The 2013 world junior championship kicks off in Ufa, Russia next week, but what do we know about the host city? Here are 10 things you need to know about Ufa, both hockey-related and not.
1. Ufa is 11th largest city in Russia with slightly over a million residents. It was founded late in the 16th century and is currently the capital of Bashkortostan – a region of Russia located next to the Ural mountain chain that geographically separates Europe from Asia. It’s a two-hour flight from Moscow to the east – that should give you some perspective.
2. While Russia’s primary religion by far is Orthodox Christianity, Bashkortostan is one of the few regions where Islam is a fairly common practice. So don’t get surprised when you see all the mosques around the town.
3. Most of Bashkortostan's residents speak Russian, while some speak both Russian and Bashkir. There are even a few of those who speak only Bashkir, however, they are hard to come by in big communities.
4. The marten (lat. Mustelinae) is an iconic animal in Bashkortostan. It’s a carnivore that is very common in that region. The marten looks like a mix between a fox and a squirrel, which makes it arguably the cutest silent assassin ever. Bashkirs love it so much, they have even depicted it on Ufa’s coat of arms.
5. Bashkortostan is famous for its fur and oil industries as well as for its… honey. It’s hard to imagine a place would be famous for something like that, but the local honey is pretty good. It’s about as common a souvenir as maple syrup is in Canada.
6. Bashkir cuisine is very similar to Tatar cuisine. Here’s a short list of traditional Bashkir meals – pilaf rice, chuck-chuck (fried bread sticks, covered in honey), koumiss (a drink made from horse’s milk) and manti (large ravioli cooked by steam).
7. Everyone has a hero. For Bashkortostan it’s Salavat Yulaev. Here’s the story of Yulaev in a nutshell.
Instead of enslaving foreigners, Russians enslaved their own people. By the end of the 18th century, about 45 percent of Russians were "krestiyane" – another word for ‘slave,' basically. The only difference between the two was that "krestiyane" were allowed to own cattle, real estate and work tools as well as had the liberty to wed whoever and whenever they wanted. Who would ever want more, right?
Late in the 18th century, however, a Cossack (basically a fancy way of saying, "My dad ran away from his master and says he’s free now") named Emeliyan Pugachev started a rebellion against the Russian government. He promised freedom to the "krestiyane" and – here’s the kicker – independence to several regions. Needless to say, Bashkortostan was one of these regions. Salavat Yulaev was Pugachev’s ally and throughout the rebellion he became one of his most trusted men.
The rebellion lasted for two years and it ended badly for the rebels. Pugachev was betrayed by his own men, put on trial and convicted. His punishment was to be drawn and quartered, his head was put on a pike and all remaining body parts burned.
Salavat was much luckier, since he was sent to an Estonian prison for life. He spent the last 25 years of his life writing about Bashkortostan. His poems are still part of the local school program.
So… there’s your hero.
8. Ufa is a hockey town and, as such, obviously has a team in the KHL. Ufa’s team is called Salavat Yulaev. Act surprised. Salavat’s major junior team is called Tolpar – named after a creature from Bashkir mythology. Ufa also has a women’s hockey club called Agidel – named after one the town’s rivers. All three draw draw decent crowds. All things considered, of course.
Salavat Yulaev was a champion of the Russian Super League in 2007-08 and won the Gagarin Cup – KHL’s main trophy – in 2010-11.
9. Ufa is hometown of many well-known hockey players. From the North American point of view the biggest names on the list are Andrei Zyuzin (second-overall pick in 1996, played for the Sharks, Wild, Lightning, Blackhawks, Flames and Devils), Alex Semak (Canada Cup runner-up in 1987, played for the Devils, Lightning and Canucks), Igor Kravchuk (Canada Cup runner-up in 1987, Olympic champion in 1988, NHL All-Star in 1998, played for the Oilers, Senators, Flames, Panthers and Blues), Vadim Sharifjanov (first-rounder from 1994, played for the Devils and Canucks) and Andrei Zubarev (won back-to-back silver medals at the World Juniors in 2005-06 and 2006-07, played for the Thrashers).
10. While St. Petersburg is considered to be the hotbed of Russian rock, Ufa can give them a run for their money. Bands DDT, Lumen as well as rock singer Zemfira are, in fact, from Ufa and make no mistake – they rocked the country.
Andrey Osadchenko is Buzzing The Net's resident expert in all things Russian. You can follow him on Twitter @AOsadchenko.