We have characterized the HLA-A, -B, -DRB1, -DQA1 and -DQB1 profiles of three major ethnic groups living in Chelyabinsk Region of Russian South Urals, viz., Russians (n = 207), Bashkirs (n = 146) and Tatars (n = 135). First field level typing was performed by PCR using sequence-specific primers. Estimates included carriage and gene frequencies, linkage disequilibrium and its significance and related values. Population comparisons were made between the allele family frequencies of the three populations and between these populations and 20 others using a dendrogram. Chelyabinsk Region Russians demonstrate all the features typical of a Caucasoid population, but also have some peculiarities. Together with Tatars, Russians have high frequencies of allele families and haplotypes characteristic of Finno-Ugric populations. This presupposes a Finno-Ugric impact on Russian and Tatar ethnogenesis. However, this was not apparent in Bashkirs, the first of the three populations to live in this territory, and implies admixture with populations of a Finno-Ugric origin with precursors of Russians and Tatars before they came to the South Urals. The Bashkirs appear close to Mongoloids in allele and haplotype distribution. However, Bashkirs cannot be labelled either as typical Mongoloids or as Caucasoids. Thus, Bashkirs possess some alleles and haplotypes frequent in Mongoloids, which supports the Turkic impact on Bashkir ethnogenesis, but also possess the AH 8.1 haplotype, which could evidence an ancient Caucasoid population that took part in their ethnic formation or of recent admixture with adjacent populations (Russians and Tatars). Bashkirs showed no features of populations with a substantial Finno-Ugric component, for example Chuvashes or Russian Saami. This disputes the commonly held belief of a Finno-Ugric origin for Bashkirs. Tatars appeared close to many European populations. However, they possessed some characteristics of Asiatic populations possibly reflecting a Mongoloid influence on Tatar ethnogenesis. Some aspects of HLA in Tatars appeared close to Chuvashes and Bulgarians, thus supporting the view that Tatars may be descendents of ancient Bulgars. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.