Relics of former Soviet glory in Murmansk – Travel Tip

We recently spent about a week in and around the Russian city of Murmansk, the largest city on Earth North of the Artic Circle, discovering new places preparing a new photo itinerary. I will post more pictures and infos on this trip in the coming days and weeks, but, first thing first, let’s start with what I think is an interesting discovery, which I found while preparing for the journey.

When preparing for a tour in Russia, Google Maps is your friend. But even the mighty G doesn’t know *everything* there is to see in Russia, especially outside Moscow and Saint Petersburg. There is, of course, a plethora of informations on Russian websites, but even if you can’t read Cyrillic and you (understandably) don’t much trust Google translate, there are numerous sites you can use to find interesting places to see. One of them is undoubtedly Trip Advisor, but you have to use it with a grain of salt.
Let’s take, for instance this Yak-38 monument (more about this plane below), that Trip Advisor puts at the 49th place in the 70 things to do in Murmansk. You might be tempted to never go and look in the page two of this list, as the first page, containing the “top 30” ends with the unmissable (?) Murmansk Mall Shopping center. What could be LESS interesting than a shopping mall? That is a fair question. But do keep in mind that the ranking on Trip Advisor is based not only on the score places receive in their reviews, but also in the number of reviews themselves and, at the time of writing, 14 people reviewed the mall, while only two decided to write about the remarkable Yak-38.
As mentioned above, Google Maps doesn’t even know that there is something worth seeing there, so you have to look up the address on Trip Advisor and then search for it in Google (or any other map service of your liking) to get directions and, if you are lucky, see a street view of the place to get an idea of what to expect (i.e. check for an entrance to a confined place, see if there are visual obstacles to keep in mind, look for a parking spot if you are driving and so on).

Now, back to the title of this post, there are three things I deem noteworthy in this find:

  1. The Yak-38 itself
  2. Where it is positioned
  3. The Zhiguli car on the left of the image

The Yak-38.
I will write more about the Yakovlev Yak-38 in a separate post (along with one or more of the pictures I took there, as in winter I think it looks way better). For now suffice to say that this is a real decommissioned plane, one of the only 155 original Yak-38s ever built, the Soviet Naval Aviation‘s only operational VTOL (Vertical Take Off and Landing) strike fighter aircraft, in addition to being its first operational carrier-based fixed-wing aircraft.

Where it is positioned.
The fighter plane and a bust of Russian major general , fighter pilot, flight specialist and founder of the modern Russian naval aviation and Hero of the Russian Federation Timur Avtandilovich Apakidze are to be found in a school yard. The school itself (School number 57) is dedicated to the aviation hero. I find this fact very telling of Russian culture in two aspects. First of all, I believe this to be a testament to the importance that Russia (and the USSR before it) gives to schools. In terms of military history, and technical history (and arguably, therefore of history in general) this is a very significant monument and the fact that it is located in a school yard is not because “a better place could not be found”, but rather testifies the fact that school children “deserve” a monument (and a source of inspiration) in their own school to their own benefit first and foremost.
Secondly, in the rest of Europe (I am not really sure about the US, any comment on that would be much appreciated), schools are almost never dedicated to soldiers or generals or any military people. The only exceptions I can think of is either generals of a long bygone era or military men who became heroes for actions unrelated to the battlefield, usually a self sacrifice to save others (as an Italian, I am thinking, for instance about Salvo D’Acquisto). This is because in Europe (at least that’s my experience), military forces since WWII have been seen as something more or less “unavoidable” (used as a synonym for “necessary”), but without that aura of heroism and selflessness that other public servants have (such as firemen). Things were different in the USSR, where the military career was regarded as one of the highest way to serve the motherland (and, therefore, the people!) and it was rewarded not only with prestige, but also with very, very desirable perks (houses, cars and so on) and a very high salary. In the 1970s a lieutenant, is a junior commissioned officer in the armed forces, received a monthly salary of 230 Rubles, compared to 210 Rubles per month for a judge.

The Zhiguli car on the left of the picture.
The Zhiguli car on the left of the picture and the fighter plane on the right belong to the same time period. The Yak-38 first took off (vertically) in 1971 and flew to 1991 (after the dissolution of the USSR). The first Zhiguli cars were produced just a year before, in 1970 and their production ended in 2012. They both were a source of pride for the USSR and in many respects at the forefront of modern technology at the service of the people. One might argue that the USSR always “played catch-up” to the West, but at the beginning of the 1970s both the car and the plane were not far behind their western counterparts.
The Google Street View picture you see atop this post was taken in 2012 (by coincidence, the last year of production for the Zhiguli) and in that picture both the car (which needs to be pushed by hand) and the plane (with large bits of paint missing and visible patches of rust) appear in disrepair and almost abandoned. Hence the title of this post.
Now, five years later, the situation appears to be much better, a reflection of an economy growing stronger and stronger. The plane has been repainted and the pedestal restored and there are fewer and fewer Zhigulis to be seen roaming the streets of Murmansk. Many of the surviving ones are actually in tip-top conditions, restored to their former glory and ofter graced by new two-color paintwork and even delightful whitewall tires.


Would you like to discover the Russia that foreigners rarely, if ever, get to see, with an English (and Italian, Spanish and French) speaking photographer (me and my wife) showing you the sights and telling you a bit about Russian history and traditions, while helping you to improve your technique and take home some spectacular images of the largest country on Earth? If so, do get in touch and we’ll be happy to create an unforgettable, tailor-made experience for you!


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