Semipalatinsk is associated almost exclusively with two things: the Kazakh poet Abai and the Soviets’ nuclear testing program. About 150 km outside the city, over 450 nuclear tests were performed, including over 100 above ground, between 1949 and 1989.
Even in my time 15 years ago in Agadyr, more than a thousand miles away, people would discredit inexplicable phenomena—weather, mutations, bad vodka, bad children—to the workaholic winds rustling their way across the steppe from Semi.
But, it’s also a city several hundred years old. Like Ust-Kamenogorsk, it was established in the early 18th Century as a fort on the fringes of stardom. And now it’s a city on the fringes of existence, man. Times change. You can see in the photo at top how the new city is being built literally on top of the old Russian one.