Cities and Villages in Other Countries of the FSU

The urbanization from levels of the other FSU republics range 73% in Belarus to 26% in Tajikistan; all these are below the levels of either Russia or any Western country. The republican capitals are large: Kiev has over 2.5 million people; Minsk, Tashkent, and Baku have about 2 million each; and Tbilisi, Yerevan, and Bishkek have about 1 million each. The capitals of the Baltic states, Moldova, and Tajikistan have about 500,000 people apiece. Almaty is no longer the capital of Kazakhstan, but is still its largest city at over 1 million. By contrast, the provincial and district centers in all the republics rarely have more than 100,000 people, with the notable exceptions being large industrial cities in Ukraine (Kharkov, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Donetsk). Some urban centers in these other FSU republics are very old (e.g., Tbilisi is about 1,600 years old; Kiev is at least 1,200 years old). Such cities have a distinct old core with either a kremlin or a cathedral square. Some cities in Central Asia date back over 1,000 years, whereas others are much more recent (Almaty was established as a Russian frontier fort in 1854, Ashgabat in 1818, etc.).

As far as rural settlements are concerned, types similar to those in Russia exist in Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. In much of Ukraine, the villages tend to be much larger than those in Russia. Many have a few thousand inhabitants and stretch for kilometers along river valleys. The Baltic states spent less time under Communism and had a prior history of small family farms; thus the kolkhoz period made less of an impact on them. Indeed, stronger ties to the land and a good work ethic made the Baltic farms exceptionally productive during Soviet times.

In Central Asia and the Caucasus, village life is especially important. Traditions run deep. People settle close to each other, in extended families. Most families now have at least one member who lives in a city, but the life around the old village houses is always lively. A strikingly unusual situation exists in Tbilisi, where an essentially rural population with close ties to the land lives in the middle of the city (Van Assche et al., 2009). A peculiarity of Georgia's and Armenia's urban architecture is the presence of extensive self-designed structures (e.g., balconies and verandas) that extend the living space outward, but are not formally approved by the local government. They existed even in the Soviet period,
but are more common now. They reflect the creative and informal spirit of the tenants, as well as a real need for more family space.

In Central Asia, especially in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and parts of the northern Caucasus, many people led a nomadic lifestyle until the 20th century. Some continue limited seasonal nomadism even today. People in these cultures would not normally live in urban settings. The majority were forced to settle in villages and cities during the Soviet period, because migratory nomads could not be easily tracked by the state. Although distinct patterns vary from country to country, most Central Asian cities have at least one main square in front of the administrative building, a nearby market, and a bus terminal. Many now also have prominently placed mosques. The traditional forms of architecture (e.g., Kazakh yurts) were largely replaced during Soviet times with generic log cabins in the Russian style, or with concrete apartment blocks. There is now a resurgence of interest in traditional architectural models; many new administrative buildings, banking centers, train depots, and so on follow such models but are built with modern materials. Some of the best examples are found in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and in the ambitious projects in the new capital of Kazakhstan, Astana.

As in Russia, suburbanization is now common in all other FSU republics. Some well-documented examples include communities near Tallinn, Tbilisi, Almaty, and Kiev. As in the West, gated communities and other exclusive subdivisions are much talked about. However, the main form of suburbanization in these republics is the proliferation of cheap lodging options for the urban poor. The workers typically employed in construction or services, most of whom are migrants from rural areas, would find it impossible to afford to live in the inner city and would endure long commutes to get to and from the inner city now.