Biysk is located in the very centre of Asia in the Altai Krai which, together with the autonomous Altai Republic, constitutes Russia’s external territories bordering on Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. Biysk, which is a well-developed industrial centre, is situated in the basin of the Biya and Katun rivers which merge into the huge Ob River not far away from the city. The city’s population is about a quarter million.
Biyskwas founded as a fortified stronghold by the order of Peter the Great in the early 18th century. The fast development of the settlement was connected with tax reliefs for Russian colonizers settling there. Biysk was granted a city charter in 1789 and gradually became populated with newcomers, including the ones forcibly deported from the tsarist Russia (as a result of anti-state riots). During World War II the number of exiles of various nationalities, who came primarily from Ukraine and the Vilnius area, was put at a dozen or so thousand. Among the displaced persons who usually worked at clearing the taiga or at the local armaments plants there were many Poles deported from Poland’ Eastern Borderlands which were occupied by the USSR. The graves of the oppressed are at the cemetery located on the border of the city. Nowadays, the city is dominated by housing developments built of concrete slabs, and its outskirts by wooden Siberian ramshackle dwellings. In Biysk, which is called the gates to the Altay Mountains, there is the beginning of the Chuyski Highway, one of the best known and much frequented Russian roads built by transported convicts in the early 1920s, which leads through the Altay Mountains to the border with Mongolia. There are some 200-250 descendants of Polish exiles from the time of tsarism and Stalinist repressions living in Biysk and near the city. The city receives assistance from Poland; cultural events are organized for Poles living there; and a Roman Catholic chapel still remains the main meeting place for the Polish community. There is a branch of the Polish Nationality Centre and a Polish Catholic mission centre operating in the city. The Polish community in Biysk can hardly speak the language of their ancestors in spite of the existing opportunities to learn Polish.