Author of the Real Kazakhstan project run by the Kursiv edition and Chevron visited the Pervomayskiy settlement in the East Kazakhstan region, which used to thrive when the Irtysh Chemical Metallurgic was working at full capacity and has learned how people live there now.
Editor’s note: the opinion expressed by the author might be different from the official point of view of the edition or the company of Chevron.
The settlement of Pervomayskiy is located 40 kilometers from Shemonaikha, the district’s center. Before 1996 it used to be a busy settlement with developed local infrastructure and a principal employer. The local chemical metallurgic plant was unique for the entire Soviet Union and produced high-grade niobium. The plant used to be a major employer for almost all working adults, as much as 4,000 people.
In 1997 the enterprise had gone private and several months later was recognized as bankrupt. After that, it was an object for sales and purchases several times and eventually was abandoned.
After the plant stopped working things went bad. With no jobs, people started to leave the settlement. The infrastructure and residential buildings people had left behind in neglect started to break apart.
Over the last 20 years, the formerly busy settlement around the unique plant has gradually diminished and no longer looks like a thriving community. Currently, there are 4,800 residents in Pervomayskiy while in 1999 there were 7,693 people.
Despite the fact that many locals used to be miner workers, they now rely on their farms – they raise animals and grow vegetables to feed themselves. Those who have no land and live in a few preserved living buildings, found themselves in much worse conditions because the central heating system and water supply system no longer work.
Many of them have to survive with all available means. For example, they have to utilize an electric heater to boil water and make heat for their homes. It works but costs a lot of money to pay for the energy. However, it seems like they have no choice because nobody is interested in their houses, so they can’t sell them and move to another settlement or town.
Nevertheless, some of the Pervomayskiy residents do not even try to sell their houses due to a strong emotional connection with this land. They are full of optimism and determination to make their lives better on this soil.
“Indeed, there are a lot of empty apartments in the settlement. People have left their homes behind, but we are not able to solve the problem because this is private property. Once the plant stopped its operations, people have started to leave. About 15-20 families have moved out of Pervomayskiy each year,” said Tatyana Moiseeva, the head of the settlement.
On top of many other problems, the local akimat (administration) has a very limited budget, which covers just their expenditures and subventions.
“To make out settlement free of debris we need money. If you are going to demolish a building and to get all the waste out of town, you need loads of money. Therefore, we do not try to make things happen faster than they should. Of course, those who live in living buildings struggle during our long winters. They need to warm their apartments on their own. That’s not an easy task, especially when your neighbors are gone and their empty apartments devour the heat you produce to warm your home. But we can do nothing with those empty apartments; this is private property,” she said.
Anyways, something good also happens in Pervomayskiy. This year authorities have allocated about $442,467 for the renovation of local roads and the roof of a local school. The settlement residents haven’t seen such a scale of renovation work for the last 20years. Also, we spent $23,411 on street lighting. So, we’ve been gradually recovering from the collapse of the 1990s,” added Ms. Moiseeva.
Also, the settlement now has a small entertainment center. For this purpose, local authorities purchased the building of a former kindergarten.
“This is not a fancy building but it is ours now. We have already repaired its roof and some rooms. Now we are going to restore the water supply and sewage systems in the building. I am going to request more money for renovation and I think we can make it. Another part of the building will be utilized as a library,” the mayor said.
Subject of Pride and New Hopes
The business leader of the settlement is Vostokselkhozprodukt, which produces vegetable oil. The company has its production complex and successfully sells various kinds of oil in and around the settlement.
The enterprise provides jobs for 500 locals. All of them give all the credits to the company’s head.
“Oil plant CEO Sergey Glushkov lives here for many, many years. He helps the settlement a lot. He supports local skiing class, for example, buying proper equipment and outfits. He also supports his home village with many other things. Even the akimat’s building was renovated with his financial support. It used to be an old building but now it looks perfect,” Moiseeva said.
Another big hope of locals is new investors of the Irtysh Chemical Metallurgic Plant, which bought it in 2018 and poured $2.5 million into the restoration of one of its workshops. The total costs for relaunching the two workshops on the production of rare metal products would cost $120 million. Due to the pandemic, the production and all this restoration work have been suspended but now it’s rebounding once again.