At least once a year, we try to go and visit the wonderful country of Russia. Despite the current political state of affairs between "the West" and "the Russians" as well as mostly bad coverage and the blame game in both hemisphere's media, the people in Russia are generally very kind to foreigners. Especially if you go to the more rural areas, far away from Moscow. Russia also has a vast amount of recent and not-so-recent history, and the Russians proudly preserve and display their heritage.
During our last year's trip in September, we were able to visit the city of Volgograd - formerly known as Stalingrad - for a couple of days. During World War 2, this city has suffered from one of the most cruel and well known battles of recent history - the battle of Stalingrad. More than 700.000 people died during the almost 6 months lasting battle between Soviet troops and the Fascist invaders. Additionally, one million bombs dropped by the Nazis during their massive air raids left the city literally in ashes.
However, the Soviets defeated the Nazi armies at the Battle of Stalingrad and World War 2 eventually took a turn leading to the total defeat of Nazi Germany. After the war, the Soviets started to rebuild the city of Stalingrad. Nowadays, the city does not carry the name of Joseph Stalin anymore and hosts numerous memorials reminding of the people and the war that has come over them. The city of Volgograd also erected an impressive monument on top of the Mamayev hill and built a public museum, displaying the events.
The following is basically how the whole city looked like during the siege. It stands next to the museum and was left in ruins for the coming generations to remember:
At the outside facilities of the museum, several of the war machinery used in the Stalingrad battles is displayed.
Three T-34 tanks. The emblems read за родину, "For the motherland":
Soviet howitzers of different calibres and ranges:
Mobile rocket artillery "Катюша" (Katyusha) - the Nazi soldiers called this "Stalinorgel" (Stalin's organ) due to the whistling sounds the rocket launchs were producing. It was a very feared weapon amongst the enemy. The insignia reads "На Берин!" which means "To Berlin!", emphasing the Soviet efforts to end the fascist terror at its roots.
This is a destroyed T-34 that was recovered from the bottom of the Volga river:
And, something typical for Russian people is taking selfies about everywhere. A sad statistic, they rank very high on the list of nations by number of people died during taking a selfie. On this display of multiple generations of older Soviet tanks, this man chose to climb one of them to take a selfie:
The museum itself hosts a lot of exhibits and tells lots of stories from the war time and generally was very interesting. If you happen to be anywhere near Volgograd some time, I strongly recommend to give it a visit.
I have made a few pictures inside the museum (after having bought a camera permit), but the lighting was low and most stuff was behind glass. However, the following is a shot from inside the Museum's main hall and displays the IBIS capability of my beloved little Olympus camera quite well. It was taken handheld at 80mm equivalent focal range, ISO 800 with 1/20th of a second shutter speed:
On another day, we visited the impressive memorial at Mamayev Kurgan (Mamayev Hill) and the weather was fortunately a little better for taking pictures outside. The hill was a strategic place for both, defending and attacking parties throughout the battles, and therefore was heavily fought for.
The memorial is the most visited site in Russia and is built on top of the Mamayev hill just next to the Volga river. A large stairway leads up to the memorial from the street level, and once you have climbed the stairs to reach the first platform, the big sculpture "Standing until death" greets the visitors, which symbolizes the "No step back"-mentality of the Soviet forces:
On the further way to the mid-level "Square of heroes", two walls with complex and detailed carvings are lining the next stairway:
On the mid level platform, there is a large water baisin, lined by statues and a carved wall. The baisin symbolizes the Volga river, and the statues are guards protecting it.
Also on this level is the statue of the Mourning Mother, which also serves as the final resting place of Vasily Chuikov, the supreme commander of the 62th army which was mainly responsible for defeating the Nazi troops in Stalingrad:
A few steps behind this statue, a small orthodox church has been built beautifully embedded into the monument's park:
On the edge of the hill, you can also enjoy a panoramic view over the city of Volgograd of today. It has been rebuilt in a functional soviet style, with lots of high apartment blocks. It's noteable tho, that they also have quite a few rural-style areas in midst of it, where small family owned houses are located:
To reach the final platform, you can either use another stairway or take the path through the Hall of Fame, where a hand holding an eternal flame is guarded by Russian soldiers. On the walls of the hall, a list of names is displayed, one for each fallen soldier during the battle. Each 30 or so minutes, you can observe a changing of the guards, unfortunately I missed to take any pictures of this ceremony. And I wish there would be more space next to the soldiers in the following picture:
And then finally, you reach the iconic "Motherland calls" statue, which is considered the 3rd highest free standing statue in the world. From toe to the edge of the sword, it is 85 metres (279 feet) high and weighs 7900 metric tons. In comparison, the Statue of Liberty in New York is 46 metres (151 feet) in size without the socket it is standing on.
Since we spent quite some time on the site, about an hour later the sun was preparing to settle behind the hill and I was able to take the following silhouette image of the statue, with a beautiful cloudy sky in the background. The people on the bottom serve as a good scale indicator for the sheer size of the Motherland Calls statue:
Hope you enjoyed this short trip to Russia as much as we did. I can only recommend everyone interested in history to go see these places, and to get an impression of how bad war can be and why it is important to remember what happened in the past, so events like these may not happen anymore.
Having said all this, I can only pledge for friendship. Дружба. Freundschaft.