The town of Semey, with a population almost 300,000, is not the oldest city in Kazakhstan. Neither is it the most traveled, nor the most important, and it is not the seat of a government. Yet, it is historic because it is the scene of one of the saddest, and most pathetic, legacies of Soviet Communism.
The Semipalatinsk Test Site (STS) was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons. What is pathetic is how it came into being. In 1947, Lavrentiy Beria, head of the KGB and secret police, also served as political head of the Soviet atomic bomb project. In picking the site, the cruel and inhuman (as opposed to imhumane) Beria falsely claimed the vast 18,000 km² steppe was "uninhabited."
Josef Stalin ordered Gulag labour to be employed to build the primitive test facilities, including the laboratory complex in the northeast corner on the southern bank of the Irtysh River. The first Soviet bomb, Operation First Lightning (nicknamed Joe One by the Americans) was conducted in 1949 from a tower at the Semipalatinsk Test Site, scattering fallout on nearby villages. Beria didn't think the Kazakh natives living there as important enough to evacuate the surrounding area, and as a result thousands of innocent children, women and adults died from the explosion and continuing radioactive fallout.
During the cold war Semey was a "closed city" and it was only named by it's postal code, the Soviets believing that closed city locations could be hid from the Americans if the city names were not used. Little did they know at that time that the Americans had been photographing the closed cities, and were well aware of the Semey site, via overflights.
Semey Kazakhstan city population - 298,000 (2006).
Semey Kazakhstan city land area - 170 sq. km.
Semey Kazakhstan city phone code - +7-7222.
Semey Kazakhstan city postal codes - 071400, 071410.
Today Semey continues to function as the National Nuclear Testing Site of Kazakhstan.