Welcome to Semey
Though sadly best known to the world for the Soviet nuclear-testing ground nearby (the Polygon) Semey (Semipalatinsk; Семей), has an unusually rich cultural heritage that makes it one of Kazakhstan's most interesting provincial cities. Founded in 1718 as a Russian fortification against the Zhungars, it stands 200km down the Irtysh from Ust-Kamenogorsk, in the heartland of the Kazakh Middle Horde, noted for their eloquence and intellect. The area has produced several major Kazakh writers and teachers, notably the national poet Abay Kunanbaev (1845–1904), and Semey was a home in exile to the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Most visitors use Semey as a jumping-off point for macabre Polygon visits, but the clutch of local museums is enough to keep you entertained for a day or two.