Khabarovsk - A Spotless City

We spent most of the day trying to find Larisa, or her parents, to no avail. Yulia found a database of Khabarovsk phone numbers (city-wide printed phone directories don't exist here), but there were more than a hundred "Fedotovs" and "Fedotova"s listed -- too many to call randomly.

My hopes rose when I got an email from an American named Jeff Wheeler, who knew Larisa in 1995 and has apparently stayed in touch with her. He sent six phone numbers -- all in either Moscow or St. Petersburg -- and I excitedly began dialing. Four yielded terse responses along the lines of "No one here by that name!" and the other two just rang and rang. Argh. Jeff also sent an email address for her, so I sent a short message as my hopes began to dwindle.

The walkway down to Khabarovsk's Amur River embankment reflects the order and cleanliness found in the city. (David Hillegas)

At the end of a frustrating day, David, Yulia and I took a stroll around Khabarovsk. I'm absolutely astonished at how much this city has changed -- and at how different it is from any other place I've been in Russia. It's spotlessly clean. The buildings downtown are beautifully renovated. There are numerous streetlights, and they all work. There are brand new churches, monuments, playgrounds and parks. It's like Disneyland for adults -- Main Street, Russia.

It's hard to express just how weird this is. In every Russian city or town I've ever been in, you have to watch for gaping potholes in sidewalks, or risk breaking an ankle. But here, the sidewalks downtown are not only perfectly smooth, they're made with lovely interlocking bricks. There's not a piece of trash anywhere. And on Lenin Square, a beautiful fountain gushes in the center of a perfectly manicured plaza, surrounded on all sides by bright neon signs.

Everyone we ask tells us the same thing: Khabarovsk is clean, pretty and functional because Governor Victor Ishaev keeps it that way. His main focus in governing, apparently, is making sure the water runs, the roads are smooth, and the electrical grid never fails. It's impossible for us not to contrast Khabarovsk with Vladivostok, where the city's vibrant beauty was offset by the fact that we had no hot water in the apartment, the road into town had potholes the size of watermelons, and empty beer bottles dotted the waterfront.

We strolled until 11 p.m. or so, then took a taxi back to the apartment Yulia shares with her parents in the outskirts of the city. Just before going to sleep, I checked my email one more time -- and what do you know? There was an email from Larisa!

Lenin Square, a beautifully manicured plaza in central Khabarovsk, draws evening crowds. (David Hillegas)

"Hey, Lisa, how are you! That was a real great surprise to get an email from you! I remember you guys very well! I moved to Moscow in 1998 with my family... At the moment I'm settled in St. Pete, Russia and own a little advertising company in Moscow...."

Hurrah! I can't wait to see Larisa when we reach St. Petersburg in November -- and we'll wait and do our Road Story update on her then. For now, we're on to our next stop: Birobidzhan.

By Lisa Dickey |  September 9, 2005; 10:30 AM ET
Previous: Khabarovsk - The Search for Larisa | Next: Birobidzhan - The Search for a Room


Please email us to report offensive comments.

It so wonderful to see news about this region in Russia. Thank you for the beautiful picutres.

Posted by: Melissa H | September 9, 2005 03:02 PM

It so wonderful to see news about this region in Russia. Thank you for the beautiful picutres.

Posted by: Melissa H | September 9, 2005 03:04 PM

Enjoying your pictures from Paris. Hope your travels are exceeding your expectations.

Posted by: John Rigo | September 9, 2005 03:36 PM

You guys do great work. Excellent writing giving an interior view of Russia now and the photographs are outstanding. Can hardly wait for the book to come out.

On on!

Posted by: reddog | September 9, 2005 04:54 PM

It's a great pleasure to read about your adventures.
I don't know if you are familiar with a guy named: Ivan Gorelik. He has a website: 51/Nebula/3735/
Check if out. Among other things, he has a narrative of a trip he took with his wife Irina from Moscow-Magadan-Moscow, which is an amazing odyssey.
He is just as mad and romantic as you are!
I look forward to continue reading about your own odyssey!

Best regards.

Posted by: Ed L. | September 9, 2005 07:11 PM

hows the food?

Posted by: john Lewis | September 12, 2005 03:36 AM

The food is not bad... Here in birobidzhan, we've had a lot of pelmeny (essentially Russian ravioli) and potatoes. No more home-cooked meals for us here. There's also a huge open-air market where we bought almonds, dried fruit, bananas etc. You can get just about anything here.

Posted by: Lisa Dickey | September 13, 2005 05:48 AM

I am looking for a friend name Ekatrina Namova, she is origianly from Khabarovsk, I believe her parents still live there. Phone number I have does not work and nobody answers letters from her parents address, the last time we spoke was in Seattle 2000, 42-422-35318 was the last number. Could you please tell me the best way to find her or her parents. I have dont know how else to find her.

Posted by: Andre H | September 22, 2005 09:31 PM

Ciao, ciao by Franco and Catherine

Posted by: Franco | October 16, 2005 05:20 PM

Khabarovsk hosts a unique demographic profile, compared to other cities. I dont know if you noticed, due to a high number of post-secondary institutions (over 20), the ratio of women to men is almost 2 to 1! Khabarovsk is the "gem of the east", and is well renowned for its beautiful women.

Posted by: khabaravchanin | October 18, 2005 10:50 AM

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