Elista is the capital of the Republic of Kalmykia, a federal subject of the Russian Federation. Its coordinates are 46?22′N 44?15′E. The population is 104,254 (2002 Census).
Elista was founded in 1865 as a small settlement. In November 1920, Elista became the administrative center of the Kalmyk Autonomous Oblast. By the early 1930s, Elista was transformed into a small city as the collectivization policies of Joseph Stalin forced many Kalmyks to abandon their traditional pastoral nomadic lifestyle in exchange for a modern, sedentary, and urban lifestyle. In October 1935, Elsita was recognized as the capital of the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
On December 27, 1943, the Kalmyk Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was dissolved and its ethnic Kalmyk residents were forcibly exiled to Siberia. Russian people were brought in to repopulate Elista whose name was changed to Stepnoy. It was called Stepnoy until 1957, when the survivors of the deportations were allowed to return from exile.
Since 1991, the town has been characterized by the slow decay of Soviet-built institutions, and the large construction projects instigated by the republic's millionaire president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov.
The town center has a number of renovated public parks focused on the main square, boasting statues to both Lenin and the Buddha. To the east of the town lies the Olympic village of the 1998 XXXIII Chess Olympiad, known locally as "City-Chess". The site has a public swimming pool and an excellent museum of Kalmyk Buddhist art, and is also infrequently used as a conference center.
During his visit in 1998, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama chose a location west of the town center to build a new Buddhist temple for city residents. It was opened in December 2005.
Elista has a small regional airport that was closed by the federal aviation authorities sometime in the fall of 2006. Prior to its closure, the airport was open daily during the week, functioning as a connector between various cities in the southern part of the Russian Federation and Moscow. The flight between Elista and Moscow was generally 2 hours.
In light of the airport closure, air travelers may fly from Moscow directly to either Rostov-na-Donu or Volgograd. From either city, a taxi ride to Elista is generally 3 hours. Alternatively, a rail link is available from Rostov-na-Donu, and a bus is available from Volgograd. A rail link also is available to the city of Stavropol, the administrative center of Stavropol Krai.
The bus at a rest stop just beyond the city of VolgogradThe residents of the Republic of Kalmykia travel between Elista and Moscow generally by bus. This is the popular method of transportation between Moscow and Elista due to cost. The trip is approximately 18 hours and makes several rest stops along the route, including a stop on the outskirts of Volgograd.
Within Elista itself, a network of about a dozen marshrutka routes is run by private companies.