“How the f*ck do we change anything in this place?”

Alex Farrow

These were the words I inked into my notebook as I led on my hotel room bed in Kazakhstan. More specifically, I was in Ust-Kamenogorsk, which is the regional capital of East Kazakhstan – one of the 16 regions (or oblasts) that make up the country. This one region is the size of Germany.

From Ust-Kamenogorsk it is about 120km to the Russian border, 400km to China and 500km to Mongolia. To the 9th biggest country in the world, these distances are thought of as just a short drive away.

Yet all three borders are considerably closer than the 1100km to the capital city, Astana, the previous capital Almaty, or 3660km to the oil capital of Aktau on the Caspian Sea. This is roughly the same as traveling from Manchester to Athens. The shortest flight time from Ust-Kamenogorsk to Aktau is 9 hours 40 minutes with a stopover in…

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