This is a new trend: people leave big cities to live in small towns. Does it work for Kazakhstan? A journalist from Pavlodar has tried to answer this question by describing the town’s life for The Real Kazakhstan Project by Kursiv and Chevron.
My name is Anastasia Gorbunova and I have lived in Pavlodar for 28 years, basically all my life. When I grew up I planned to leave the town but failed, and then I suddenly realized that I like Pavlodar and want to stay here longer. Now I can see all the pros and cons of living here.
As usual, the perception of your own life strongly depends on the angle you watch it – my approach is to be a realist. Now, I am going to tell you how much it costs to live in Pavlodar and what you would probably like here. But don’t forget I am a local, and this is just my personal view. And of course, my experience may not reflect other people’s opinions. No doubt, many Pavlodar residents would disagree with me just because they may see things differently.
Editor’s Note: The author of this text expresses only her personal opinion which doesn’t reflect the official position of the Chevron company.
Who are the residents of Pavlodar region? What do they do?
According to the Committee on Statistics under the Ministry of National Economy, there are 750,000 residents in the Pavlodar region. About 360,000 of them live in the region’s central town of Pavlodar. The population is very diversified. Thus, it includes not only two main groups – Kazakhs (47.71%) and Russians (41.11%), but also Ukrainians (3.80%), Germans (2.15%), Tatars (1.97%), Belarusians, Moldovans, Azerbaijanis, Chechens, Ingush people, Uzbeks, Koreans, Polish people, and many others. Such ethnic diversity is a heritage of our common history.
Pavlodar region is one of the biggest industrial centers in Kazakhstan, with such businesses as Kazakhstan Electrolysis Plant, Aluminium of Kazakhstan, Aksu Ferroalloys Plant, Pavlodar Oil Chemistry Refinery, Bozshakol processing complex, the coal mines of Bogatyr, Severnyi and Vostochnyi, several central heating and power plants, as well as hydro-electric plants. These facilities provide jobs for thousands of people.
Aluminium of Kazakhstan
Big red piles are made out of bauxite (aluminum ore)
The Pavlodar region has also produced grain, forage and vegetables. It’s also very famous for meat and poultry production, fish and forestry businesses.
In February 2020, Committee on Statistics published the 2019 data on median cash wages in Kazakhstan. As the data shows, Pavlodar region has a median wage of 119,500 tenge ($285.95), placing fourth in the rating right after Atyrau and Mangystau regions, Almaty and Nur-Sultan. However, this data includes wages of only those people who work at the big plants, so this information might be slightly incorrect.
Nevertheless, according to hh.kz website (this is an online service that helps people to find jobs), average salaries in Pavlodar match the Committee on Statistics figures.
In real life, of course, I can see people with different incomes. This is a common thing and I believe those who struggle and those who have a lot of money can be found everywhere.
The History of the Town
In the early 18th century, the Russian Empire began to expand its military presence at the new territory to the East from the heartland of Russia. In the very beginning such outposts, which were positioned as fortification lines, had been located at the border with Kazakh Khanate, but once Russian influence expanded, the country started to send settlers deeper into Kazakh lands. One of the most important lines was line Irtyshskaya. Built by Peter the Great’s edict, it linked together three forts Omsk, Semipalatinsk (modern town of Semey in Kazakhstan) and Ust-Kamenogorsk. Later, Russians built one more outpost named Koryakovskiy.
The more lands were colonized, the less important military outposts became. They gradually had been transforming into regular towns, which like a magnet attracted settlers from central parts of Russia.
In 1838 Koraykovskiy outpost became a Cossack stanitsa with a school and a hospital. Thanks to the advantages of its location on the big river of Irtysh, full of fish and mineral resources, the stanitsa grew fast and attracted more settlers. Trade soared and local merchants started to play a bigger role in the town’s life. They have built beautiful houses, churches and hospitals.
House of local merchant A. Derov of 1896. Now it’s a museum named after Grigory Potanin.
Merchant Zaytsev house of 1887. Now it’s a museum of literature and arts named after Bukhar Zhyrau.
To boost their business, merchants from Koryakovskaya wanted the stanitsa to change its status and officially turn into town; it was done in 1861 when the settlement got the name Pavlodar in honor of Russian Great Duke Pavel. This name has never changed since.
Office of the first telegraph station in Pavlodar; it was built in 1910-1913.
During World War II Soviet authorities sent to the Pavlodar region thousands of people whom they considered as a threat to national security. Therefore, Pavlodar is still a home to many residents of German descent. Also, the region became a host venue for various enterprises from areas close to combat activity. After the war, that industrial potential turned into a big advantage for the town where several new plants were built. In 1954 more new settlers started to flow to the city; their purpose was to cultivate a vast amount of virgin lands in Kazakhstan.
The majority of Pavlodar’s plants have been built over this period. My grandma and grandpa were among those first newcomers to Pavlodar in the 1950s. Like many other young people, they worked in the field and built factories. Because the Pavlodar region is a zone of risky agriculture, it was very hard to cultivate wheat over there.
Salina lake near Yamyshevo village, Pavlodar region
Salt above the surface of the lake near Yamyshevo
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the region’s residents decided to leave. For example, there were 943,000 people here in 1989 and 751,000 now. Some people had wanted to return to their homes in other countries; others sought better wages and new dreams. However, new settlers still come to Pavlodar from other parts of the country with an excess of work power. State programs such as Mangelik el zhastary and Serpin-2050, which have worked since 2014, are targeted at providing young people with free education with only one condition – they have to stay in the North to live and work.
Another state program is Enbek. It has worked since 2017 and is aimed at eliminating the imbalance in regional labor forces. The program’s participants can expect financial support from the government over 12 months if they move from the South to the North. Also, the government offers certain financial incentives for those businesses that are hiring newcomers.
How much does it cost to live in Pavlodar?
No one can describe Pavlodar as a big construction site. There are no prominent companies like BI-Group, so therefore few new apartment houses are built in the town. Usually, there are just two options among new buildings: very expensive houses for rich people or public housing. The first option is not for everyone; the second as well, because there is a huge line of people waiting for their new home. So, the only affordable choice to buy or rent an apartment is to choose something in old Soviet houses.
According to krisha.kz website, the rent prices range from 80,000 to 150,000 tenge ($190 – $356) per month. A certain price depends on the location and age of a house.
If you dare to buy a one-room flat, it would cost 8-12 million tenge ($19,018 – $28,527) on average. Again, it depends on the location and the flat itself.
Utilities would cost about 8-10 thousand tenge ($19-$23) per month plus $20 for good, reliable internet.
Food prices are also not so expensive as of February 2021 (1 kg):
• Beef – $5.23
• Chicken meat – $3.14
• Cucumber – $2.38
• Potato – $0.39
• Onion – $0.21
• Bananas – $1.76
• Apples – $1.37
• Milk – $0.61
Of course, different grocery stores utilize price policies on their own.
Products from small local farms are also available, but you can find them in few stores; they are usually available at markets.
The most popular supermarket chains are FixPrice and Svetofor (Russian low-cost supermarket chain), as well as Greenwich, Small, Inmart, and Lider (Leader).
The Svetofor store looks like a warehouse, but the prices are really low.
Public transportation costs $0.19 (buses, share taxi and tramway). Popular Yandex taxi services cost about $0.95 – $1.43 per ride.
Stay or Leave?
The vast majority of my friends have already left Pavlodar. Even though I also wanted to leave, I failed to do so for various reasons, and now I’m happy about that. I am probably the only one who thinks like this. I am lucky, I have my job, which I like and where I can work remotely. I work in online education, write texts and participate in several projects. For remote work, it doesn’t matter where you live. For example, I have clients from Almaty and Moscow, and I can earn good money every month. The only trick is how to match the rhythm of living in a small town with the rhythm of big cities far away from here. I took advantage of it during the quarantine, because I am used to this style.
Moreover, once the pandemic hit, the number of orders has significantly increased, so I can choose which ones to accept or decline. Therefore, I think that remote work is positive for me. I work every day, earn money, but have the luxury of living in a quiet small town I love. But of course, if you pursue a career in a big company, you probably should move to a big city.
One kilometer riverwalk on Irtysh river in Pavlodar
I am not an expert and can’t predict the future of the town. I have never worked at a factory or anything like that. However, we have three universities that teach youth with technical specialties: Pavlodar State University, Pavlodar State Teaching University and Innovative Eurasian University. Pavlodar is an industrial town and all these universities make an accent on this. But there are many other faculties as well. For example, I was studying biology, but never worked as a biologist even though I am thankful for that academic background.
Irtysh overflowing in the spring
I don’t know if there is anyone who wants to spend his entire life in Pavlodar working at a plant. This is hard work I believe: a lot of bureaucracy, tons of people you have to deal with and low salary.
Pavlodar is a small town with no traffic jams. You can cross the town in 40 minutes. But this is North Kazakhstan with a heavy continental climate, I mean there are cold winters (-40 degrees) and hot summers (+35 Celsius). Even though there are so many plants in the town, environmental monitoring didn’t reveal air pollutions, but I am not sure if this information is reliable.
I like this place: its beautiful landscapes and views; no crowds or traffic jams. But I am young and I don’t know what my life will look like in the future and where I will find myself several years from today. However, regardless of everything, I know for sure one thing: I will never stop loving my hometown.