Ural Cossacks founded Oral (aka Uralsk in Russian) in 1584. To establish it, they had to oust the Mongol Nogai Horde from the area. Throughout the 16th century, vast tracts of western Kazakhstan, including the Volga River basin, were under the Nogai’s control and the Cossacks spent the 1570s battling them over their territory.

After three attacks on the Nogai capital Saraichik (50 km north of Atyrau), the Cossacks finally gained power in the area and established a fortified camp on the confluence of the Chagan and Yaik (Ural) rivers. Today, this ancient part of Oral is called ‘Kureni’, which is derived from the name for a traditional Cossack village: ‘kuren’ or ‘kurenyi’.

Black and white photo of wide unpaved street and big house in Uralsk 1890s.
Street in Uralsk, 1890s. Photo in Public Domain. Photographer unknown.

Life of the Ural Cossacks in Oral

Nikolai Gogol vividly depicts Cossack life in his romance novella, Taras Bulba (1834). Although it’s set in the Ukrainian steppe, the story takes place just two decades before Oral’s founding, and the protagonist, Taras, is a Zaporozhian Cossack. Together with his two sons, Andrii and Ostap, he travels to the semi-autonomous Cossack quasi-state of Zaporozhian Sich to prepare for war against Poland. Like Oral, the ‘Setch’, as it’s colloquially referred to in the novel, is a Cossack riparian settlement—on Khortytsia Island, in the lower Dnieper River. Taras and his son’s landing on the island gives us some idea of how early Oral might’ve looked:

“On their arrival, they were deafened by the clang of fifty blacksmiths’ hammers beating upon twenty-five anvils sunk in the earth. Stout tanners seated beneath awnings were scraping ox-hides with their strong hands; shop-keepers sat in their booths, with piles of flints, steels, and powder before them; Armenians spread out their rich handkerchiefs; Tatars turned their kabobs upon spits; a Jew, with his head thrust forward, was filtering some corn-brandy from a cask.”

Historian Orest Subtelny’s 1988 book, ‘The Ukraine – A History’ (p.122), also uses Taras Bulba to imagine the layout and functioning of a typical kurenyi:

“The Sech was a fortified camp surrounded by trenches and moats. The moats themselves were defended by stockades of tree-trunks (in Russian, zaseki, from which the name Sech was derived). Stiff hedges built of dried branches and clay constituted an inner line. Two gates gave entry. Within the hedge-wall were built long huts or kurenyi… These kurenyi were covered with reeds. Here the Cossacks lived—a hundred or several hundred men in each… Apart from the living quarters there were [sic] a ‘chancellery’, an arsenal and food magazines… Beyond the gates of the Sech was a market-place with shops and taverns. There travellers were allowed to lodge—Russians, Armenians and Jews—and, in time of peace Turks and Tatars. The outer market was a kind of trading centre where the booty won on campaigns could be sold. There was also a small river harbour which was visited by Turkish, Greek and Italian ships.”

Although history tends to stereotype Cossacks as marauding and lawless, Subtelny suggests they were much more than that:

“Once a year each of the kurenyi elected its ataman [Cossack leader], and all the kurenyi together, in other words the Rada [a general assembly], elected the Hetman [Cossack military commander] and also all men who had to fill posts in the administration. All important matters were decided in the Rada. At the end of the winter lots were drawn to decide who among the Cossacks were to prepare for [sic] campaign, who were to remain to defend the Sech, and who were to go off on hunting and fishing expeditions. Booty was divided into two equal parts. One part went to the treasury of the Sech, and the other, after withdrawing what was destined for the Sech Church and… monasteries which were supported by the Zaporogians, was divided equally between all the Cossacks—both those who had taken part in the campaign and those who had remained behind for defence and supplies.

[Everyone] was free to leave the Sech whenever he wanted to do so. He might also leave the Sech for a time and return later. Entry into the Sech was confined to the following simple question and answer: the Hetman would ask a candidate: ‘Dost thou believe in God?’ and if the man answered ‘Yes’, he would be told to cross himself, and if he crossed himself it was considered a sufficient proof that he was a Christian. After that no one asked him who he was, from where he was or why he had come to the Sech.”

Russia’s Arrival in Oral

The Ural (aka Yaik or Yaitsk) Cossacks autonomy was short-lived. In 1591, they accepted Russian citizenship. In 1613, the settlement’s name officially changed to Yaitskiy Gorodok. After Yemelyan Pugachev’s uprising (aka the Pugachev Rebellion), from 1773–75, Russian Empress Catherine the Great was ticked off and quashed the city’s Cossack identity by renaming the town to Uralsk, the Yaik River to the Ural, and referring to Yaik Cossacks as Uralsk Cossacks.

Despite multiple Cossack revolts from 1804 to 1874, all of which were suppressed, Uralsk prospered. Merchants and agriculturalists were central to its growth, with cattle breeding, fishing, and melon growing being its staple industries. According to the Russian Empire’s first and only census, conducted in 1897, the Ural Region, of which Uralsk was the administrative centre, had 293,000 inhabitants. Ninety percent were Russian/Cossack and Kazakh, 5% were Tatars, and the rest were Kalmyk, Bashkir, Mordovian and Ukrainian (aka Malorussian, meaning ‘Little Russian’). Although small in numbers, most of Uralsk’s traders were Tatars, and their work helped to bridge the sometimes tenuous divide between Russians/Cossacks and Kazakhs. They also served in the army and, with their publishing connections in Kazan, Tatarstan, they kick-started the city’s first newspaper in the late 19th century. Poet Ğabdulla Tuqay was one such famous Tatar involved in the city’s publishing industry.

The Industrial Era

In the mid-1860s, the Russian Empire’s railway network comprised 10 lines totalling 3,400 km. They linked major cities and towns, such as St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Vienna, Nizhny Novgorod, Riga, as well as the Volga-Don region. However, with a desire to increase military power and boost grain exports out of their Baltic Sea ports of Libava and Riga, Latvia, Emperor Alexander II set out to connect central-west Russia with the Urals and Lower Volga region. 

Over the next three decades, multiple new lines and branches were established, starting with the RyazanKozlov line (1866). In 1894, Uralsk’s first railway arrived in town, providing a direct line to Engels (fka Pokrovskaya Sloboda), on the banks of the Volga, 360 km to the west. The new network was called the Ryazan-Ural Railway, and also included a fleet of passenger and cargo ships on the Volga, including ones for carrying trains over the river between Engels and Saratov.

A horse pulling a cart leaves the Zhiguli brewery in Uralsk, 1900s.
Zhiguli Brewery, 1900s, Uralsk. Photo in Public Domain. Photographer unknown.

The Great Fire of Oral

One of the worst tragedies to strike Uralsk, apart from the Civil War and World War II, was a fire in April 1879. O.G. Yaroshenko, writing in the Orenburg Diocesan Gazette (p. 275–276), said two-thirds of the city was destroyed. It started in Novoselki, the poorest part of Uralsk, and also the second oldest district after Kureni. In the space of one hour, some 2,000 houses turned into a “fiery sea”. Strong winds fanned the flames further, burning the market square, shops, and spread into Kureni.

Virtually everything up to the banks of the Chagan River was obliterated, making thousands of families homeless. Orenburg, Uralsk’s closest Russian city, was affected too, with nearly 1,500 homes and shops destroyed. According to Russian historian Peter Stolpyansky (d. 1938) the Orenburg fires lasted for three weeks, and international news picked up on it too, such as The New York Times and The Cardiff Times (1857–1955).

The Russian Civil War

The Russian Civil War (1917–1922) was a trying time for Russia and its surrounding territory. The military arm of Lenin’s Bolshevik regime, the Red Army, moved into Uralsk in 1919. This led to siege attempts by the Ural Separate Army, who were part of the social-democrat White Army and led by Alexander Kolchak. Ural Cossacks formed the lion’s share of the army, numbering up to 25,000, and they served to defend the Southern Urals and Volga region.

After months of fighting, the Reds, who were better-equipped, pushed out the Ural faction, under the command of Vasily Chapayev. Among the Reds’ ranks was a young Georgy Zhukov, who later became the Soviet Union’s Minister of Defence in the 1950s. He also held several other prestigious positions during his career and won four Hero of the Soviet Union awards for his battles against the Nazis and Japanese in WWII.

The West held Zhukov in high regard for his military successes. For example, in American historian Albert Axell’s biographical book on Zhukov, he dubbed him “The Man Who Beat Hitler”. Former US President Dwight Eisenhower was a friend of Zhukov, and in his 1948 book, Crusade in Europe, he said that, “The war in Europe ended with victory and nobody could have done that better than Marshal Zhukov – we owed him that credit. He is a modest person, and so we can’t undervalue his position in our mind… there must be another type of Order in Russia, an Order named after Zhukov, which is awarded to everybody who can learn the bravery, the far vision, and the decisiveness of this soldier.”

World War II

Like Europe and Russia, Kazakhstan was hugely impacted by World War II. Roberto J. Carmack estimates, in his book ‘Kazakhstan in World War II’, that over one million people were mobilised in the country, and 450,000 were ethnic Kazakhs. There were over one hundred thousand Kazakh casualties, with many fighting in various battlefields on the European Continent. Uralsk itself formed the rear of the Stalingrad Front and served as an air defence point. It also had over a dozen industrial enterprises producing equipment and supplies for the Front, some of which were relocated from the USSR’s western regions for safety. The Zenit plant is one of the best-known. It produced ET-80 torpedoes, artillery shells, M-08 contact mines, and repaired equipment. Today it specialises in shipbuilding and repairs, as well as metal fabrication, welding, and galvanising. Other wartime factories were involved in felt production, car repair, tanning, and more.

Oral Today

Oral, as it’s officially known today, is now the West Kazakhstan Region’s capital city. It’s the fourth largest contributor to the country’s manufacturing industry, after the Atyrau, Mangystau and Karaganda Regions. Its principal activities are building construction and agricultural equipment, extracting oil and gas from the Chinaryovski and Karachaganak deposits, food production, breeding stock, and growing a wide range of crop from grain and oilseeds to potatoes and melons.

Large, empty square in front of Oral's railway station.
Oral railway station. Photo by Eurovaran is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

What to do in Oral

Given Oral’s long-standing connection to its northern neighbour, the city has a diverse mix of both Russian and Kazakh architecture, culture, and history on offer. Here’s our rundown of what to see and do in the city and nearby:

Central Bazaar

Oral’s central bazaar is on 38 Zhahansha Dosmukhamedov Street, and its main entrance is on the east side of Mukhit Street. Like most major markets in Central Asia, it has everything you need: fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy, fish, and clothes. On the north side, on Dina Nurpyeisova Street, there are the TD Laura, Rashid, and Kolos shopping centres. Across the road, overlooking Hotel Ural on Kurmangazy Street, is the Sulpak electronics shop chain with the large Atrium shopping centre beside it.

House-Museum of Yemelyan Pugachev

The Yemelyan Pugachev Museum on 35 Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue is in an 18th-century wooden house, originally owned by Ural Cossack Pyotr Kuznetsov. Pugachev lived in the house for a couple of months and married Pyotr’s 17-year-old daughter in February 1774. Ustinya Kuznetsova was 15 years younger than Pugachev. It was his second marriage too, as his previous wife, Sofya Nedyuzheva, along with their three children, were detained in Kazan, Russia, under Catherine II’s orders.

Pugachev’s time in Oral and his marriage to Kuznetsova was cut short with his capture in August 1774. However, his legacy in the city lives on through the museum. Inside the well-preserved interior are portraits of Pugachev and his associates, some of his personal possessions, swords, cannon balls, and gifts from Catherine II given to military leaders for capturing Pugachev. The museum also acts as a historical site, giving visitors a glimpse into everyday Cossack life with a kitchen, fishing equipment, and bedroom on display. 

Open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Tel: +7 7112 26 49 86.

Tickets cost 150 KZT per person or 600 KZT for a guided tour.

West Kazakhstan State University's yellow building, red roofs and large square.
West Kazakhstan State University, Oral. Photo by ArsenicG is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

House-Museum of Manshuk Mametova

The Soviet Union’s World War II history is richly filled with lauded female soldiers, such as Aktobe’s Aliya Moldagulova (sniper), Atyrau’s Khiuaz Dospanova (pilot and navigator), and tank drivers Mariya Oktyabrskaya and Aleksandra Samusenko from Crimea and Belarus respectively. And Oral, too, had one of its own: machine-gunner Manshuk Mametova.

Mametova was the country’s first woman to receive a Hero of the Soviet Union award for her bravery on the Kalinin Front in Tver, Russia. Born to a shoemaker in Bokey Orda District, southwest of Oral, she spent most of her time in Almaty and was cared for by her aunt, Amina Mametova, and uncle, Ahmet Mametov. Before taking up arms against the Germans, she studied nursing and later enrolled in Almaty’s Kazakh National Medical University. It took her a few attempts to convince the Red Army to enlist her. She was accepted in September 1942 to work as a field hospital nurse, and in her spare time she trained herself to use a Maxim machine gun, which was the world’s first automatic firearm. Her commanders were impressed with the 20-year-old’s marksmanship and invited her to join the 100th Kazakh Rifle Brigade.

She spent a year on the Kalinin Front and was known for her gutsy fighting style, apparently luring enemy soldiers to approach before opening fire, and crawling between machinegun posts while under attack from mortars and shells. In her final and fatal battle, she killed over 70 combatants, and was later buried in Nevel, Russia, and memorialised with a monument.

In 1982, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of her birth, Oral opened the Museum of Manshuk Mametova. It’s on 51 Sarayshyk Street and the single-floor house-museum showcases Manshuk’s diaries and letters, as well as books and photographs donated by her mother. There are also items on display found near Mametova’s resting place on the front line, such as her helmet, flask and machine-gun belt, and information boards and dioramas outlining the German invasion of the Soviet Union and the Kalinin Front.

For a feel of the museum’s interior and exhibits, and other highlights in the city, watch Kazakh travel filmmaker Alimbek ULAN’s Uralsk city vlog.

Open 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Tel: +7 7112 50 46 93 and +7 7112 50 62 10.

Tickets cost 100 KZT per person.

Cathedral of Archangel Mikhail

One of Oral’s oldest buildings is the Cathedral of Archangel Mikhail, on 68 Dostyk-Druzhby Street. Construction began in 1741, when the city was still a wood-walled Yaik Cossack fortress. It took ten years to complete, replacing a smaller wooden church built at the start of the century. The Cossacks funded its construction and erected a brick factory nearby to make construction more efficient.

A master from Novgorod oversaw the project and built it under the Pskov School of Architecture’s signature style. Between the 12th and early 17th centuries, the institution was one of Russia’s most influential architectural schools. The only feature of Oral’s cathedral that isn’t traditional is a four-storey tall Gothic-style bell tower on the north side.

Halfway through the Pugachev Rebellion, in 1774, the cathedral was the site of a showdown between Empress Catherine II’s soldiers and armed peasants led by Yemelyan Pugachev. For months, the soldiers had control of the fortified town and were using the cathedral to store food and gunpowder. The Pugachevites tried several times to overpower them and on their last attempt they dug a tunnel under the bell tower –where the gunpowder was stored– and detonated a charge.

Despite losing 40 men in the explosion, the soldiers still won the ensuing battle. A few months later, the Pugachevites surrendered and agreed to capture Pugachev, in return for a pardon. He was put in a cage and stored in the cathedral’s basement before being transported to Moscow for public execution the following year.

In the first half of the 20th century, the cathedral closed for several reasons—the Russian Civil War, the famine under Joseph Stalin, and forced closures because of Soviet anti-religious legislation. In 1988, after serving as a museum for 20 years, it was reverted to a place of worship, with its classically frescoed interior and iconostasis fully intact.

Entry is free, and it’s open daily from 7am to 6pm.

Pastel green-coloured church of Archangel Mikhail, Oral.
Cathedral of Archangel Mikhail, Oral. Photo by Eurovaran is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

Pushkin Museum

In 1833, legendary poet and novelist Alexander Pushkin visited Oral to conduct archive research and interviews for his book, A History of Pugachev. He stayed in Cossack leader Vasily Pokatilov’s house, on 168 Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue, which is just a few minutes’ walk north of the Children’s Cinema (in the House of Anichkin), and the Museum of Nature and Ecology.

The museum opened in 2006, in two of the rooms of Pokatilov’s old house. Both Vladimir Putin and the former Kazakhstan president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, attended the opening. The main museum room is beautifully decorated with early 19th century furniture. On show are letters from Pushkin to his wife, Natalia Pushkina-Lanskaya, sculptures, portraits, and historical photos. There are also information signs about Pushkin and some of the other high-fliers that stayed in the house over the years, such as Leo Tolstoy, and from Kazakhstan, writer Abai Kunanbaiuly and poet-intellectual Shakarim Kudaiberdiev.

Tickets cost 200 KZT with a 1,000 KZT surcharge for taking photos.

Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am to 6pm.

Karev House

Built in 1900 on 47 Karev Street is one of Uralsk’s largest historical buildings. Wealthy merchant Alexander Karev commissioned its construction as a mixed-use building. It was used in several ways over the years, such as apartments, a hotel, shops, two cinemas, and an Officer’s Club. Since 1944, it’s been home to the Moldagaliev Regional Library and the Kurmangaliev Regional Philharmonic Society. A century later, it’s still one of the city’s largest buildings, spanning more than half a block to the junction with Frunze Street and Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue.

According to local rumours, Karev competed with another successful merchant, Mr Ovchinnikov, who lived on the other side of the road. He sought to ruin Ovchinnkov’s view and block the sun from reaching his balcony. He succeeded in doing so by making his building one floor taller. However, he sadly died shortly before its completion after he fell from the scaffolding while inspecting the progress of construction.

Yellow-colored Pushkin Museum exterior in Oral, Kazakhstan.
Pushkin Museum, Oral. Photo by ArsenG is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

West Kazakhstan Regional Museum of History and Local Lore

Founded in 1836, the West Kazakhstan Regional Museum of History and Local Lore is one of the country’s oldest museums. It was first setup within the Ural Military School’s building, which is now the Pushkin Hotel. The Russian explorers and naturalists Grigory Karelin (d. 1872) and Nikolai Severtsez (d. 1885) were involved with organising some of the museum’s earliest exhibits. In 1980, it moved into the former Russian-Kyrgyz craft school’s building on 184 Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue, where it stands today. The USSR’s Ministry of Culture recognised it as the country’s best museum and awarded it with an Order of the Red Banner of Labour, which was the Soviet Union’s third-highest civil award.

Looking at it today, it’s not surprising the USSR thought of the museum so highly. There are over 100,000 items and it has eight exhibition halls covering topics such as ancient history, Kazakh ethnography, and the Golden, Nogai and Bukey Hordes. Intriguing artefacts are in abundance. These range from arrows and tools made by Eurasia’s largest Bronze Age culture, the Andronovo; two-millennia old silver and gold jewellery and horse fittings from the Saka people; and weapons and portraits of pre-19th century Kazakh warriors and leaders.

Tickets cost 200 KZT. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am to 6pm.

Less than a minutes’ walk south of the museum is Abai Square. On the east side of the square is the Ural Regional Drama Theatre (aka Russian Drama Theatre), and across the road is the Kazakh Drama Theatre, which is next to the regional akimat building. Both theatres put on regular performances, ranging from original productions for adults and children to classic plays, such as Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and Gogol’s “Marriage”.

Green and white exterior of Oral's regional museum.
Regional Museum of History and Local Lore, Oral. Photo by Eurovaran is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

Museum of Nature and Ecology

Next door to the regional history and local lore museum is the Museum of Nature and Ecology, on 151/2 Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue. There are three rooms, with the first displaying fossils, mammoth tusks, and the bones of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. The other two rooms have displays of the region’s contemporary flora and fauna, which include stuffed Asian elk, wild boars, and wolves, cases of butterflies and moths, and various bird, plant, and fish specimens.

Tel. + 8 (7112) 50 67 09

House of Anichkin and the Children’s Cinema

Across the road from the nature and ecology museum, on 166 Dostyk-Druzhby Avenue, is the Gagarin Children’s Cinema named after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. It’s in a two-storey brick building built in 1893 that belonged to Lieutenant-General Longin Anichkhin and his family. In 1904, A.L. Savva, the son-in-law to the Karev merchant family, rented out the ground floor and opened “Modern”, the city’s first purpose-made cinema. Before then, cinemas in the area were mobile, pop-up ones.

By the time the Bolsheviks took over the building, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Anichkhin family was long gone. However, the cinema continued, but was renamed “Kyzyl Tan”, meaning Red Dawn—which is also the name of a Tatar language newspaper (est. 1918) published in Bashkortostan. According to local historians, Ticket to Life was the first film with sound shown in the city, in 1934.

Today, the cinema, despite its name, shows films for people of all ages, including Soviet-era ones. One of Oral’s most famous historical films is Mazhit Begalin’s Russian Civil War drama, Steppe Peals (aka Uralsk on Fire), released in 1974. Upstairs is the region’s Department of Culture, Archives and Documentation, as well as the “Ardager” club, where older people and Soviet war veterans meet, play chess, and hold literary and music events.

White and orange-coloured old government building in Oral.
19th century headquarters of Uralsk's regional administration. Photo by ArsenG is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0.

Museum of Saken Gumarov

Saken Gumarov was a prominent producer-director for Uralsk TV, a journalist, and a painter. The museum on 120 Kasim Amanzholov St. has three rooms displaying Gumarov’s distinct and colourful artwork. His work was often compared to Sergei Kalmykov and Wassily Kandinsky’s. He was little-recognised for much of his artistic career as his style was considered too rebellious for Soviet taste, and some even considered his work child-like. Recognition for his work came in the final half-decade of his life, in 1990, with his first-ever exhibition in Kyiv, Ukraine. During this period, he held some 40 exhibitions throughout the Soviet Union. Ever since his rise to fame, critics have debated whether his work was avant-garde, abstract, or post avant-garde. The Ukrainian art community, whom were very fond of him, considered his style pioneering and classed it as a new movement: Attractivism. From Gumarov’s point of view, he thought of his work as “thought forms”, which comprised symbols, hidden themes, and images. He even liked to say that the spirits of dead ancestors led his hand while painting, and some of his friends believed he had extrasensory capabilities and could see into the future.

Gumarov had an abundance of creative talent beyond the visual arts, too. He was a stage actor, created a TV puppet show, wrote poetry, read the Koran in Farsi and Arabic, played the dombra, and set up the region’s first live broadcasts of theatrical performances. He also studied Sufism and other spiritual-philosophical disciplines.

Alzhan Kussainova’s biographical article, in Air Astana’s Tengri magazine (January 2021), encapsulates Gumarov’s nuanced character beautifully: “[He] was modest and laconic, but he radiated the delicate charm of a person with a noble soul and a loving heart. There was a never a shadow of the prosaic or philistine about him. He lived with his spirit, dreamed of great ideas and illuminated all those around him with his quiet inner light. He was a very special person, and his incredible paintings are testimony to this.”

After his death in 1995, his studio turned into the museum and the Children’s Art School (named after him) on 71 Ikhsanov Street.

Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets cost 100 KZT per person.

Phone: +7 7112 51 20 43

Exterior of Oral's regional Kazakh drama theatre.
West Kazakhstan Regional Kazakh Drama Theatre. Photo by Eurovaran is licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sutyagin Lake’s Unusual Church

Less than 10km northeast of the city is Sutyagin, an oxbow lake next to the Derkul River. Overlooking the southern side of the lake is Kumyska village, named after a Soviet-era tuberculosis* therapy centre that treated patients using Kazakhstan’s national drink: kumys (mare’s milk).

The 3km lake loops around a peninsula, which is only accessible from a natural land bridge in the north-east corner. It’s here that you’ll find an unusual looking two-floor 19th century church made of green and red bricks. This building, as well as a smaller one next to it, were also used as a military hospital in WWII.

*The effectiveness of kumys for treating tuberculosis is debatable. According to a 2020 paper by Orenburg State University, it’s still used in some areas of Russia’s Orenburg Region. The USSR had over a dozen centres offering kumys treatment that were dotted around the Orenburg and Lower to Middle Volga Regions. Treating Covid with kumys was used in Kazakhstan during the pandemic, too.

Orchards of Sadovskoe Lake

Four kilometres southeast of Sutyagin Lake is Sadovskoe Lake, which is an oxbow formed out of the Chagan River. In the late 19th century, a nunnery was built on the peninsula in honour of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos. Before this, Old Believers settled the area, and later on it was a collection of gardens owned by Uralsk’s elite families, such as the Mizinovs, and the Borodins, who were an ancient Russian noble family.

Donations from local parishioners and affluent merchant families funded the construction of Sadovskoe nunnery. Many of the monastic community were Cossack widows, who previously came to the gardens to pray for their loved ones fighting in the Napoleonic Wars. In the 1920s, after the Russian Civil War, the monastery was abolished and its gardens converted into a state farm. It re-opened in 1994, on 28 Bagban Street in Uralsk, beside the Chagan River.

Nothing remains of the nunnery, gardens, or Old Believer settlements today. However, the peninsula is worth visiting for its peaceful acorn and oak-filled woodlands. If you visit, you might spot the odd tombstone, as well as apple trees seeded from the long-gone gardens. The apples grown in northwest Kazakhstan, and undoubtedly from Sadovskoe, were a favourite of Russian Tsars and even won an award at the 1900 Paris Exposition. In 2016, Kairat Karimov and Roza Umurzakova opened a garden nursery on the peninsula to grow and study variety-rootstock combinations. By 2020, they had five thousand apple trees, encompassing 200 varieties, and 80 types of rootstock. They grow grapes and other fruits, too, and have plans to open a medicinal garden and scale-up their production to an industrial level.

There’s accommodation near the south-east corner of the lake, in SAYAT Ethno-Tourist Centre, which specialises in equestrian training. To book, contact them via WhatsApp on +7 705 802 1717.

One floor traditional Russian-style house in Oral.
Traditional house in Oral. Photo by Eurovaran is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0.

Oral Travel Companies​ and Guides

The only travel company in Oral that specialises in domestic tourism is the West Kazakhstan Tourist Information Center (WKTIC). It’s a division of the Foundation for the Promotion of Scientific Research (FSNI), which runs scientific projects, expeditions, volunteer projects, and educational programs throughout the West Kazakhstan Region. To enquire about trips, contact WKTIC via their Instagram page or call them on +8 7715 95 00 88.

For general advice about visiting Oral and the West Kazakhstan Region, Visit Uralsk is a useful resource. It’s run by the regional government’s Department of Entrepreneurship and Industrial-Innovative Development. They do not arrange trips.

How to get to Oral​

Getting to and from Oral, and travelling around the city, is easy. Russia, and distant Kazakh cities, are reachable by railway, bus, and several flights. Smaller towns and villages in northwest Kazakhstan are reachable too, via local bus or taxi.

Oral Railway

Oral railway station is in front of Chapaev Square on Zhukov Street. There are direct trains to Aktobe, Karaganda, Nur-Sultan, and Almaty, as well as most major towns and cities along the way. Trains also run into the Volga region and to Moscow. Although nearby, Orenburg, Atyrau and Samara are not connected by train. Trains to Aktobe, and many other destinations in northern Kazakhstan, cross through Russia, so make sure you have a visa, unless you’re exempt.

To book tickets or find out where else you can visit, check out Railways.kz and Tutu.ru.

Oral Buses and Taxis

There are plenty of taxi companies in Oral, and for the right price they’ll go just about anywhere. Local firm, Taxi Online, provides modern cars and drivers to Atyrau and Aktobe, as well as to neighbouring Russian cities, such as Samara, Orenburg, and Ufa. For more numbers of vetted taxi firms, see GoTaxi.kz and TaksoPark.kz’s websites. Taxi apps, Taxi Maxim, Yandex Taxi, inDriver and Poehali! have drivers available, too. As a general guideline, the meters start at 500 KZT and it’s an additional 180 KZT per kilometre.

Hazar, the city’s bus station, is on No. 4 Syrym Datuly Street. It opened in 2019, next to the old bus station, which is now a Svetofor supermarket. It’s at the eastern end of the city and easily reached by taxi or bus. Tourister.ru has a list of Oral bus numbers that go to Hazar. The station has dozens of destinations and also works with multiple Russian carriers to service towns and cities in the Orenburg and Samara Regions. Buses also run to other areas in the West Kazakhstan and Atyrau Regions. In theory, it’s possible to book tickets in advance via Hazar’s website, as well as Tutu.ru and Busfor.ru. However, not all their stops are listed or easy to book online. So, we recommend booking tickets directly at the Hazar terminal.                                                                              

Oral Flights

Air Astana, FlyArystan, and QazaqAir run direct domestic flights between Oral and Atyrau, Aktau, Almaty, and Nur-Sultan. Direct international flights are available for Astrakhan via QazaqAir and Moscow-Domodedovo via S7 Airlines.

Oral Ak Zhol Airport, as it’s officially known, is a 17 km, 25-minute drive southeast of the city centre. From 0600 to 2200, the No. 12 bus runs between the airport and the central train station. There’s also the No. 61 to Fedorovka town, 30 km to the west, and the No. 283 to Orenburg, Russia, which takes over four hours. There’s a taxi rank, too, but it’s significantly cheaper to book one in advance. You can expect to pay upwards of 10,000 KZT if you hire one on the spot.

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