Russia – Ural & Volga

Volgograd – Stalingrad

10 August 2013. Volgograd is perhaps better known as Stalingrad, the site of one of the bloodiest battles in history. From August 1942 until February 1943, Hitlers Nazi Germany + allies and the Red Army of the Soviet Union fought a bitter battle to gain control over Stalingrad. The city was already largely distroyed in a German airstrike early in the battle and the scene of the battle quickly entered the ruined city center.

Fierce fighting went on from house to house as the Germans advanced further into the city and by November they had pushed the Soviets into two narrow pockets close to the bank of the Volga River. Both sides suffered heavy losses. The Germans were unable to eliminate the last Soviet pockets of resistance. The Soviets fought a bitter battle, defending every house, every floor, every staircase. The Germans called this new type of war Rattenkrieg / Rat War, as the scene of the fighting even extended to the sewers.

On 19 November 1942, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, a counter attack on the German army and its allies. The Soviets managed to cut off and surround the German army inside Stalingrad. Hitler ordered the army not to abandon Stalingrad but to stay and wait for reinforcement. However, the attempt to break through the Soviet encirclement failed. Heavy fighting continued for another two months and by the beginning of February 1943 the Germans had run out of ammunition and food. The remaining part of the German army surrendered on 2 February 1943.

The battle lasted almost 5 and a half months. In total, the battle at Stalingrad resulted in some 1.7 to 2 million deaths (including both soldiers and civilians killed, wounded and captured during the battle). It includes also the deaths amongst the 91,000 German prisoners of war of which only 5-6,000 returned to Germany by 1955. It was an incredibly bloody battle and also a battle of great heroism on both the German and Soviet side. According to Wikipedia, on the Soviet side at the beginning of the battle, “the life expectancy of a newly arrived soldier was less than a day, and the life expectancy of a Soviet officer was three days”.

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In 1967, the great monument “the motherland calls” was erected on the hill Mamayev Kurgan, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting during the battle of Stalingrad. The lady is 76 metres tall with an extra 11 metres added by the sword extended above her head.
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The eternal flame burning for the victims of the battle at Stalingrad. IMG_3000_small

Also Italians fought at Stalingrad on the side of Hitlers Germany. The Red Army soldier on the photo below is holding a ППШ (PPSh), a semi-automatic gun used extensively by the Red Army during World War II. The story goes that the Italians were very worried about the efficiency of this gun and the Italian army was not supplying its soldiers with something similar. And so Beretta (the most famous weapon producer in Italy) offered the Italian soldiers that they could buy one of their semi-automatic weapons for 1,000 lire….but out of their own pocket! Many of them did.   IMG_2980_small

Here the poor German (fascist as it says) soldiers are marched into captivity by the Soviets. Only a fraction of them survived the Soviet camps. IMG_2996_small

But Volgograd is more than the battle of Stalingrad. After the war it was rebuilt in grand stalinist style architecture. The main train station is a beautiful example of this. IMG_3025_small

Nearby, a bit south of Volgograd, you can see the first lock in the canal connecting the Volga and the Don Rivers (dedicated to Lenin). The canal was mainly built by forced labout from the GULAG camps. It was completed in 1952. IMG_3040_small

Young boys jumping in the canal.                              IMG_3043_small

Enjoying the Volga River on a hot August day.         IMG_3049_small

And there he is again, Mr Lenin, at the point where the Volga-Don canal joins the Volga River stands an enormous statue of Lenin gazing out over the waters and nowadays surrounded by young people drinking, broken bottles, garbage and beer-shashlyk tents playing loud techno music.IMG_3053_small

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Russia by Night

It does not look too bad when you zoom away from the garbage and try to forget about the mosquitos!

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Poor the wife!                     DSC00779_small

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Ulyanovsk

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8 August 2013. Ulyanovsk is a quiet town along the Volga River. The city was originally called Simbirsk but in 1924 it was renamed after Lenin who was born here in 1870. Now it is a great place to visit if you are into Soviet history and a taste of the past.  

Nice mural just next to TsUM in the center of Ulyanovsk.                      IMG_2963_small

Another mural with Lenin shining together with the sun over the Soviet youth.IMG_2864_small

The “officers house”, close to the Lenin Memorial Centre. IMG_2867_small

Mosaic pond reflecting the typical Soviet style hotel “Venets” (meaning “crown”), on the square just outside the Lenin Memorial Centre.    IMG_2871_small

The Lenin Memorial Centre is in itself a great architectural monument as one of the lovely “flying” buildings of the Soviet constructivist style. IMG_2877_small

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And here the respectful museum atmosphere inside the memorial centre.                 IMG_2941_small

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The memorial centre is practically built around/on top of the original wooden house where Lenin was born in 1870.
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Inside the Lenin Memorial Centre is a gigantic exhibition on the history of the Soviet Union and of course Lenin in particular. Here the shoes of a very young Lenin (it is him to the left in the photo behind). IMG_2891_small

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And then there are portraits of Lenin in any way you could imagine. Here as part of a fantastic Turkmen carpet. IMG_2936_small

And below just a few more examples of the fascinating array of portraits. IMG_2935_small

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A nice Lenin statue.                                                                  IMG_2929_small

And finally, a white statue of Lenin in an almost religious room. It would have been interesting to be able to read all the immense amount of text and explanations and front pages of old news papers that were displayed in the memorial centre, but unfortunately all the exhibition was in Russian and it was quite overwhelming in size. Anyways, it is recommended! IMG_2932_small

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Kazan

6-7 August 2013. Kazan is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, the home of the Volga Tatars. There is not a lot to see but the city is clean, pleasant and has an interesting mix of Tatar and Russian culture.

A mosque in the bazar area.                 IMG_2828_small

Kazan has its own white-walled Kremlin which is a UNESCO world heritage site. IMG_2836_small

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We decided to go and sleep on the banks of the Volga River and to have a glass of wine while watching the sun set over this mighty river…….but we found the access to the river blocked by kilometers of big expensive houses, “dachas”, some of them looking like mediterranean palaces with white greek-style sculptures and ostentatious/vulgar palace architecture. There is oil in Tatarstan! So Frida and her crew had to retreat to a quiet forest far from the attractive river front.
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Perm-36

3 August 2013: Perm-36 is a former GULAG camp, part of the vast Soviet forced labour penal system. It was established in 1946 and its inmates were mainly people who had served on the side of Nazi Germany during World War II and political prisoners. The camp was closed in 1988 and in 1996 it reopened as museum of political repression during the Soviet era.

“To promote democratic values and civic consciousness in contemporary Russia through preservation of the last Soviet political camp as a living reminder of repression and as an important historical and cultural monument.”

(Mission statement of the Gulag Museum at Perm-36)

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EUROPA

3 August 2013. We have crossed over the Ural Mountains, the geographical border between Asia and Europe. Now after 14 months of traveling and 74,500 km of driving we are feeling very close to home!

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Yekaterinburg

1-2 August 2013. Yekaterinburg is located on the border between Asia and Europe, it is the city where the last Russian Tsar and his family got murdered one July night in 1918 and it is the city where the first president of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, went to university. It is a city full of history, it is old and modern at the same time with Siberian style wooden houses mixed with interesting constructuvist architecture from the 1920’s and 1930’s, official buildings in grand stalinist style and modern glass-and-steel office buildings. 

Unfortunately, when we arrived it started raining! Otherwise it should be a city perfect for walking the streets and visiting the squares to admire its architecture and monuments. 

Lenin in the middle of busy Yekaterinburg.IMG_2681_small

Monument to Boris Yeltsin.              IMG_2694_small


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