The history of WWII – or the Great Patriotic War, as it's known in Russia – is ever-present in Western Russia. MIR Corporation, an award-winning tour company based in Seattle, WA, has been specializing in creative, culturally immersive small group, custom, and private journeys to Russia and beyond – including to Russia's top WWII sites – since 1986. This list of top spots for history buffs originally appeared on their blog.
A well-known old Russian proverb says, “When the guns speak, the muses are silent.” This museum of the artistic endeavors of people suffering through the Siege of Leningrad proves otherwise.
There are several museums that have to do with the siege, but only this one tells stories of the musicians, writers, actors, and other creative people who stayed in Leningrad during the war and kept working, kept creating. Artifacts relating to Shostakovich’s famous Leningrad symphonies fill one hall, while another is dedicated to the ballet, theater and fine arts. There is also a moving collection of children’s artwork, toys and clothing. The museum aspires to envelop visitors in the atmosphere of a besieged city, by allowing them to touch, hear and see what the ensnared citizens experienced.
About 30 miles southeast of then Leningrad on the Neva River, the Red Army struggled against the Nazis to open and maintain a land link to a besieged Leningrad called the Nevsky Bridgehead, or Nevsky Pyatachok. The word pyatachok means a small five-kopek coin – it was a tiny but hard-fought bridgehead. Fighting continued from January 1942 to May 1943 and resulted in Soviet casualties of nearly 260,000. A memorial marks the battlefield here. It is one of dozens of small memorials ringing St. Petersburg that make up what is called the “Green Belt of Glory.”
The Oranienbaum Bridgehead on the Gulf of Finland was the only area around besieged Leningrad that held out against the German army. Located near the town of Oranienbaum, now called Lomonosov, the bridgehead was a 40×16-mile foothold on the coast that included the coastal artillery fort, Krasnaya Gorka, and was defended by soldiers of the Red Army and sailors of the Baltic Fleet. It played a significant part in the liberation of Leningrad in 1944.
Across the Moika River from the Savior on the Spilled Blood Cathedral lies Mars Field, a place with almost as long a history as St. Petersburg. The open area near the Neva embankment first was put to use by Peter the Great as a parade and training ground for the imperial guards regiments. Later, after palaces for Catherine I and Paul I were built alongside the field, the open area reverted to being a place for St. Petersburg families to picnic and enjoy themselves.
During the three-year Siege of Leningrad, Mars Field was given over to vegetable gardeners who did their part to feed the beleaguered city. In 1957 an Eternal Flame was lit here to remember the St. Petersburg victims of all wars.
This museum offers 24 halls of 20th century military hardware and weapons. The first floor focuses on the history of the Russian Army and Navy during World War II, or the Great Patriotic War, as it is called in Russia. The second floor covers military action in the years since, and includes artifacts and weapons from the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan. The wreckage of Gary Powers’ U2 spy plane is displayed, as well as tanks, missiles, aircraft, uniforms, banners and photos. Gary Powers, who bailed out and was captured, was exchanged for a Soviet spy in 1962.
Kubinka is a must-see for military history enthusiasts. The hundreds of examples of tanks, armored cars and personnel carriers trace the history of the Red Army, the Soviet Army and now the Russian Army. Photos of clumsy proto-tanks, armored train cars and rolling stock of all types, along with uniforms, banners and documents fill out the collection.
In the 1930s, during the time when Moscow’s lavish subway system was being built, a “second subway” system took shape as well. The term “second subway” refers to the secret underground bunker established by Stalin under the city.
To mask the enterprise, architects planned and began to build a huge sports stadium near Izmailovo Park, with underground access to the city center. Below the stadium, the corridors and rooms of the secret bunker were constructed. Unlike Churchill’s London “War Rooms,” however, Stalin’s bunker sports marble columns and wood paneling. Its dining room was designed in the Georgian style. Along with “Stalin’s Unit,” an underground area for an armada of tanks was finished before war broke out.
To plan your own trip to Russia's WWII sites, check out MIR's Western Russia tours. See MIR's original blog post here.
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