Human habitation of the Urals dates to the distant past. The Nenets are a Samoyed people of the Pay-Khoy region, and their language belongs to the Samoyedic group of languages, which is widespread throughout northern Siberia.
Farther south live the Komi, Mansi, and Khanty, who speak a tongue belonging to the Ugric group of the Finno-Ugric languages. The most numerous indigenous group, the Bashkir, long settled in the Southern Urals, speak a tongue related to the Turkic group. Some Kazak live in the Mughalzhar Hills of Kazakstan. Most of these formerly nomadic peoples are now settled.
The Nenets, Komi, Mansi, and Khanty are virtually the only inhabitants in the highest parts of the Urals, especially in the north, where they have preserved their traditional ways of life-raising reindeer, hunting, and fishing. The Bashkir are excellent horse breeders.
The indigenous peoples, however, now constitute only about one-fifth of the total population of the Urals; the great majority are Russians. The Russian population is concentrated primarily in the Central and Southern Urals, and most people live in cities - notably Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Perm, and Ufa - and work in industries.
Agricultural populations predominate in the steppe region of the Southern Urals, where conditions are favourable for wheat, potatoes, and other crops.