Oskemen (known as Ust-Kamenogorsk in Russian language) is an administrative center that extends to the easternmost part of Kazakhstan nearby the border of Mongolia. The territory of this region borders with Russia in the North and Northeast as well as with China in the South and Southeast part. The area is only 50 km from the Westernmost point of Mongolia, however Kazakhstan does not share a common border with Mongolia since a small area between Kazakhstan and Mongolia is divided by Russia and China.
Oskemen is located 800 km North from Almaty and about the same distance from the capital Astana. The city is situated at the confluence of the Irtysh and Ulba Rivers and has a population of around 350 000. Oskemen is a perfect getaway to the East Kazakhstan Region, especially to the gorgeous Altai Mountains further towards to the east.
Oskemen is a beautiful old town with riverside surrounding the city. It is a cultural, educational, scientific and technological hub of the region. The city’s industrial enterprises operate in such industries as non-ferrous metallurgy and metalworking, mechanical engineering and instrument making, energy, light, food and timber industries. It is also home to the country’s only car plant producing Lada cars.
The roots of the town are connected to a military expedition commanded by Major Ivan Likharev, he built a fortress here in 1720. Russia, under Peter the Great, was interested to secure its Eastern borders and to expand its trade routes further East and to study the mineral wealth of the Altai. The fortress was named Ust-Kamenogorsk and made the Eastern side of a complete defense path on the edge of the Irtysh that was designed to protect the land from the Zhungars and to serve essentially as a base for the conquest of Central Asia. In 1757 the Dzungar Khanate was taken which reduced the importance of Ust-Kamenogorsk as a military fortress.
The city slowly grew into a trade center and was well positioned for the opening up of the Altai. In 1869 the town was given the city status due to its growth in size. Moreover, the city gained importance as an industrial center due to its favorable location at the foot of the Altai Mountains and at the shore of an open river. A port was erected and a rail link to the iron ore mines of Ridder was constructed since the silver required to mint coins in Russia arrived from the Altai Mountains. The silver required to mint coins in Russia came from the Altai Mountains, and the settlement of Russian farmers on the left bank of the Irtysh raised the importance of agriculture. Factories were built in Ust-Kamenogorsk to process agricultural commodities.
Tty developed into a significant hub of non – ferrous metallurgy, based on the ores mined in the surrounding region during WW2. A zinc plant started operating in 1947, and a lead plant soon followed. The Ulba Metallurgical Plant employed in the late 1940s presented fuel for nuclear power plants. A titanium and magnesium plant opened in 1965. With the end of the Soviet Union, all these factories suffered and lead to closure. Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s independence also led to the start of a mint in Ust-Kamenogorsk in 1992, producing coins and awards for the new state. Ust-Kamenogorsk grew into the capital of a much-enlarged region in 1997, when Semipalatinsk Region was merged into it.
What to see in Oskemen
Oskemen Ethnographic Park
Ethnic-village is the open-air museum with monuments of wooden, stone architecture of ethnic groups living in the territory of East Kazakhstan, as well as archeological items. The park was built on the left side of the Irtysh River. Ethnic-village holds an airplane and helicopter released from Soviets, a bunch of the status of Soviet heroes, and a collection of Lenin monuments, which are placed around a line of WW2 tanks along with the other big number of guns, rockets and radar equipment. There are also an impressive collection of traditional houses from different regions of the Soviet Union like Kazakh yurt, a Ukrainian yurt, a Russian hut, Korean, German, Armenian and European courtyards. In general, the park is well maintained and its the top place to go if you are in Oskemen.
The city of Oskemen is the first after Astana, where another Baiterek appeared. The city administration calls it the “younger brother” of the famous capital Baiterek in Astana. The monument is one of the main attractions of the city. It was a gift by local entrepreneurs to the towns for the celebration of the 290th anniversary of Ust-Kamenogorsk. The total height of the monument is 28.5 m, and its weight is 22 tons.
The pretty, excellently preserved central park offers for a pleasant walk. Park Zhastar, former Park Kirova is located in the center of Oskemen where are numerous oldest buildings and some museums have surrounded the park. The park contains several golden statues, illustrating themes from the fairy tales and the monument of the Kirov.
Museum of History and Folklore
The Regional Museum of History and Folklore is located within Zhastar Park, it indicates a collection of cannons and some balbals. Moreover, the museum exhibits on the nature of East Kazakhstan Region, with full animal-laden dioramas. There is a large stuffed Siberian deer, or maral, one of the prides of the Altai, in the center of the room. In addition, there is also a room dedicated to the history of Oskemen with a unique collection of items like an anchor from a riverboat, a model of the Pokrovsky Cathedral and a Singer sewing machine.
The intersection of Irtysh and Ulba is called Strelka, which means Arrow in Russian. It was a site where Russian immigrants first started constructing Oskemen. But today there are no remains of those early settlers. Rather, a large WW2 memorial overlooks the scene, and the boulevard rounding the 2 rivers. An inscription records that 51,000 citizens of East Kazakhstan died on the fields of battle during WW2.
85 km South from the regional center of Oskemen, on the East side of Bozanbay village lie five large lakes. These unique natural lakes are called the Sibinksk Lakes. The lakes are located on the steppe hill and look impressive along the small Sibin River with its meadow forest of aspen and birch. Sibinsk is a group of five oval lakes with each having their own name: Sadyrkol, Tortkara, Shalkar, Korzhinkol and Karakol. The total area of the Sibinsky Lakes is 5.56 square km and the depths are varying from 2,5 to 38 meters. There is an unnamed stream flowing through the lakes. There are also corals growing at the bottom of the Sibinsky lakes
If you look at the lakes from space, from above they resemble the foot print of the claws of a bear that scratched the ground and were then filled with water. In fact bears are really often seen around the lakes. However, they keep distance and fortunately prefer not to be seen by people. When and how these lakes emerged in the mountain range is a mystery of nature. Some believe that a meteorite broke into pieces and crashed into this place. It would also explain the fantastic, mysterious rock boulders weighing hundreds of tons around the lakes. Either way, the landscapes are truly grandiose. There is no visible inflow of water as they get their water from underground springs. Such beautiful places cannot stay without legends. For many centuries the territory of Kazakhstan has been a constant gathering place for three religions of Islam, Christianity and Buddhism. The lakes are ideal for swimming and the flat Southern shores, as well as the area around them, is great for camping.
Altai Alps Ski Resort
The Altai Alps ski resort is one of the most famous ski resorts in Kazakhstan. It is located 20 km East from Oskemen at the picturesque slopes of the Altai Mountains. Altai Alps resort is an excellent and modern ski resort equipped with everything necessary for high-quality outdoor activities. There are many slopes of various categories of difficulty with two cable cars, sports equipment rental offices and much more. Few of the slopes are illuminated so you can ski late till the evening and sometimes even during the night times.
Travel to Oskemen
Air Astana offers daily flights from both Astana and Almaty. SCAT airlines have flights to Almaty twice a week and one to Karaganda. Also Russian Airlines S7 have four flights a week to Moscow. Perhaps the most quick and comfortable way of transportation to come to the Eastmost city of Oskemen.
Oskemen airport lies at the northwest edge of the city, off Bazhov Street in about 12 km from the center. You can reach there by busses No 2, 12 and 39 from the city center.
Since 2014 there is an express Talgo train running on alternate days between Oskemen and Almaty 18h and cost about 900 tenge to 1500 tenge. There are also departures to the neighboring cities such as Radar and Zyryanovsk. Here is a website where you can follow a schedule and purchase tickets here
The city’s main railway Zashita is situated in the northwestern suburb at the western terminus of the No 3 trump road.
Chose for the adventure travellers, particularly coming from Almaty. From southern capital to Oskemen is about 1000 km to drive. Due to the road conditions by bus it takes 30h.
There is one daily bus to Almaty and Astana, Karaganda and Pavlodar, as well as has two departures to Katon Karagai town next to the Katon Karagai National Park in Altai Mountains. Additionally, there are busses to destinations in Russia like Omsk, Tomsk and Novosibirsk. The bus station serves mainly for the the destinations within East Kazakhstan Region with several departures to Radar and Semei. You can check the schedule here
The main long-distance bus station sits in the center, along the Abai Avenue on the right bank of the Ulba River close to the Palace of Sport.
Other sights & destinations near Oskemen
Page updated 18.9.2022