Muscat Daily - - BREAK -

At the ex­treme south­ern ex­tent of the Ural Moun­tains in Rus­sia, about 140km west of the bor­der with Kaza­khstan, there are some hills that are com­posed largely of iron ore. So rich is their iron con­tent that mag­netic com­passes can­not func­tion near it and birds avoid fly­ing over it.

The Rus­sians call the moun­tain ‘Mag­nit­naya’ or the Mag­netic Moun­tain. It is at the foot of the Mag­nit­naya Moun­tain; on the east­ern slope of the Ural moun­tain lies Mag­ni­to­gorsk the sec­ond largest city in Rus­sia that is not the ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tre of any fed­eral sub­ject or district. It is home to ‘Mag­ni­to­gorsk Iron and Steel Works’, the largest steel plant in the coun­try and one of the largest in the world.

Mag­ni­to­gorsk was built in the 1930s to ful­fill Stalin’s plan to trans­form the pre­dom­i­nantly agrar­ian na­tion into a coun­try of metal. Stalin was im­pressed by the great progress the Amer­i­cans had made in heavy in­dus­tries. In­deed, Mag­ni­to­gorsk was mod- eled af­ter two of the most ad­vanced steel pro­duc­ing cities in the US then: Gary in In­di­ana and Pitts­burgh in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Mag­ni­to­gorsk was sup­posed to be a com­pletely planned city. The orig­i­nal lay­out drafted by the Ger­man ar­chi­tect Ernst May was that of a lin­ear city with rows of sim­i­lar su­perblock neigh­bour­hoods run­ning par­al­lel to the fac­tory, with a strip of green­ery, sep­a­rat­ing them. But when Ernst ar­rived on site in Oc­to­ber 1930, he found that the lo­cal of­fi­cials had al­ready be­gun con­struc­tion. The sprawl­ing fac­tory and cleans­ing lakes left lit­tle room avail­able for de­vel­op­ment; he had to re­design his set­tle­ment to fit the mod­i­fied site.

Dur­ing the first phase of con­struc­tion, 250,000 skilled and un­skilled work­ers were put to work. Most of these were forced labour re­cruited from dis­pos­sessed peas­ants who were kicked off their farms dur­ing Stalin’s deku­lak­i­sa­tion and col­lec­tivi­sa­tion move­ments.

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