After a long day in the bus we arrived at Minsk, capital of Belarus. Belarus was mostly destroyed in the Great Patriotic War, the term used in Russia and other former soviet republics, to describe the war with the Nazis. During the war 25% of the population of Minsk was killed. The city is dominated by monumental Stalinist architecture.
Minsk was also the location of one of the largest tank battles in history in 1944. The Red Army encircled the Nazi occupiers. Hitler ordered the army to hold fast defend the city even if was encircled. About 100,000 Nazi soldiers were encircled, and 40,000 were killed and most of the rest captured. The result was a complete victory for the Red Army, the liberation of Minsk.
The day started with a tour of the city with our local guide. We've been on this Insight tour for some time and I have noticed that the tour guides have really focussed on the glorious churches of the past which are beautiful but they seem to ignore important recent history like this tank battle. Also the murder of their jewish populations and the Stalin era seems to be glossed over. I'm not sure if this is because of the culture of the communist era or maybe I'm just being to critical.
Belarus is another former communist country which gave renters the opportunity to buy the apartments they had rented for many years for a peppercorn amount, when they privatised the housing stock.
The one thing that stood out as far as a memorial was the Island of Tears. Memorial was opened in 1988 and commemorates Belarusian soldiers who died in the USSR's disastrous, 9-year war in Afghanistan. The centrepiece of the memorial is the chapel, with haunting figures of grieving mothers, sisters and widows at its base. This memorial was not welcomed by the Russians who don't recognise failures.
After a short tour we headed south to Vilnius and the border between the Russia and the EU. If you thought it was hard to get into Russia it seems that its even harder to leave. The border officers first wanted all luggage, off the bus, including hand luggage; our guide was able to persuade her that this was not necessary. Then the slow line through passport control and then a short walk to the Lithuanian border for another passport check. The whole process took about two hours. Back on the bus and the guide told that was the fastest time he'd been through the border.
This area is truly a bread basket. We passed fields of wheat, corn and other crops. Each little farm house is surrounded by greenhouses and fruit trees, making the best of the short summer.
I'll tell you about Vilnius tomorrow.