Up here, at the top of Magnetic Mountain, the past is alive. On the edge of the river where west becomes east and Europe finally yields to Asia, the factory’s smokestacks stretch as far as the eye can see, and the horizon is forever blurred by the pall and plume of gunmetal gray.
Up here, Magnitogorsk is what you expected it to be. Frozen. Forlorn. Forbidding. A town built by the vision of a cruel, calculating man. More than eight decades after Joseph Stalin demanded a city be settled around the natural gifts hidden inside this mountain, Magnitogorsk still spits out more steel than most other places on the planet.
Up here, you get chills, from the sub-zero temperatures, and from just thinking about what was sacrificed. People born here didn’t get to have dreams, to imagine beyond the Ural Mountains. Their lives were constrained by ideology, the needs of the state dwarfing their own.
Yes, if you stayed up here, it would remain very, very cold. But there is warmth to be found in Magnitogorsk. Come down from the mountain, and you’ll start to feel it as you pass over the ice-covered Ural River, toward the European side, where the people live.
When you glimpse the small two-room apartment where Vladimir and Natalia Malkin raised their two boys, and the humble slab of ice on an adjacent street where the father taught his sons to play a simple game after he came home from the factory, you can sense a certain resolve.