The city of Smolensk is one of the oldest in Russia. The first recorded mention of the city was 863 AD, two years after the founding of Kievan Rus'. Throughout its history, also due to the fact that the city lays in the westernmost part of Russia, geographically very close to other European powers, Smolensk saw a great number of battles and foreign invasions. In the early 1400s the city was conquered and became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and with tens of thousands of people living there, Smolensk was probably the largest city in 15th-century Lithuania.
If you can read Cyrillic, you will already have noticed that the town's name is Gagarin, in honour of the first human to journey into outer space: Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin or simply Yuri Gagarin. The Soviet cosmonaut was born on March 9th, 1934, in the nearby village of Klushino and after his death in 1968 (when the MiG-15 training jet he was piloting crashed) the city was renamed in his honour (and I suspect, but that's just my speculation, also because the former name of Gzhatsk - Гжатск - was all but unpronounceable!).
The monument is actually not a replica, but a real retired Tu-16 from the the 46 VA VGK (SN) heavy bomber unit that was based in Smolensk. If you are a bit of an airplane fanatic (like me) and you visit Smolensk, then you just have to go and see the Tupolev Tu-16 monument just a few hundred meters (about a quarter mile) due West from the center of town, at the southern "vertex" of a small triangular shaped park.
After travelling eastbound for four hours from Moscow on the Lastochka, a recorded announcements informs you that "the train is now arriving in the Hero City of Smolensk" and you have reached a lesser known, but incredibly interesting destination. Hero City (Russian: город-герой, gorod-geroy) is a Soviet honorary title awarded for outstanding heroism during World... Continue Reading →
During Soviet times, the USSR policy toward religion was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism, which made atheism the official doctrine of the Communist Party. As the founder of the Soviet state, Lenin, put it: Religion is the opium of the people: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about... Continue Reading →