VINNYTSIA – An orange fireball video went viral last week, briefly placing Vinnytsia region on the internet map of the world.
While people were rattled by the spectacular explosion, the final human toll was two women injured by broken window glass in Kalynivka, a village 30 km north of this city of 400,000.
Fujikura, the Japanese car parts manufacturer, is recruiting workers for its factory which will open in this Central Ukraine city later this fall (James Brooke)
Now, the excitement has passed, residents are back to working, studying, and investing in one of Ukraine’s most dynamic provincial capitals.
“That’s my project – 1,000 apartments,” Evheniy Rumiantsev said, waving to two gray cement towers rising near the Southern Bug River. Rumiantsev, sales director for Naberezhniy Kvartal, said there are 40 other “big” apartment projects under construction in the city.
What is “big?”
Over 350 apartments, he replied. His informal driving tour then passed a block long shopping center owned by Volodomyr Groysman, former mayor of Vinnytsia and now Prime Minister of Ukraine.
Whether because of the political connection or because of Vinnytsia’s central location, the city is now hot.
Sleek South Korean ‘Intercity’ trains make the 270 km run south from Kyiv in 2 hours and 20 minutes -- one hour faster than by car.
Vinnytsia’s airstrip was busy during the Cold War when the airport hosted the 43rd Rocket Army of the Soviet Rocket Forces. Now, it sends vacationers to such hot locations as Antalya, Turkey, and Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. (James Brooke)
East of town, Vinnytsia’s Soviet-era airport has been reopened, offering direct flights to Egypt, Israel, Turkey and Poland. Last year, air passenger traffic tripled, hitting 29,500. The city airport shares its 2.5 km concrete runway with the national headquarters of the Ukrainian Air Force.
“I take the flight to Poland all the time,” Vyacheslav Shlyakhovii, owner of Plinf brick factory, said over coffee on the city’s Europe Square. He regularly takes local construction crews to Lodz to rebuild apartments in Poland, which has a growing blue collar labor shortage.
Two blocks away, near a bus stop by the city’s Music and Drama Theater, a young woman handed out flyers printed: “Fujikura – Your New JOB.”
Fujikura, the Japanese car parts manufacturer, plans to open here soon a 10,000 square meter assembly plant employing 1,500 workers. The paper flyer, featuring the photo of a smiling young woman in a work coat, offered a schedule of salaries – starting at the hryvnia equivalent of $255 per month and ending the first year near $300.
Last year, Fujikura opened two assembly plants in Lviv. After running out of cheap labor, it resorted last summer to setting up production at three Lviv penal colonies, employing 400 prisoners.
In Vinnytsia, near the city’s existing industrial park, UBC Group is building a EUR30 million plant to build refrigerators. Positioned to take advantage of Ukraine’s new duty free trade access to the EU, the plant is designed to produce almost 3,000 ‘smart’ refrigerators a week.
Attractive to exporters, Vinnytsia is a road and rail hub. In addition to hourly passenger trains north to Kyiv, there are regular freight trains west to Poland and south to Odesa, Ukraine’s main port on the Black Sea.
The new factories partially explain the mushrooming apartment towers here. In addition, as agriculture mechanizes, Vinnytsia region, a farming expanse almost the size of Belgium, is rapidly urbanizing. The city is also a center for higher education, with five well established universities. Two years ago, a newcomer arrived. Donetsk National University moved here to escape repression in the corner of Ukraine run by separatists.
With the armed conflict, 1,000 km and 20 hours by train to the east, last week’s ammunition dump explosion was the talk of the town. Many people seemed to think it was the Kremlin’s sick idea of a birthday present to President Petro Poroshenko. Ukraine’s President, who considers Vinnytsia his political base, turned 52 on Sept. 26 – the day of the explosion.
But Saturday, at an afternoon meeting of the Vinnytsia Business Club, the explosion never came up in a round table. Instead, concerns included: sunflower oil and fish meal access to the EU, a new solar power plant, plans for medical tourism, and the desire for more foreign investment.
That evening, the South Korean Hyundai Rotem train glided smoothly past the station of Kalynivka. The village’s 48 hours of internet fame had faded. Few passengers turned their heads.