To day a visit to the 1812 battlefield of Borodino where Napoleon faced the Imperial Russian Army hoping to stop the French taking Moscow. Napoleon was intending to destroy the Russian Army. A bloody battle which failed to produce a result. Napoleon did take Moscow but the Russian Army was able to fight another day and when Napoleon retreated in the Russian winter they got their revenge and destroyed the Grand Army. We walked a good 5 mile in the snow to see the ground. One needed to keep walking to stay warm. Last blog from Russia, thank goodness I hear some of you say.


This is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour the Moscow equivalent of the Abbey. It was built between the 1840s and 1882 and was built to commemorate the victory against the French in 1812. However it was destroyed by Stalin in 1932. But in 1990 the new Regime complied with the appeal by the Patriarch to rebuild the Cathedral. It was finished in 2000. It is a remarkable reconstruction, beautifully decorated and adorned with ikons. It is a living Cathedral with a constant stream of worshipers.


Later that evening we attended a slap up reception, Stalingrad style, with a host of veteran Soviet officers.  They all looked as we remember them laden with medals and looking rather stern. But after a few toasts of vodka they warmed up.  I discovered that the gentleman who was a Tank officer on the left had been in 3rd Shock Army and was therefore opposite 1st British Corps in the bad old days.  The one on the right was also a Tank officer and aged 90.  Both had been at Stalingrad and made little of it. They didnt like to talk about it vfery much.  They had a job and just got on with it.


We then went back into City to watch a re enactment of the surrender of Field Marshal von Paulus in the basement of a department store. It is still a Department Store and the cameo was quite well done. We then had lunch next door and a semi drunk lad accosted us (the DA and Brummers were in uniform); he had served in Chechnya for 4 years and clearly had problems. There is no Combat Stress in Volgograd. I suspect there are many all over Russia. At times the Russian Army can lose kia about 500 a month in Chechnya.


At the top of the hill, Mamaev Kurghan we entered this chamber adorned with bronze coloured mosaics and the names of some 7200 randomly selected fallen soldiers of the Soviet Army. The centre of the roof was hollow so snow slowly fell as we went to place our flowers in homage. All very moving and like everything in Russia very symbolic.           


A most moving moment as we processed up the 200 (one for every day of the battle) steps to this enormous statue of Mother of the Motherland. It is 89 metres high and weighs 450,000 tons. The whole affair is akin to Remembrance Sunday. 


The gentleman on the left was a 17 year old during the battle and was an ammunition carrier. Humble and not wishing for attention but today was his 86 year birthday and he received and made a toast two of about 20 at a Veterans breakfast. We ought to have the same in the Soldiers Charity but we could do without the vodka. Brummers is my kind host and allowed me to witness an extraordinary day as Volgograd commemorates the German surrender at Stalingrad.  


Flew into The Kessel at Gumrak. The previous flight had to return to Moscow owing to the visibility. Its only minus 18 but the wind coming off the Steppe is punishing adding about another ten degrees in wind chill. To think that two armies fought in these conditions is really horrifying.


On way back from the visit to the monastery I passed through yet one more of these extraordinary Metro stations so carefully designed to impress the rare visitor from the West. In this one there is a series of bronze figures almost life sized reflecting all walks of Soviet life. I am standing beside a soldier with his dog whose snout has been worn down by generations of Muscovites putting their hand on it in the hope of good luck. I watched several commuters go out of their way to place their hand on the canine nose. It reminded me of the monkey on the door of the City Hall in Mons. Now Wed and we are on way to Volgograd at minus 21.   


It is minus 25 but the air is clean and pure. Keeping warm in this is quite a challenge. Layers of clothes and good boots essential. The onion domes of Russian Orthodox churches are beautifully decorated in gold leaf and are fascinating to see. Russia is a changing place but many think it is for the worse.


On an outing out of Moscow experienced Russian transport systems. Traffic is a nightmare and you need a strong nerve or half a bottle of vodka. The metro is very efficient, bigger and cleaner than the underground. Stalin had magnificent metro stations built in the 50s and this picture is of such a Metro station decorated with mosaics depicting the glories of the Soviet Union and Lenin. Trains not so impressive, wider than ours but very basic, wooden benches etc no refreshments.


Spent most of day in the Kremlin which is an amazing place of interest and sheer wealth of silver and gold objects including beautiful Faberge eggs. Spent time on Red Square and learnt that its name predates Communism. Visited the tomb of the unknown soldier and the eternal flame where I spotted some very smart Russian soldiers not unlike these depicted on the Kremlin wall.


Have come to Moscow to see if we can set up a ABF Committee here. Its minus 20 and wearing a hat like this is essential. Fascinating place which has changed greatly in last five years.
Copyright (c) 2010 SIR EVELYN. >