Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Urals Federal District - До свидания, ребята, до скорой встречи!

So, my time blogging about the Urals has come to an end.  As usual, I've learned a lot more than I've had time to blog about and I've touched on themes that I haven't had time to explore further.  As is tradition, in my final blogpost about the Urals, I'm going to summarise some of the other things I learned during my research into this region of Russia.

I learned about the American spy, Gary Powers, whose plane was shot down over the Urals in the 1960's.  I learned about Uralmash, the heavy machinery factory in Ekaterinburg and about the Cossack motorcycles, which the Urals region is famous for, manufactured in Irbit, Sverdlovsk Oblast.  I learned that part of the Hermitage's collection of Art was evacuated to Ekaterinburg in July 1941 and that an estimated 25,000 people were killed in Ekaterinburg during Stalin's rule.

I learned that the Ural mountains are actually quite low-lying, never rising above 2,000 metres.  I learned that Catherine is the patron saint of miners and that Chelyabinsk was nicknamed 'tank city'.

I learned that the famous bard, Okudzhava, was born in Nizhny Tagil.  I also learned that Nizhny Tagil has several maximum security prisons and that, on release from prison, prisoners aren't given an onward ticket, so they often settle in the town.  I learned that a mass grave was found in Nizhny Tagil in 2007, containing the bodies of some 30 local women who'd been forced into prostitution by local gang members.

I learned about Siberian orange snow.  I learned that Tyumen, the capital of villages, was the birthplace of the famous American composer, Irving Berlin and that one of Tyumen's main streets is named in honor of Maurice Thorez, who was leader of the French Communist Party for a good part of the 20th century.

Tobolsk by Clurross

I learned that Tobolsk used to be the capital of the whole of Siberia and was the first town to be settled in the 'wild east'.  I learned that Khanty-Mansiisk, capital of the Khanty-Mansi Autnomous Okrug, has become something of a boom town in recent years and that Norman Foster has been commissioned to design a skyscraper for the city. 

I learned that Salekhard, the capital of Yamalia, means 'house on the peninsula' and is the only town in the world that is situated right on the Arctic circle.  I learned that Surgut, the oil capital of Russia, means 'fish hole' in Khanty language and that the two biggest cities in Yamalia were only founded in the 70's - Novy Urengoy (1975) and Noyabrsk (1977). 

During the time I've been blogging about the Urals Federal District, news from Russia has, perhaps somewhat predictably, been mostly about spies and aviation accidents, with media speculation in December about the Russian aide to LidDem's MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock, as well as the news of Kolavia flight 348 bursting into flames at Surgut airport on the 1st of January 2011.  On board the plane were members of the Russian 'boyband' Na-Na. 

I also had the opportunity to catch up on some Russian movies that I hadn't seen before, mainly Brat and Brat 2, both directed by Sverdlovsk-born Aleksei Balabanov.  The movies are classically Russian, telling the story of a gormless, but likeable ex-soldier and his attempts to establish some kind of justice in the criminal underworlds of post-communist Petersburg and Moscow.  In the second movie, the plot moves to America and it's interesting to see 'land of hope and glory' through Russian eyes.  I found Brat 2 to be more than a little bit racist, but I understand the way Russians see the world and how their intentions can be misunderstood by a culture (the West) which is incredibly different to theirs.

I really enjoyed both movies, as they capture the innocence of Russia's interaction with the late-20th century capitalist world, but they're also realistic about the dangers of criminal gangs and the sense of isolation felt by many Russians in the new society they suddenly find themselves in.  Sadly, the main actor in Brat and Brat 2, Sergei Bodrov Junior, was killed in a landslide whilst filming in the Caucasus in September 2002.  I'm going to leave you with the trailer for the original movie, to give you a taster of what the movie is like. 

Next up:  V for . . .



Image credits:

The image of Tobolsk is by flickuser clurross who is a Glasgow native.  See more of her images on her photostream.  Thanks to clurross for sharing this image with us, using the Creative Commons License. 
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