Olivia Kroth: Khabarovsk on the Amur River

Khabarovsk on the Amur River

by Olivia Kroth

Khabarovsk (Хабаровск), with about 600.000 inhabitants, is the largest city and administrative centre of Khabarovsk Krai in Russia’s Far East, only 30 kilometres from the Chinese border, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers. While the Amur flows eastward along the border with China, the Ussuri flows northward. Khabarovsk is a stop of the Trans-Siberian Train between Moscow and Vladivostok. By rail, the city of Khabarovsk is a six-day, 5.300 mile journey from Moscow. The flight takes nine hours. “Khabarovsk has 300 days of sun per year, and it is on the same latitude as Nice. It is therefore no surprise that poplar trees typical of central Russia alternate with those native to the taiga and other exotic vegetation – larches, cedars, Manchurian nut trees and Japanese flowering cherries. The best time to visit Russia’s Far East is the second half of May and the beginning of June” (RUSSIA BEYOND THE HEADLINES, April 2009).

Russian Cossacks settled in this area in the 17th century, setting up fortified camps, called ostrogs, on the Amur river. In 1858, the Russians founded the military outpost of Khabarovsk, named after the Russian explorer, Yerofey Khabarov. In the 19th century, Governor-General Nikolay Muravyov took over, under his administration Khabarovsk grew quickly. The Governor-General settled Baikal Cossacks along the Amur river, organized steamboat transportation and began to build a postal road. For his lifetime work he received the title Amursky.

In 1891, a bronze statue of Muravyov was erected on one of the Amur river cliffs. In 1929, it was taken off and replaced with a statue of Lenin, which stood there until 1989. The Muravyov-Amursky memorial was restored, in 1993. Today, a street is named in his honour and a monument to this famous statesman can be admired in Central Park. His statue is also featured on the Russian 5.000 ruble banknote, issued by the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, in 2006. The Amursky rail and road bridge is shown on this banknote as well. The bridge won the gold medal of the World Exhibition in Paris, in the early 20th century.

Governor-General Nikolay Nikolayevich Muravyov-Amursky, Никола́й Никола́eвич Муравьёв-Аму́рский (23.08.1809 – 30.1881):

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During the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945), Khabarovsk formed part of the Soviet Far East Front within the Far Eastern Military District. From the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet Union was compelled to hold more than 40 divisions in the Far East to resist the ally of fascist Nazi Germany – militaristic Japan. These Soviet divisions attacked and won against the Japanese Kwantung Army. In August 1945, they were still fighting in Manchuria. Today, about 4.000 veterans of the war against militaristic Japan are still  alive in Khabarovsk. A popular song about border guards standing on the “high banks of the Amur” to protect the motherland is a reminder of this bloody war.

From the 25th to the 31st of December 1949, Khabarovsk was the scene for war crime trials, in which 12 members of the Japanese Kwantung Army were tried for the manufacture and use of biological weapons during the Great Patriotic War. As early as 1941, members of the Japanese Unit 731 had air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas, which caused epidemic plague outbreaks. All 12 accused Japanese war criminals were found guilty and sentenced to terms between two and 25 years in a labor camp. Four Japanese generals received the longest term of 25 years: General Yamada Otozo, Commander-in-Chief of the Kwantung Army; Lt. General Kajitsuka Ryuji, Chief of the Medical Administration; Lt. General Takahashi Takaatsu, Chief of the Veterinary Service; Major General Kawashima Kiyoshi, Chief of Unit 731. They did not serve the full term of 25 years, though, but were repatriated to Japan, in 1956.

At the Museum of Military History in Khabarovsk this painting shows a scene from the Great Patriotic War:

The Military Historical Museum of the Far Eastern Military District in Khabarovsk gives detailed information about the formation and development of the Soviet Army in the Far East. Models of weapons are exhibited in 13 halls. Heavy military equipment has been placed in the courtyard and on the observation deck. The museum is located on the bank of the Amur river. A monument at Glory Square honours the fallen soldiers of the Great Patriotic War. The modern 30 metre monument towers above the square. Its central structure is a wall around the Eternal Flame, storing the names of nearly 32.7000 citizens of Khabarovsk who did not return from the war, Heroes of the Soviet Union.

In 2012, Khabarovsk was bestowed the title „City of Military Glory“ by President Vladimir Putin. On the President’s website, Kreml.ru, we can read in Russian and English: „Khabarovsk received this honorary title in recognition of  the courage, steadfast spirit and mass heroism its defenders showed in the fight for their Fatherland’s freedom and independence.“

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin:

 The Amur is Khabarovsk’s central artery. The city was built along the river, its five districts stretch for 45 kilometers along the river bank. Amursky Boulevard in the city centre is a lively place with a local market, many interesting shops and restaurants offering traditional Russian or Chinese cuisine. “The fusion of Russian and Chinese cultures is felt in the food, culture and even lifestyle of its residents. That Khabarovsk has such a strong Asian influence should not seem surprising, as the city is located only 17 kilometres from the border with China. The nearest Chinese settlement, Fuyuan, is 65 kilometres down the Amur river from Khabarovsk” (RUSSIA & INDIA REPORT, 06.12.2014).

At the river station, located in the Central Park of Culture and Relaxation, people can take a boat ride on the Amur. At night, a walk along the river shows the city illuminated by coloured lights. An observation deck in the park offers a good view of the Amur. The Khabarovsk Aquarium shows fresh water fish of the Amur river basin. The Okladnikov Museum features 120.000 ancient artifacts pertaining to the Amur Region. It is the main archaeological museum of Russia’s Far East. Khabarovsk even owns a beach. The City Beach (Хабаровский пляжon the River Promenade just below the cathedral is hugely popular on warm summer days and packed with sunbathers. 

The Amur River at Khabarovsk:

In wintertime, beautiful ice sculptures are on display in the parks. When spring arrives in May, shrubs flower around the squares. Potted plants, potatoes and fresh fish are on sale at the local market, even such exotic fruits as bananas and pineapples. A living museum of Far Eastern flora can be found at the Khabarovsk Arboretum, established as an experimental laboratory, in 1896. It has collected about 300 plant species that grow in the Ussuri taiga. The Khabarovsk Regional Museum holds collections of flora and fauna, ethnography exhibits of indigenous peoples and Slavic settlers.

The city owns eight universities: Pacific National University (formerly: Khabarovsk State University of Technology), Far Eastern State University of Humanities (formerly: Khabarovsk State Teachers Training University), Eastern State Medical University, Khabarovsk State Academy of Economics and Law, Far Eastern State Transport University, Far Eastern Academy of Government Services, Far Eastern State Physical Education University and Khabarovsk State Institute of Arts and Culture.

Residential area in Khabarovsk:

Furthermore the city offers many interesting things to do for children. The Gaidar Childrens’ Park (Детский парк им. Гайдара), 2 Leo Tolstoy Street,  is an amusement park opposite the large Dynamo park, with a roller-coaster, bouncy castles, swings and a few cafés for eating. The Khabarovsk Circus (Хабаровский цирк), 120 Krasnorechenskaya Street, is located in Gagarin Park. There are guest performances from all over Russia and China, as well as from a range of circus animals, including Russian bears.

A good place to visit on Sunday is the central market. It is extremely busy with Russians on Sunday. Around the market there are many local businesses, restaurants and shops. The market is very large, with stalls of fruit and vegetables, caviar, meat, fish, even clothes. The main building is occupied by dozens of stalls selling caviar, salmon and king crab from Kamchatka. Outside there is a covered area, where people offer products from their own dacha gardens. The clothes stalls are mainly run by Chinese people.  It is located between Pushkin and Leo Tolstoi streets, close to Amursky Boulevard.

With all of its attractions, Khabarowsk on the Amur river is a Siberian counterpart to Nice on the Mediterranean Riviera. Khabarowsk has a Far Eastern Russian and Chinese flair, an exotic annd interesting city, well worth a visit.

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Southern France. Her blog:



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