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Elaine and Peter’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 13 Oct 2018

Location: Volgograd, Russia

MapA long day of sight seeing today has shown us some phenomemal feats of design and engineering. An amazing day.

The city has in a way, an atmosphere of sinister notoriety. In 1942, the Nazis made an attempt to capture the city to control the Volga and cut it off from the Caspian oil fields. It was one of the major battles of the war in which 90% of the city was destroyed only much later to be remodelled in Soviet grandeur.

The heroic defence is commemorated in Mamayev Hill Open Air War Memorial completed on 1967,and is still the highest point in the city. The sheer scale of this place is astonishing. This place was built so that the horrors of this battle would never be forgotten and repeated! We were walking on the site where 32500 bodies were buried. By February 1943, two million lives had been lost.

This remarkable memorial complex was constructed as a monument to human courage and fortitude and each statue and square are located in important places.

It is a tremendous feat of skill to the designer and planner. There are 200 steps leading to the top, one step for every day of the battle.

This broad flight of steps flanked by relief sculpture and accompanied by the sounds of the city at war depicts battle scenes and it's heroes....some absolutely horrific. For instance to detail just one, I can pick out a face surrounded by flames. It tells the story of a soldier who was carrying two bottles of incendiary material, Molotov cocktails I supppose. One of the bottles took a bullet and he was engulfed in flames but he carried on running and jumped into a German tank to explode it..

The massive centre piece is the gigantic statue of Mother Russia, Russia Calling, which stands at 89 feet to the tip of the sword she is wielding. This is one of the largest free standing statues in the world and inside are some of the bones of the dead. It was originally built of concrete but was too heavy and had been modified with a lighter material. It is very difficult to miss it as she exudes power and dominates wherever you look.

As you wind your way down from the top, you reach the monumental statue of the Grieving Mother, the Statue of Sorrow which stands in front of an area called the
Lake of Tears.

Nearby is a beautiful place, known as the Hall of Glory. It is in here that you start to get a profound understanding of what went on here in those six months in the winter of 1942-1943.
I suppose you could call this a gigantic cylindrical shape with a circular hole in the ceiling. Beneath this hole is a huge statue of a hand holding a torch which holds the eternal flame. As the sun shines through this aperture, a perfect eye shape is illuminated on the mosaic wall which contains the list of all of the thousands who died here in this battle.
We found this a very moving place. The music of Schubert's ' Daydreamer' echoes round the hall.
There is a guard of honour which holds a constant vigil and stands to attention as people lay red carnations to honour the dead. It is a great honour to be chosen to stand on guard here and the opportunity is only bestowed on those thought to be heroes of the army. Every hour there is a changing of the guard ceremony, and we stood and watched their fascinating frog marching around the hall...their movement and precision reminded us of ballerinas.

Just below the hall lies the Heroes Square which is surrounded by impressive gigantic stone figures depicting various soldiers, men and women.

At the bottom of the steps before reaching the avenue of Russian poplar
Trees, lies another Square called Standing to the Death Square. Another huge statue symbolically defending the steps leading to the Motherland of Russia.

This is a phenomenal place and extremely poignant, very well laid out with every item created to give maximum effect, but it must have cost a fortune!!

We left here to go down to the riverside to find the Battle of Stalingrad Panorama Museum. It is an enthralling place. The ground floor chronicles the stages of the German advance right through to Soviet victory. The exhibits include mangled weapons and the general's great coat riddled with bullet holes. They certainly meant to get him. The piece de resistance lies at the top of the central spiral staircase. Here is a 360 degree panoramic painting of the brutal battle as it would have been focussing on depicting what it was like in the trenches and throws of battle for the ordinary soldier. It is a terrific painting and depiction of war in all its gruesomeness.

Outside on the river embankment the pathway leads past tanks and armoured vehicles to the Grudinina Mill, a bombed out flour mill. It will never be restored standing untouched as a monument and reminder to the horror of war. The Mill was a defensive stronghold for the Soviet troops. As was the closeby Pavlov's house. This became known as a prime example of patriotism and heroism. Orders were to defend to the death although their position was surrounded by the enemy, and death wasn't long coming. The average life expectancy in the battle was just 24 hours and for every soldier killed another was there to take his place and to do their duty to vigorously defend the motherland from aggression.

All in all, a very impressive place to visit.

This afternoon after lunch, four veteran soldiers were welcomed on board for a question and answer session, three of the veterans fought in the battle, the fourth was an ex army colonel. The youngest was ninety two. It was a great insight into the patriotic beliefs of the army, past and current. And a great sense of patriotism and duty to the motherland. They were so pleased to be the centre of attention and although they started off shyly they soon got into their stride when talking about their experiences in the army.
There was a point when steam was coming out of Petes ears!!

A fascinating way to end our tour of this country, provoking many thoughts and answers to the questions we had when we arrived here