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Belarus was one of the most “Soviet” countries we’ve ever visited. Central planning is still followed. This girl (along with 3 others) stood at attention without moving, for 20 minutes, at a memorial to WWII.

 

 

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Country names and borders on this map (Poland, Belarus, Russia, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine) are in the map’s original tiny yellow font.

The red lines show where we were driven, the blue places are where we visited.

 

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We started in Minsk, Belarus, then traveled north to a memorial (Khatyn) and south to Mir, Niasvizh and Brest before crossing into Ukraine.

 

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This is Minsk’s main street.

 

In June 1941 three waves of bombers, 47 aircraft each, bombed Minsk. The bombs and the resulting fires destroyed 85% of the buildings and the city was evacuated.

 

Before the war the population was about 300,000. After the war about 30,000 remained along with only 5 or 6 buildings.

 

From 1945-1955 the Soviets rebuilt the city, mostly by using German POWs as slave labor, before allowing the prisoners to return home. The resulting city is a Socialist Realist masterpiece.

 

After the war Minsk was populated by peasant people from scattered villages, all having different dialects, so Minsk became a city without an underlying subculture.

 

It remains today very clean but totally lacking in any personality.

 

Their primary identity is their Soviet ideology. It is said there is nothing else beneath the surface of the peasant-worker culture.

 

Our guide told us that today’s citizens have no interest in anything outside the borders of Belarus.

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This is an example of modern housing in Minsk.

 

The rooftops were supposed to have gardens but that didn’t work out.

 

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This is the luxury apartment house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived for 2.5 years.

 

He’d wanted to go to Moscow State University, but he was put here so they could keep track of what he was doing.

 

His room was bugged and there was a peephole in the wall that he and his friends were never able to find.

 

He worked as a lathe operator.

 

He married, had a daughter, got bored with the USSR and requested his passport back. He returned to the US just a few years before killing President Kennedy.

 

The citizens are very proud of their library. However, many locals feel that the building will fall over.

 

We went to the roof and had a marvelous view over the city and area.

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A photo taken from the van while we toured a newer part of town.

 

Across from the bus station, this sign is outside the Minsk McDonalds.

 

As we have done whenever we visit countries with the Cyrillic alphabet, we brushed up on the pronunciation of the characters, so we could read advertisements like this one.

 

We have typed (in blue) the English pronunciations.

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This is the red Catholic church of Saints Simon and Helena.

 

The story: The children of a business man were very ill, and the daughter dreamt that an angel told her to build a cathedral. When she awoke she drew the cathedral. After they died, he financed the building of this church in 1905, and named it in memory of his deceased children.

 

It is one of the few buildings in Minsk that weren’t destroyed in the bombing.

 

 

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Our hotel was in an old monastery just beyond these buildings. This area is very nice and is fronted on the river that flows through the city.

 

We walked from the hotel to the opera just across the river.

 

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit was completed in 1642 as part of a Bernadine nunnery.

 

It was damaged in 1741 by fire and later reconstructed. The convent closed in 1852 and the building was given to the Russian Orthodox Church for use as a monastery.

 

The Bolsheviks closed it after the October Revolution. It has been completely restored.

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The Catholic Cathedral of Saint Virgin Mary was used as a sports hall during Soviet times; the bell towers were demolished.

 

The restored church is back in its original form. 

 

We attended a performance in the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus.

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The theater lobby is very nice. We got there early so we could explore.

 

We had a box for six for the two of us. These seats cost just $30 each.

 

It was a Sunday night and the performance was at 6pm; far more user-friendly than our theatres. The theater was almost full of people of all ages.

 

It was fun walking back across the river to the town with all the attendees after it was over.

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We saw a performance of “Pikovaya Dama” which is the Russian title of Tchaikovsky’s opera “The Queen of Spades.”

 

Much of Belarus consisted of Jewish villages like those in “Fiddler on the Roof”.

 

The Khatyn Memorial commemorates the burning of the village of Khatyn in 1943.

 

A German battalion surrounded the village and herded the 149 people and their 75 children into a barn that then was burned to the ground. Anyone getting out was machine-gunned. Then the village was looted and burned to the ground, leaving only chimneys.

 

Each of these squares represents a house.  The same atrocity was done to 600 similar villages.

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Each village that was destroyed along with its inhabitants is memorialized in this list.

 

Out of 9200 settlements that were burned or otherwise destroyed, at least 5295 were destroyed and their inhabitants murdered.

 

Almost the entire Jewish population of Belarus that did not evacuate was killed.

 

The Mir Castle (a UNESCO site) was built in the 16C as a fortress. The walls and towers were built in the 1520s; the Renaissance palace was built in the 16th and early 17th centuries. Restoration has been a major effort.

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This photo of a typical village house was taken from our van as we passed through a village.

 

The Niasvizh castle is a UNESCO WHS.

 

It’s the Architectural, Residential and Cultural Complex of the Radziwill Family started in 1533. It is only half an hour from Mir. The town was first established in the 13th century.

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This is the inner courtyard of Niasvizh castle.

 

Our tour took us through most of the castle.

 

In Brest we visited the large fortress complex which includes the Church of St. Nicolai (1876).

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A short video gives an impression of church service and music (only vocal music is allowed in the Russian orthodox church)

 

There are also no seating facilities. You must stand during services!

 

Only the border walls of the Brest fortress remain after the war. The memorial complex “Brest Fortress – Hero” commemorates the soldiers who held out for the summer while suffering intense attrition.

 

At the end they had no food or water: this statue represents a soldier crawling to the river to get water.

 

The site on the right is guarded by young soldiers in strict military attention.

 

We felt sorry for them.

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