25-year independence anniversary bittersweet for Central Asia

An abandoned Soviet military installation, seen in the town of Arkalyk in central KazakhstanIn 1991, as one provincial Kazakh town embarked on a journey through independence that would see it transformed into a state-of-the art capital, another hurtled towards collapse. Arkalyk, a Soviet-built mining town is a 13-hour train ride from Kazakhstan’s glittering capital Astana, and the last stop on a spur of railway that burrows west and then south into the vast country’s mineral-rich heartland. As the Soviet Union crumbled, demand for the bauxite mined in Arkalyk that made up a fifth of the bloc’s output plummeted.

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