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Museum of History and Folklore

A block west of the Central Square, along Abai Street, stands the Semipalatinsk Museum of History and Local Lore. It is housed in the single-storey white-walled late 19th-century building which in Tsarist times accommodated the Governor of Semipalatinsk Region. Its grounds, which are home to cannons and an old tractor, are entered through a charming gate. The museum is one of the oldest in Kazakhstan, dating from 1883, when its collections were put together by a group of political exiles in the city, many having been sent here because of their associations with the Narodnaya Volya revolutionary movement. Evgeny Mikhaelis was the main founder of the museum: among those friends on whom he drew for help was the great Kazakh writer Abai Kunanbaev. The museum was moved into its current building in the late 1970s.

There is a map of East Kazakhstan Region in the foyer, together with books written by President Nazarbaev and a Kazakhstan flag and State arms. The first room looks at prehistory, with little dioramas depicting dinosaur-populated eras, fragments of dinosaur eggs found around Lake Zaisan, and large mammoth teeth. There is also a map depicting the location of mineral resources across the territory of the old Semipalatinsk Region. A large diorama populated with stuffed animals runs down the side of the next hall, natural history, running from a mountain landscape with bear, arkhar and snow leopard, through a desert scene to a steppe landscape with an eagle flying overhead, ending in an ancient pine forest, with elk, badger and several owls amongst the trees. There is a duck-filled watery diorama opposite. The next room offers a quick canter through the history of the area, from Stone Age implements through chain mail armour to the establishment of Semipalatinsk. There is a model of the original wooden fortress, a wooden tower at each corner and a church in the centre, and the large lock, weighing 8kg, from the Yamishevsky Gate into the city. There are also some Kazakh ethnographic items on display.

Next comes a room focusing on the development of Semipalatinsk as a trading centre. A map shows the large size of Semipalatinsk Region in 1854, when it embraced Karkaraly, Pavlodar and Ust-Kamenogorsk. There are displays of traded items like large Chinese vases and a Russian coffee maker, the household goods of immigrant peasants from other corners of the Russian Empire, and photographs of early paddle steamers ploughing the Irtysh. There is also a mocked-up drawing room of a wealthy family of the town in the early 20th century. In the next room is a selection of items found in a Kazakh yurt, together with more photographs of old Semipalatinsk. The works of Abai Kunanbaev are on display, as are photographs of his friends, including museum founder Evgeny Mikhaelis.

The next room, decorated in reddish tones, offers displays related to World War II as well as the history of nuclear testing at the Semipalatinsk Test Site. There are cut-through diagrams showing the set-up of nuclear tests carried out in both horizontal tunnels and vertical boreholes, photographs of Lake Chagan, the Atomic Lake', and a display about the anti-nuclear movement, with photographs of rallies, and a plastic bag with the logo of the Nevada-Semipalatinsk movement. There are also disturbing photographs of local residents with gruesome deformities. A copy of President Nazarbaev's 1991 decree announcing the closure of the nuclear test site is also on display. The final room combines temporary exhibitions with displays relating to prominent local figures.