics is done on [researchers’] own funds.”
The ‘socialist city’
The production line was raised in record time on account of the primary developers’ work. On 31 January 1932, in temperatures underneath – 20 degrees, impact heater number one was blown in; the next year, it must be closed down again and totally remade.
In spite of the fact that authorities were hesitant to dispense work or assets far from the manufacturing plant, a city still must be worked around it. As indicated by a 1930 Magnitostroi purposeful publicity handout, the city would be the focal point of a “profound teaching of the new communist lifestyle”. To this end, it was to be the world’s first totally arranged city.
In 1930, Moscow enrolled the assistance of German designer Ernst May, who had won praise building populist lodging settlements in Frankfurt with institutionalized, pre-assembled materials. May drafted an arrangement for a direct city, with a green belt between groups of private and modern territories. However, when he touched base nearby in October 1930, May found that not just was the assigned site unsatisfactory for his arrangement, yet that neighborhood authorities had as of now started development.
The supposedly highly planned building process turned out to be highly erratic. Constrained by the existing construction and the factory facilities, May built what has become known as the Sotsgorod, or “socialist city”; a superblock of rectangular three- and four-storey flat buildings, south of the factory.
The vast open ranges in the middle of the structures – composed on May’s rule that each inhabitant ought to have the most extreme measure of light – are not very much adjusted to the neighborhood atmosphere, uncovering all who travel every which way to the sharply chilly winds of the Ural steppe. Despite the fact that the structures are keep running down, pads here are still popular today, since they are built of block as opposed to solid boards like numerous later level squares. The site has now been proposed for Unesco World Heritage status.
At the time, May’s institutionalized, unembellished structures were condemned as too plain. At the point when commissar of industry Sergo Ordzhonikidze went by the site in 1933, he was appalled by May’s superblock, which because of the absence of pipes was encompassed by foul latrines, pronouncing, “You have named some compost a communist city.” He requested private development to be moved toward the west bank of the stream, however in the midst of the ideas of the Soviet initiative – not even the littlest choices could be made without Moscow’s endorsement – a masterplan during the current second endeavor at a communist city was moderate to rise.
Meanwhile, settlements of rickety barracks kept springing up next to each new enterprise that was built on the east bank, earning names such as “Fertiliser Settlement,” “Ore-Enriching Station” and “Lattice-Wood Town”, and stretching the city out more than 12 miles from north to south. The start of the first streetcar in 1935, bearing a portrait of Stalin – Magnitogorsk would eventually have the largest streetcar network in the country after Leningrad – was not enough to make up for the lack of paved roads and vehicles. By 1939 Magnitogorsk, already a city of 200,000, still had only one temporary hospital, and robberies were common. Far from a well-designed socialist city, this was an urban planning catastrophe with the chaotic outlaw atmosphere of a frontier town.
On the other hand, the housing and social services, while always too scarce, began to establish a more collectivised way of life, with public baths, laundries, cafeterias and nurseries. Along with the landmark Magnit cinema, a dozen workers’ clubs with libraries, games, movie projectors and study circles were built to try to broaden the cultural horizons of the poorly educated masses, while also teaching them the Soviet creed.
This Soviet urban ideal was eventually realised on the west bank of the river, with its wide prospects, squares and promenades, and abundance of five-storey “Khrushchev” flat blocks, laid out on a grid and connected to the factory side by streetcars and four major bridges. Today, property prices on the east side, which is where the wind blows the bulk of the factory’s emissions, are lower, and flat blocks there are generally in worse condition.
But the bulk of the west bank construction had to wait until after the second world war. Of 56,000 men in Magnitogorsk, more than 30,000 were sent to the front, with women taking their places in the factory.
“They worked at the factory as if they were on the front. My grandmother said sometimes they slept at the factory and didn’t go home,”
remembers local activist Vyacheslav Gutnikov, whose grandmother worked in the coke-chemical section of the steel mill – known as the “hell division” because of the harmful gases.
Magnitogorsk’s role in the war is commemorated by the town’s main monument overlooking the river, “Homefront to the Front”: a 50-foot bronze sculpture of a worker handing a giant sword to a Soviet soldier. Locals are still fond of bragging that every second tank and every third shell during the conflict was built with Magnitogorsk steel.
It would be hard to overestimate the role that steelmaking plays in the life of the city, where members of nearly every family have worked at the plant. The beloved ice hockey team, which has won the national championship five times and for which local boys dream of playing, is called Metallurg.
On the eastern bank, the sheer size of MMK, which includes every step of the steelmaking process, is astounding. One workshop is more than a mile long, all under one roof. The plant produces 400 different types of steel and turned out 13 million tonnes of crude steel in 2014 and 12.2 tonnes of commercial steel products.
But metallurgy is a dirty business. In February, Leonardo DiCaprio reposted a National Geographic Instagram photograph of ice fishermen in front of dozens of smokestacks at MMK and a caption about pollution. DiCaprio’s repost caused a furore in Magnitogorsk. Chelyabinsk region governor Boris Dubrovsky, himself a former director of MMK, wrote a post on his own Instagram that the photo had been taken 22 years ago and that many of the smokestacks have since been removed, inviting DiCaprio to visit.
Yet any new arrival to the city is likely to notice an industrial tinge to the air, like the whiff of a charcoal brazier and an acrid dryness at the back of the throat. Russia’s state statistics service ranked Magnitogorsk the third most polluted city in Russia in 2015, finding that the level of benzopyrene, a carcinogen that has been linked to lung cancer, in the air was 23 times the allowed amount. In addition, millions of cubic metres of industrial waste water is pumped into the Ural River each year, according to environmentalists, polluting it with heavy particles, nitrites and other chemicals.
Information on the wellbeing impacts of this contamination is to a great degree hard to discover, however as per Anna Rozhkova, leader of the ecological gathering EcoMagnitka, stand out in 20 kids conceived in the city is totally free of wellbeing issues and hypersensitivities. The leader of Magnitogorsk’s oncological healing facility said in a 2012 meeting that “individuals around the globe are helpless [to cancer], however we shockingly outpace all others.”
Alexander Morozov, director of the city board, tells the Guardian these cases of far reaching wellbeing issues are extraordinarily overstated, contending that the ecological conditions had significantly made strides. A MMK representative says the organization burned through 2.5 billion roubles in 2013-15 on frameworks to decrease its ecological effect, and would contribute more than 10.5 billion roubles (£110 million) in 2016-18.
According to Pavel Verstov, editor of the local independent news site Verstov.info, the city administration should make MMK take more aggressive measures to solve these and other problems.