Chaikovskiy’s hometown in Udmurtia seen through the lens of a photography artist from Kramatorsk, Ukraine

by Dmitriy Alimkin

Established in the second half of the 18th century, Votkinsk, population about 100,000, is a town in the Udmurt Republic, Russian Federation. I happened to be there in June 2014. It proved to be easy to get to Votkinsk from Ukraine.

There is a daily train service to Izhevsk from Kazansky station (Kazansky vokzal), one of nine main railway stations in Moscow. One can take a bus from Izhevsk (1,000 km east of Russia’s capital or some five hours by car from Kazan) to Votkinsk (60 km north-east of Izhevsk). The climate in my hometown of Kramatorsk is very different from what they have in Votkinsk. In June the temperature outside remained +12 °С for the whole week in Votkinsk and it often rained. Because of the high levels of humidity, the vegetation here is rich in shades of green, trees are naturally growing luxuriantly.

Although the town is home to a big industrial complex the air is kept clean in the area. I think this is largely thanks to the abundance of forests around the town and relative isolation of the whole region. The local pond is a cherry on top of the Udmutrian cake. It is a man-created body of water that is enveloped by the cityscape. Water is a natural relaxation element. I couldn’t help noticing how enchanted the dwellers of Votkins are by their pond. I regularly observed them flocking at the waterfront: some of them gazing into the distance, some gull spotting. Local fishermen most probably use their pursuit as an excuse to hang out by the water. The fish that they normally catch did not leave me impressed at all.

Local people are calm and well-wishing.  Compared to a provincial town like Kramatorsk — let alone mega cities like Russian capital Moscow — nobody is in a rush here, no fuss is being made about life.  I found the town in a process of large scale earth-digging works: central heating pipes unearthed here, municipal system of roads renovated there. The local cultural centre and an Orthodox church along with a number of other buildings were being freshened up as well.

An old horse carriage on display at the historical museum in Votkinsk, Udmurtia, Russian Federation
An old horse carriage on display at the historical museum in Votkinsk, Udmurtia, Russian Federation

Yet the world knows Votkinsk less for its pond. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a renowned Russian composer, spent the first eight years of his life here. Pyotr Ilyich came to this world in Votkinsk in 1840. A local museum celebrates his life. Beautiful museum. Here you learn about the great composer and have his epoch uncovered for you in an engaging way by the items on the show, centuries-old Russian log houses and a greenhouse of the time among them. Vintage horse carriages caught my eye. The museum is a hop from the pond.

The Berezovka neighbourhood of Votkinsk is home to the mighty sky-reaching birches nestled among the five-story brick houses. Awe-inspiring fur trees and pines form a forest right behind the human dwellings. The forest is chartered by numerous paths, favorite routes for local joggers and MTB enthusiasts. Deeper into the forest, there is a ski training camp. I was left with an impression that skiing is what all Votkin residents do come wintertime. Many of the sportspeople here are said to have achieved significant results in winter sports.

Most of the inhabitants of Votkinsk are ethnic Russians. Some people are of mixed Udmurt-Russian origins. The number of Udmurts is low. The Tatars are even less numerous despite the proximity of Tatarstan. This is why I was surprised when I stumbled on Tatar festivities in Votkinsk. The ethnic minority celebrated Sabantuy, a holiday whose name means ‘plough’s feast’ in Turkic languages.

Sabantuy festivities in Votkinsk, the birthplace of Chaykovskiy
Sabantuy festivities in Votkinsk, the birthplace of Chaykovskiy

I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that Votkinsk, a town with the population half the size of Kramatorsk, has new multi-story housing  projects under construction. Some of the modern apartment buildings have recently been completed and saw scores of families move in.

I marvelled at the old part of the town, as I took to the centuries-old streets. Wood is cheap construction material that is in abundance in this part of the world. While one would have to look hard to spot old brick and stone houses in the area — Illycha Street has them, Krasnaya bolnitsa (the Red Hospital) from the early 20th century counts among the rarities as well. The vintage houses made of wood are still in good shape. some of them still feature the authentic gates that spot solar-themed ornaments. It is sad to note however that the pace of modern life has not spared some of the houses. Plastic window panes and satellite dishes are a common view in Votkinsk’s Old Town these days.

The Red Hospital in Votkinsk dates back to the  early 20th century
The Red Hospital in Votkinsk dates back to the early 20th century

I was running out of time. It turned out to be impossible for me to cast an artistic photo net over the town. Essentially, my view of Votkinsk is travel photography.

Votkinsk is a lovely little town for ethno-tourism and a great place for the creative types who need to recharge their mental and spiritual batteries after the hectic life in the city.

For more of Dmitriy Alimkin’s work go here.

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