With its population thinly spread out all over the widest territory in the world (Moscow excepted), Russia is fertile ground for crap cities. It this edition of ‘Crap Cities of the World’, we look at Ussuriysk, a city that permanently leaves travellers with two questions: ‘’Am I spelling it right?’’ and ‘’Why would anyone live here?’’
How do you get to Ussuriysk?
Ussuriysk isn’t a crap city because it is poorly connected. A couple hours by bus from Vladivostok and sitting right on the Trans-Siberian railway, getting to Ussuriysk is a walk in the park. But unless you live there or are transiting to North Korea, chances are you won’t stop here.
Wait — North Korea? Yes! If you hear people telling you that it is possible to travel by train from Moscow to Pyongyang, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was a single continuous train ride (and, incidentally, the longest in the world). The truth is that you’ll have to change trains in Ussuriysk.
Accommodation in Ussuriysk
If you are to stay in Ussuriysk, we can only recommend the very originally-named ‘Hotel Ussuriysk’. We would say it is a great place — decent rooms with hot water — if this wasn’t balanced out by classic ‘stern yet confused’ service. It looks like Soviet hell from outside, but once you’re inside it is quite nice and has a decent pirate-themed buffet restaurant.
What is there to see in Ussuriysk?
Actually, Ussuriysk can make for an interesting stroll. It is a typical Soviet-era Siberian town, with all the monuments and street names that implies. But the same could be said of many other cities.
What Ussuriysk has over theses other cities is its proximity to two cool places. First, as we’ve mentioned before, it is very conveniently connected to Vladivostok, which is a must-see city of Russia. However, with this article being about crappy and weird places, we shall stop discussing Vladivostok and bring Vodvizhenka under the spotlight.
Vodvizhenka can be reached using Ussuriysk public transportation. Just ask around to find the right bus as it seems they all go and don’t go there at the same time.
Vodvizhenka used to be a military airstrip and was recently decommissioned. A few years ago, you could still find many planes lying around. Sadly, those have all but disappeared now, but you can still visit the control tower as well as the hangars. The town isn’t a ghost-town proper, as you’ll see people walking around, but to me it seems like Baltimore in The Wire meets the Fall of the Berlin Wall. There are still two planes left like monuments, one of which was a jet prototype that is effectively the grandfather of the MIG, and the other a bomber plane which fell into the Sea of Japan, killing all of its crew. At least, this is what a babushka (wearing cat-ears and claiming to be a Red Army pilot) told me onsite. If you’re going to stay a day in Ussuriysk, then a visit of nearby Vodvizhenka seems to be the only sane thing to do.
What to eat in Ussuriysk
As a town of a considerable size, there is plenty to eat in Ussuriysk. You’ll find that the city has a significant Russian-Korean population, meaning lots of Korean restaurants. The hidden gem in our opinion, however, is the ‘Kazan-Mangal’ restaurant. Kazan-Mangal offers a wide menu of dishes of Mongolian and nomadic origins. You’ll find anything from delicious soups to big juicy meat skewers at a very reasonable price. Ussuriysk also has many Soviet buffet-type restaurants, or Stolichnaya, where you can find delicious local fare for pennies.
There are a few druzhba or soviet-era vodka shot bars around town, for a grim yet, in its own way, atmospheric experience. There are also a few clubs which will probably leave you depressed and even a micro-brewery filled with hipsters who are clearly taking that ironic thing way too far.
Nightlife of Ussuriysk
In my opinion, do it the locals’ way- grab a few beers at the Stolichnaya and see where that leads you!
Is Ussuriysk worth a visit?
I don’t think that the Ussuriysk Tourism Board should expect a massive spike in visitors anytime soon — nor should you plan a trip to go there specifically — but if you were to want to stop somewhere along the Trans-Siberian railway that would be off the beaten path without being completely out in the sticks, Ussuriysk is a good bet. Vodvizhenka is genuinely cool for urban exploration enthusiasts and the city has everything you might need for a last stop before North Korea
Getting out of Ussuriysk
Your best bets are Khabarovsk and Vladivostok. Vladivostok is an international transportation hub with a long history while Khabarovsk is the capital of the region. Both of them have an airport, and thus offer an escape from the madness of Ussuriysk.
Interested in other crap cities of the world? Check out our article on the spectacularly shit Chinese town of Yongzhou. If you really wanna see Ussuriysk for yourself, check it out on YPT’s Moscow to Pyongyang tour!