Posted by on 28, Jul 2010 in 2010 - The Caucasus, Eastern Europe, Europe, Russia


The drive from Elista was through non stop steppe – slightly undulating, grassy and monotonous. You can see Volgograd from miles away on the horizon gradually getting bigger and bigger. The city stretches for over 60km along the Volga, but you can almost through a stone over it widthwise as it hugs the land between the mighty river and a bank of hills that run parallel to the city. Its a 2 hour drive from top to bottom or a 5 minute drive from side to side!

As we had approached the city the memorials to battles pased on the roadside with a Katyusha rocket launching truck mounted on a plinth and on the edge of town an enormous soldiers helmet by the side of the road. According to our guide book the only things to see here are the locks on the Volga which we passed on our way in and the numerous war memorials and museums to the 2.5 million people who died and were wounded here – twice the current population but the city is a great example of Soviet city planning as planners got to build the city virtually from scratch. Wide streets, plenty or parks, grand buildings and monuments to the great Patriotic War in the center surrounded by a never ending army of tower block apartments. The center has a certain appeal, though it is by no means beautiful, but the residential districts look dreary and cramped. Even the river front to the Volga which is simply huge is more like yarmouth in the 60’s and quite a contrast to Rostov. There is a nice park that leads from the centre with an eternal flame down to the waters edge guarded by two small Roman temple like structures but this fronts on to a half hearted fun fair. Further down river is a dreadful 70’s building resembling a space ship, all concrete and glass and smelling like a public toilet that is almost too hideous for words.

What Volgograd does do superbly is commerate the Battle of Stalingrad and it does this all over the city. There are sculptures – one of a cut away bomb falling onto a mother and child was particularly poignant – plaques, graves, museums and even pictures of Lenin on roof tops lit up like Vegas! But its two most moving places are Mamev Kurgan or Hill 102 as it was known in the war which dominates the city and river and the Flour mill. Like many other parts of the city It changed hands numerous times – the central station was captured and lost 4 times in one day – and has now been made into a huge memorial to the Soviet soldiers, both male and female. The hill is surmounted by Mother Motherland a 80m statue of a woman weilding a sword, a church with the traditional gold onion domes and an underground eternal flame about the shape and size of a very large circus tent adorned with names of soldiers, emblems of presumably regiments and the hammer and sickle. The flame is guarded by soldiers who are relieved by goose stepping colleagues. Behind the Statue is a commerative wall with some token graves in front. The wall is about 40m long and has 7200 names on it. It would need to by 5.5 kms long to get just the names of the Russian dead on alone.

The battle is full of obscene records and startling stories: the bloodiest battle of all time, the most casualties, the shortest life expectancy for a new Soviet soldier -less than a day, the highest sniper kills for one sniper at over 400, tanks being driven out of the factory unpainted and manned by volunteers straight into battle, female anti aircraft batteries holding the Germans at bay for days, on the 14th September 1942 the 13th Soviet Guards Division arrived and assaulted and captured the hill by the 17th all 10000 of them were dead, of the 91000 Germans who surrendered with field Marshall Paulus’s 6th Army only 5000 made it back to Germany, one incendiary bombing raid killed 40000 civilians, a long time before Dresden, the pre war population of 850000 was reduced to a post war population of 1500 Dig into the hill even today and you still find metal and bones from the battle. It is mind boggling depressing to Think about.

But, the memorial does justice to the memories of those soviet soldiers who perished here in a dignified and moving manner.

The stalingrad museum is located next to the remains of the Flour Mill which has been left untouched. Its also opposite Pavlev’s house, a memorial to a Sergeant and his platoon who held the apartment block against repeated German attacks allegedly killing more Germans than died in the fall of Paris. The museum is an all Russian affair with the only English being the telegram from Coventry to Stalingrad sending its admiration for the heroic city from the worst bombed British city: its interesting and the Panorama painting of the battle in full flow is very detailed and moving but it could do with a few bits in English or German here and there.

There are no memorials to the Germans here, and it took us a while to find that there was one 35km out of town in the middle of nowhere. It is a mass grave to 50000 Germans their names listed on blocks stewn across the land scape and opposite a mass grave to Russians with helmets laid out on headstones some with bullet holes in them. It is nicely kept, though the German side is more overgrown, and very moving.

We left Volgograd in stifling heat and started on the 1000km journey to Moscow. The roads are pretty poor and we barely manage 40mph so its going to be a long journey!

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