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24Sep/150

Urals through the eyes of an Italian photographer

This month I met several tourists who deal with photography. In early September 3 Italian tourists asked me to organize two tours in the Urals. One of them was a professional photgrapher Diego Fiorovanti. His blog on photgraphy:  http://diegofioravantifotografia.wordpress.com/

On the first day we went to the village of Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha, an open air museum of wooden architecture

In Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

In Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

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In Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

It was the 1st of September - 1st day of the new school year. We met many kids and Diego came up with an idea to make a photo report about the generation without communism. See all photos here https://diegofioravantifotografia.wordpress.com/portfolio-2/a-generation-without-comunism/

Children in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Children in Nizhnyaya Sinyachikha. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Children in the restaurant of Alapayevsk. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Children in the restaurant of Alapayevsk. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

On the second day we went to the Military Museum in Verkhnyaya Pyshma and met schoolchildren there too.

Military Museum of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Military Museum of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Military Museum of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Military Museum of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

In the museum we had an interesting encounter. One of the Italians Giuseppe from Rome  found out that his grandfather and the grandfather of Roman, the museum worker, had been stationed on the opposite banks of the same river in the Crimea during the Second World War. Of course, they had been fighting against each other those days. Today Roman teaches schoolchildren about how to prevent wars. Giuseppe received a present from Roman and promised to send the photos of his grand father for the school archive.

Roman, a teacher at the Military Museum. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Roman, a teacher at the Military Museum. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

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Military Museum of Verkhnyaya Pyshma. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Our next stop was in Nizhni Tagil, the town known as TagilLag during the Second World War. From 1941 to 1945 over 63 thousands of political prisoners and German prisoners of war were brought to the Labout Camps of Tagil to build factories and work at quarries. About 40% of them died. All the cemeteries of TagilLag were destroyed after Stalin's death. We visited the site of  a former cemetery in Nizhni Tagil. Today is just a field in the city.

Nizhni Tagil, a place of a former cemetery for the political prisoners of Gulag. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Nizhni Tagil, a place of a former cemetery for the political prisoners of Gulag. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Half of the city of Nizhni Tagil was build by prisoners. Today it's the second largest city in the middle Urals with many metallurgical plants. Tagil is also the largest tank producer in Russia. Maximum security prisons are still there.

In Nizhni Tagil. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

In Nizhni Tagil. Photo by Diego Fioravanti

Check out other great photos of the Urals by Diego at his blog https://diegofioravantifotografia.wordpress.com/portfolio-2/a-generation-without-comunism/

11Nov/130

Military Museum in Verkhnyaya Pyshma

I’ve already written about Russian Expo Arms – a military exhibition held in the Urals. http://askural.com/2011/09/russian-expo-arms-2011/  If you like those toys now you don’t have to wait for next exhibition as there’s a huge military museum opened all year long near Yekaterinburg.

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The Military Museum in the town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma is a collection of over 70 military machines exhibited in the open air. In 2013 the museum opened a three storey pavilion with retro cars and motorbikes.

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The history of the museum started in 2005 when the veterans of the Great Patriotic War asked Andrey Kozitsin, the president of UGMK Holding (Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company) to restore a few machines for the Victory Parade. Today a large part of the museum tanks and cars take part in the Victory Parades on a regular basis.

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The collection of the museum is still growing. You can find there retro automobiles from France, USA, UK and of course all types of ladas and bikes from the USSR. The philosophy of the museum is that there are no machines made in fascist Germany or its allies in the Second World War.

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Verkhnyaya Pyshma is located 14km North of Yekaterinburg and considered as a suburban area of the city. You can get there by taxi or by minibuses that go from Metro Station “Prospekt Kosmonavtov”

Address: ulitsa Lenina, 1. Verkhnyaya Pyshma

The museum is open daily (except Mondays) 10.00 – 22.00 May to Sept \ 10.00 – 18.00 Oct to April

Book the tour to the Military Museum: http://yekaterinburg4u.ru/en/tours/military-museum

 

9May/130

Happy Victory Day!

An annual military parade was held in Yekaterinburg today at 10 am

In Europe the war was over on May 8th. But when the end of the Second World War was announced it was midnight in Moscow and early morning of the next day in the rest of Russia. Therefore in Russia 9th of May is a public holiday and a parade day in the largest Russian cities.

This year citizens could tell a story of their relative who fought at the war and get a poster with his photo.

The Victory Day finishes with fireworks in the evening all over Russia. In Yekaterinburg the fireworks will take place at 10.30 pm (local time)

photos by Artyem Ustyuzhanin, www.e1.ru

20Jul/120

Trans-Siberian trip by Dutch travelers. Video

This video made by Dutch tourists Serge Kapitein and Bas Derkink in May is a MUST for everyone who wants to see REAL RUSSIA!
From Moscow to Vladivostok and Yekaterinburg is on the third minute. We drank champagne on the border of Europe and Asia the I took the guys to the Mafia cemetery and Mayakovskogo park.

Komrads on the Transsiberian Railway 2012 from Serge Kapitein on Vimeo.

17Nov/110

Dutch Journalists in Yekaterinburg

In November 2011 the Dutch travel magazine Columbus is publishing an article on traveling by Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.

photos by Hanneke de Vries

Marina Ter Woort, a journalist from Amsterdam together with the photographer Hanneke de Vries contacted me in summer asking to show them around during their 5 hour train stop in Yekaterinburg. The lucky ladies were travelling by the Golden Eagle Express, one of the two luxury Trans-Siberian trains. The second one Zaren Gold runs from Moscow to Beijing. Both are priced from 8.000 to 26.000 US$ and both take 15 days with boat and bus tours in big cities. Yekaterinburg is the third city after Moscow and Kazan.

Main Train Station

Marina and Hanneke, however, didn’t want to go on an ordinary excursion: champaign on the border of Europe and Asia – city centre – Church on Blood. They wanted to see something off the beaten track. In Moscow, for instance, they had been to the largest city market instead of the Red Square tour. So, we went to the Uralmash district in Yekaterinburg.

Uralmash is a large industrial district in the north of the city, a ghetto for factory workers and their families. We couldn’t go to the huge Ural Heavy Machine Building Plant that had once been visited by Fidel Castro. Even though the plant doesn’t produce tanks anymore, there are still many restrictions and chances for a foreigner to sneak inside are equal to zero. At least, we managed to go to the factory canteen and Hanneke got some interesting snapshots of the locals.

Factory canteen in Uralmash

Uralmash has got a notorious mafia cemetery. The Uralmash gang had a turf war with the Central gang in 1990s. Allegedly, the gangsters invested in building the metro line connecting Uralmash with the city. The war ended when the gangsters eliminated each other. The mafia cemeteries (both in Uralmash and the central in Shirokaya Rechka) have got plenty of full sized tombstones of local gangsters.

Uralmash cemetery

Using the metro line (the only one in Yekaterinburg) my Dutch friends and I returned to the city. We did visit the place of the Romanovs’ assassination in Church on Blood with Marina while Hanneke went to the train station to take more photos in the sunshine.

Marina (left) and I (right) in the metro train

in Church on Blood

I don’t know what the article in Columbus magazine is going to be about, but here’s the link http://www.columbusmagazine.nl/

And here are the photos that Hanneke kindly sent to me

26Oct/110

Novourask, a treasure of a closed town

Every sun rise is beautiful and it’s similarly beautiful in any part of the world. I spotted my October sun rise in a strange place near Novouralsk, a closed town behind the wall 90 km north of Yekaterinburg.

The town was known as Sverdlovsk-44 in the Soviet times and it was absolutely unknown to the rest of the world until 1994. Since that year it’s not a secret town but a closed town due to the Ural Electro Chemical Plant built there during World War II.  Novouralsk had the first mountain ski track in the Urals but very few people from the outside world could go skiing there (population of the town is 85.519)

Another treasure of Novouralsk is Verkhneyvenski pond with beaches and a yacht club.

Verkhneyvenski pond

The pond is outside the town thus you don’t have to go through the control post which you won’t be able to do anyway. Boat and yacht rentals are available in summer.

Getting there: by car from Novo-Moskovsky trakt drive through Pervouralsk. By any local train bound for Nizhni Tagil. Get off at Verkh-Neyvinsk Station. Novouralsk is on the left side, you will see it behind the barbed wire. The pond is on the right side. And the sun rise is for every one!

watch the sunrise by clicking here:

12Sep/110

Russian Expo Arms. Nizhni Tagil 2011

 

A farewell to arms? Well, certainly not in the Urals. The region has always been a large industrial centre and it’s due to many defence plants that the Urals had been closed to foreigners until 1991.

Russian Expo Arms is held every year in Staratel tank training field in Nizhni Tagil, Sverdlovskaya oblast

VII International Exhibition of Armament, Military Equipment and Ammunition ‘Russian Expo Arms’ was traditionally held in Nizhni Tagil in 8-11 September.  Nizhni Tagil (140 north of Yekaterinburg) is known in Russia as a homeland for tanks. UralVagonZavod is the factory that started producing T-34 tanks in 1941. The latest model T-90C was shown in action on the training field. It was impressive and very loud, just what the public likes.

Highlight this year: T-90C aka 'flying tank'

Prime Minister Putin, who visited Expo Arms and checked out the T-90 tank, said that the exhibition should draw attention of international specialists and promote development of the international  military-technical cooperation. The countries especially drawn to big machines were Vietnam, India, Zambia and Uganda. There were also producers from Ukraine, Belarus, France and Italy this year.

There's something sexy about military machines especially if they are from Ukraine

Russian Expo Arms is an open event – no passport controls for foreigners. Tickets cost 300-500R and it was easy to get free VIP tickets especially if you know someone in Nizhni Tagil. As I was leaving the premises, a TV reporter was interviewing visitors asking what they thought about event.  A local man’s reply was obvious yet very absurd: “I feel so proud of my country, I’m proud of how strong Russia is”. Surely, there is nothing wrong about being proud of the country that can make a big toy able to destroy hundreds of people at a time. But it was said on September, 11, that’s why his comment sounded bizarre to me…

However, there was something for pacifists too – KAMAZ and Ural trucks were my favourite: they can work at -50 and +55C, climb steep hills and swim in lakes. This car is worth buying for those who dream of traveling from Moscow to Vladivostok and back!

Ural truck

Unlike Mr. Putin I visited Russian Expo Arms on the last day and missed a demonstration of air weapons – launches and bombing from helicopters and planes (not that I really regret it). The weather on that day was gloomy so my photos are a bit dark but it adds to the ambience of Russian military pride. There are also sunny photos by Benjamin Gaillard, a French expat in Yekaterinburg. Enjoy!

p.s. ExpoArms is held in early September every second year. The next one is in 2013

1Oct/101

American Spy in the Urals

It looks like history is repeating itself. This year a few Russian spies were detected by CIA and exchanged for a couple of spies who had worked for the USA in Russian territories. The Russian failed spies, by the way, were heartily greeted by the authorities in their Motherland and the new Mata Hari - red-haired spy Anna Chapman is even starting a modelling career in Moscow.

This incident is not the first and I suspect not the last in the history of Russian-American espionage. The Ural region with numerous nuclear factories has always been largely involved. It's not that we are told about everything but one incident that happened in 1960 is well known and remembered by the senior citizens of Yekaterinburg (those days it was Sverdlovsk). On May 1 - Labour Day in the USSR there was an annual parade of the Soviet workers on the main city square. The Communist leaders received the workers' salutes from the granite tribune next to the monument of Lenin. It was a bright sunny day that's why the citizens spotted two white clouds that suddenly appeared in the clear sky.

S-75 missile in the Military History Museum in Yekaterinburg

That was CIA's U-2 aircraft on a mission piloted by Francis Gary Powers. Powers was able to take high-resolution photos of the military sites. U-2 had been invulnerable to Soviet anti-aircraft weapons for good four years causing the KGB's considerable dismay until in 1960 Russian S-75 missile hit the aircraft over Sverdlovsk. The American aircraft wasn't the only one hit by the missile that morning. The Russians also brought down their own MIG-19 jet that had been sent to intercept the U-2. The Soviet pilot Sergey Safronov crashed his plane in the woods and died. Colonel Powers was lucky. He parachuted to the field and was greeted by the local villagers. The villagers were happy to see the survived pilot in the first place but because the pilot didn't speak Russian (a big mistake for a spy) they sent him straight to the KGB.

Soviet intelligence couldn't be happier: the brought down U-2 turned out to be intact. For some reasons Francis Powers didn't activate the aircraft self-destruct mechanism and didn't have time to destroy the camera and films. Besides the KGB was able to extensively interrogate the American spy of a high rank who was actually expected to have taken a CIA suicide pin but he didn't. Powers was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in Moscow and seven years of hard labour in Gulag. Once again he was lucky - in 1961 Powers was exchanged for Soviet KGB colonel Rudolf Abel. 

A Soviet 1968 spy film Dead Season features a scene of that exchange on Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. Power's biography also became an American television movie in 1976: Francis Gary Powers: The True Story of the U-2 Spy Incident   

The story is not finished yet. In 2010 the released CIA documents revealed that the US Government never believed in Power's account and thought the story had been cooked by the Russians. Garry Powers Jr, who visited Lubyanka quarters in Moscow on May 1, 2010, said that it had taken the US Government 50 years to set the record straight about his father and the record still has kinks in it.

23Sep/102

Secret towns in the Urals

My dad was a military man in the Soviet era. He worked for the Russian rail in Sverdlovsk then got a promotion and we moved to Nizhni Tagil. Tanks made in the plant of Nizhni Tagil were and still are transported by rail. So my dad was making timetables for the cargo trains with military equipment. When my dad retired he couldn't by rule leave the country and travel abroad for 5 years, so you can assume there weren't only tanks involved..

If you take a train from Yekaterinburg to the north you will inevitably pass one of the secret towns or closed towns as they are not a secret anymore in the Ural region - Novouralsk. You won't miss it because the town lies behind the barbed wire fence that resembles prison walls. The citizens of Novouralsk have special passes to enter. To visit your relatives there you need a special invitation from them for certain dates. I know a girl from a closed town who studies in Yekaterinburg, she happened to lose her pass and her Russian passport once and couldn't get back home to her parents for 5 weeks until her documents were renewed by the authorities. Of course, you may ask why on earth people live behind the wall. The answer is simple - good salaries at the secret factories, a tax free area, zero unemployment rate, zero crime - sounds like a paradise except for low life expectancy.

In the USSR when Yekaterinburg was called Sverdlovsk the secret towns weren't on the maps. They didn't even have names only numbers: Sverdlovsk 45, 16, etc. I remember when I was little and the news about American enemies was still on TV, my dad taught me a lesson on geopolitics. He brought the world map, showed me where the USA was and pointed at the Ural Mountains. We were equally far away from both sides. My dad explained that if the Americans had sent their rockets to Russia from the east coast, the rockets would have dropped somewhere around Moscow, sent from the west coast they would have reached Siberia but had no power to fly up to the Urals. Thus we lived in the safest place in the world. I was pretty satisfied with this explanation and have never cared for the Cold War since that.

Ironically, some time ago I was telling an American tourist about the closed towns in the Urals. The tourist and now my friend Harlow Ingalls happened to be a veteran of three International Wars including the Cold War conflict. He told me that the US government has always known about our secret factories and the secret towns were not a secret to them. On the contrary, the Urals would have been the first and the main target if the Cold War had turned into hot and their rockets would have dropped in the right place, to be sure...