You know Moscow and St. Petersburg, of course. And you probably have at least heard of cities such as Novosibirsk, Sochi, and Vladivostok. But what do you know about Cherepovets?
A quick diletant-level history of Cherepovets will quickly take us from ancient times and a pagan tribe that lived on the shores of the Sheksna river to a Soviet “Mono-City” to a modern city working to develop and diversify. During Soviet times, there were quite a few cities created around one major enterprise, and in the case of Cherepovets, that would be the Severstal steel factory.
The Severstal factory is the largest steel factory in Russia, so it would be hard to miss, particularly since it’s located right next to the city. I reckon this harkens back to a time when ecology wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s mind anywhere in the world.
I will leave the subject of ecology to others as it is not a topic that I pretend to know much about. I can only say that when I arrived in Cherepovets, the smell from the factory in the city center was quite strong, but in talking to locals, it seemed to not be a major concern. Most folks pointed to the fact that the factory has been working hard to filter much of the emissions in recent years. And it seems that new apartment buildings in the city are being built in areas farther away from the factory.
Cherepovets is located almost the exact same distance from both St. Petersburg and Moscow. It is working hard to attract investment and also diversify, and has created tax incentives for new business in the city.
But what I learned the most when I was in Cherepovets is that the local people are incredibly proud of their city and also are crazy about ice hockey. Their team, also called “Severstal”, is in the professional Continental Hockey League. We were able to go to a match that Severstal played against the visiting team from Chelyabinsk and also talk with a couple of Severstal’s Canadian players.
The atmosphere at the match was incredible. Imagine a city, anywhere in the world, where their local team, regardless of the sport, is THE main event in town. The arena held about 5000 fans, and everyone seemed to know each other and really enjoyed supporting their hometown team.
The word on the street is that there is some fear that the Continental Hockey League will exclude Severstal from its ranks in the future. I think that would be a criminal move. You take a city like Moscow- there are at least 5 major league hockey teams in the city. Each of those teams, of course, has die-hard fans. But none of those teams are as vital to the city life as the Severstal team is to Cherepovets. For in this steel-town north of Moscow, I found real Russian hockey.
We thought it would be fun to also video me trying to train with some hockey players. The Severstal press service, ever so diplomatically suggested I start out with their ten year old team. This is how that training event went:
In Russia, whether it be art, music, or sport, the children often have to choose one discipline to focus on and become excellent at. The guys in the Severstal boys team were a lot of fun, and also not only happy to share their opinion on my budding hockey skills, but also give me some quick pointers on working as a goalie. I found it interesting that they pay nothing to be a part of the team; from what I understood costs are covered also by the steel factory.
We enjoyed walking the streets and talking with the locals. We had done a video last year in the city of Vologda, and were later inundated with comments that Cherepovets is better than Vologda. We decided to ask folks why they think that Cherepovets is better than Vologda, and I was sort of surprised to find that Cherepovets has some of the most positive citizens from any city I’ve ever visited in Russia.
Of course, coming in from the outside, this city rivalry was mostly amusing. I think Vologda is a fantastic city with tremendous tourism potential, and Cherepovets is an industrial city with investment opportunity. But in both cases, I really enjoyed getting to know a couple cities that are a bit off the beaten path in Russia.
Now, I’m thinking where to travel next. Any ideas?