Previously known as Semipalatinsk, Semey lies along the Irtysh River near Kazakhstan’s border with Russia. In the 1850s, it provided a home to the exiled Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky before becoming synonymous with the testing of Soviet atomic bombs at the Semipalatinsk Test Site between 1949 and 1989.
Things to do in Semipalatinsk
Semey is home to one of the largest museums in Kazakhstan, the Abay Museum, which celebrates the life of the beloved national poet, Abay Kunanbaev. In addition to exhibits about his writings and ancestry, the museum showcases Kazakh culture and customs. Step inside the beautifully designed summer yurt and browse the traditional weaponry, costumes and jewellery on display, then see objects used in the daily lives of nomads.
Art enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a visit to the Museum of the Nevzorov Family, which houses one of Kazakhstan’s richest collections of art. It occupies an impressive building designed in the 1870s for local merchant Fyodor Stepanov, with most of its 5,000 works donated by the Nevzorov family. While the majority of pieces are of Russian origin, the museum also features paintings by Dutch, English and French masters.
If you’re a fan of Dostoevsky, be sure to visit the wooden house where he lived in exile from 1857 to 1859. Outside the museum is a statue of Dostoevsky and Shokan Ualikhanov, a Kazakh prince and spy whom the Russian novelist befriended while in Semey. On display are exhibits detailing the author’s time in jail at Omsk and his five years of enforced military service.
Getting around Semipalatinsk
Semey International Airport is a 20-minute drive from the city centre and has regular flights to Almaty, Nur-Sultan and Turkestan. Trains connect along the Turkestan-Siberia Railway to the Semey railway station and buses travel throughout the city, connecting most of Semey’s attractions.