Kuzbas: Coal

Kuzbas: Hard Times in the Siberian Coalfield

Now we will look south to Kuznets Basin, which is also called the Kuzbas. The cities in this region are older, but it is also a metallurgy/mining area. All of the rails for Soviet railroads were made there. This area also shows the tradeoff between profitability in use of resources and environmental degradation. Kuznetsa means foundry or blacksmith shop, and bas means basin. There have had serious mining accidents in the region in recent years (for a recent news story about coal mining in the Kuzbas and an economic and demographic profile click here).

The film began by showing the Trans Siberian railroad. The Kuzbas has some of the largest mines in world, and the commentator compared it to Pittsburg in America. Novokuznetsk is only ½ was across Russia from Moscow but by train it takes 3 days to get there. Few people lived in this part of Russia, it was like the American Wild West, a frontier before the railroad was built (it took settlers 3 years to walk there from Moscow). 

Initially convicts and political prisoners were used to build the steel mills. In 1995 (the date of the film) 6 million people lived in the Kuzbas region, ½ million in the city of Novokuznetsk (the city population has a similar size today).  

According to the Kuzbas Chamber of Commerce; Coal mining accounts for 32% of the overall industrial output. The Kuzbass coal reserves make up 690 billion tons of low-ash, low sulphur content (less than 1%) featuring all well-known grades and quality characteristics pertaining to coking and steam coals. Kuzbass currently mines 52% of Russian bituminous coal output, with 84% share for coking coal.

After 1917 Lenin industrialized the USSR, depending largely on coal. In 1987 miners went on strike, which was the beginning of the political changes that led to end of USSR.

The USSR heavily subsidized mines before the collapse of the government. During the Soviet period people didn’t pick their occupations, they were channeled into jobs. Today Novokuznetsk is a free market zone. But factory equipment in the 1990s was very outdated (this was pretty much true for the iron industry in the US as well). Heavy industry everywhere faces problems modernizing, but economically this was even more difficult in Russia during 1990s because of the collapse of the economy.

All of the train track in the USSR were made in Novokuznetsk. Factories there also make ball bearings, rods, and beams for construction. The railways allowed industry to grow quickly in USSR by connecting industrial Siberia cities to the more populated European part of Russia. Life spans in the Kubas are 8 years shorter than in rest of Russia because of heavy industrial pollution.

The film showed dachas. At the time the film was made, 1/3 of Russia’s vegetables came from private gardens, as well as milk and eggs. Dr. Mikkelson pointed out that dachas are also important today. Traditionally they were were a small piece of land, with or without buildings, that supported a garden for family. Dachas served the duel purpose of providing a place for families to escape from pollution in the city.

Below is a Google Map in satellite view of the region surrounding Novokuznetsk. Take a look at the unusual colors of the landscape in some areas. You can use the + and - keys to zoom in and out.

For a recent profile of the region, including population and economic statistics, click here