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Bryansk 2018
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Bryansk was founded in 1146, just a year before Moscow – at least, that was when it was first cited in a chronicle, which is the standard way of dating Russian cities. Its name, which was originally “Debryansk”, approximates to “wooded hillside” in Old Russian. That is an accurate description of its physical geography, as we shall soon see.

In the Soviet Union, Bryansk was a rather ordinary lower-tier Russian provincial system, based on textiles and some minor metallurgy. It should not have been a success story after the end of the USSR, and I wasn’t expecting it to be – its population had declined from a peak of 461,000 in the early 1990s to 406,000 by 2018, constituting a fall of more than 10%. Frankly, I was expected it to be a dump. So I was pleasantly surprised to the upside. From what I saw there over the course of a couple of days, it is a thriving and friendly city, with very nice roads, an astounding amount of historical renovation (the churches are in better condition than in Veliky Novgorod, despite the latter’s having much more historical significance), and even the beginnings of the SWPL culture that already dominates central Moscow and Saint-Petersburg (e.g. craft beer pubs, girls with dyed hair, etc). Considering that Bryansk is not particularly successful according to statistics – it is, in fact, somewhat below the Russian median in terms of salaries per capita – this suggests very good things for Russia as a whole.

Some other observations:

(1) The Bryansk region was one of the last core Great Russian territories to come under the total suzerainty of the Russian Empire, and as such imbibed considerable Ukrainian and Belorussian influence. Its main monastery held the largest fair in the Russian Empire for several centuries. It would not be an exaggeration to call it the Crossroads of the Russian World.

(2) This extends to linguistics. In the villages, old people would still use phrasings such as “у Брянску” (в Брянске), “иде я нахожуся” (где я нахожусь?), and “поссмащить” (IIRC, to slurp something up, e.g. soup; possible a bastardization of the Ukrainian “посмикать”). The beet is also known as a буряк there (as opposed to the Russian свекла).

(3) The Bryansk people are noticeably more religious than northerners or central Russians, though they are still nowhere near as religious as the Black Earth regions. This was visible even just based on church attendance, in terms of not just how many but also in terms of who attend (e.g. young men).

(4) They are also more patriotic (as suggested by this map I made). There were St. George ribbons everywhere, and one of the burger joints we visited featured a #CrimeaIsOurs burger.

(5) As I have noted on occasion, Southern Russian girls really are prettier than Northern and Central Russian girls. I think you’ll even see hints of this in these photos.

***

Bryansk lies 400 km south-west of Moscow. While it took most of the day to get there during Soviet days, that is now down to 4 hours thanks to modern trains.

The Bryansk main train station has some genuinely nice Soviet era artwork, including stained glass windows and a metallic/stone map of rail routes from the city at the far end of the hall.

There is a considerable amount of construction activity going on. While these flats are hardly elite class [top], they are cheap and have all the modern amenities. The other photo shows a typical suburb [bottom].

***

The Svensky Monastery was founded in 1288 and, like many monasteries, had a rich military and economic history. During the 17-18th centuries, it hosted the largest fair in European Russia outside its walls.


The view from the top is spectacular, a vast expanse of forests and waterways that once harbored the partisans that did battle with the Nazis and the Lokot Autonomy.

And here it is by daylight.

Unfortunately, the great bulk of the monastery’s buildings were blown up by the Bolsheviks in 1930.

The Assumption Cathedral [above], built in the early 18th century, is a reconstruction of the original that is close to completion.

The Church of Saints Anthony and Theodosius [above] was likewise destroyed by the Bolsheviks, and reconstructed in 2010. The cross commemorates the 100th year anniversary of the start of repressions against Orthodox Christian priests and laity in 1917.

The house where Peter the Great stayed before the Battle of Poltava [bottom]. Also destroyed by Bolsheviks, and recently reconstructed.

There is also a 16-17th century belfry that was destroyed in 1930 and has yet to be reconstructed.

***

This wasn’t the only such suspended vehicle on the roads. It appears the road constructors here have a sense of humor.

This is the Bryansk Partisan Museum.

It is worth noting that the Great Patriotic War is every bit as central to Bryansk’s identity as it is to that of Volokolamsk’s or Veliky Novgorod’s. It spend almost two years under German occupation, with the attendant demographic losses to dearth and reprisals against civilians for partisan operations. Shells and armaments are still dug up every year. One local acquaintance reported how he and his schoolmates found a functioning Makarov pistol during the 1960s and played around with it, even to the point of taking it to school. This was a criminal offense, though their school hushed it up (though they did get spanked for it by their parents).

There is an impressive collection of military hardware spanning the 1930s-1970s period.

This is a map of the main zones of partisan activity in Bryansk oblast. It is claimed that the 60,000 partisans destroyed 150,000 fascist occupiers.

Monument to a partisan.

Reconstruction of a partisan camp in the forests [top], and of a partisan dugout [bottom two]. There was some interesting information on how the partisans manipulated their stoves and other equipment to avoid detection.

Wild nature man appears.

Expansion of the museum continues.

The museum contains exponents of partisan weaponry, as well as the diaries of partisans, accounts of Nazi atrocities, etc.

***

Now we return to the city of Bryansk.

***

This monument to Peresvet is located at the top of a wonderful vantage point with a view over a large part of the city.

***

This fountain and the Bryansk Oblast Philharmonic Orchestra in the background [bottom] happen to stand at the site of the New Pokrovsky Cathedral, which was built in 1862 and blown up in 1968.

Ironically, according to the Russian Wikipedia, it was said that there were orders from Moscow not to go through with the explosion the day before, but the zealously anti-religious Bryansk obkom – apparently still in the throes of Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign – had other ideas and went through with it anyway. When asked to explain themselves, they pretended that they got the countermanding telegram a day late [А. Венедиктов. Взрыв назначили на субботу. / «Брянская Газета», № 12, март 1992 г.]. The destroyed cathedral is commemorated by a small chapel.

***

But a city of Bryansk’s size does need a cathedral in post-Bolshevik Russia, and with the New Pokrovsky Cathedral long gone, the Patriarch Alexy II took the decision to construct the Trinity Cathedral in 2005.

As you can see, it’s a rather beautiful building, with no expense being spared regarding interior decorations.

***

You can get a patriotic #KrymNash (#крымнаш = “Crimea is Ours”) box at this very fine dining establishment for 225 rubles.

***

I will conclude this post with a series of everyday scenes of life from Bryansk:

There were a couple of places I was unable to visit in Bryansk: The local museum (краеведческий), and the Kurgan of Immortality WW2 monument.

That is not a terminal problem, since I would be happy to visit Bryansk again, and there’s a good chance I’ll do so again in one or two years.

***

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Bryansk, Russia, The AK, Travel 
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  1. Please keep off topic posts to the current Open Thread.

    You can find all my travel posts here.

    My personal website has a list of all of my travel reviews here.

  2. Not Raul says:

    Thanks for the travelogues, AK. They are great. I’m hoping to visit Russia one day. I’d like to see the major sites; but also the small towns.

    I have a cousin who works in Moscow now, so I might have an excuse to visit.

  3. SafeNow says:

    I very much enjoyed the tour — thank you. The uncrowded streets surprised me; for a city of its population, I would have expected more pedestrians, and more cars. Where is everyone? I suspect Bryansk has a quietness and sweetness that would remind me of the America that existed many years ago, when I was a boy. If so, I am envious.

    • Agree: RadicalCenter
  4. melanf says:

    (5) As I have noted on occasion, Southern Russian girls really are prettier than Northern and Central Russian girls. I think you’ll even see hints of this in these photos.

    This is controversial statement. Women’s football team Bryansk and Karelia:

    Karelia top photo, Bryansk – bottom
    In the North girls have Scandinavian-Finnish appearance, in the South conditionally “Slavic”. Who what prefers?

    • Replies: @Thulean Friend
    , @Svevlad
  5. Почти нет бабы на этих фото. Серьёзно??

    • Replies: @Anonymoose
  6. melanf says:

    New Pokrovsky Cathedral, which was built in 1862 and blown up in 1968.
    Ironically, … there were orders from Moscow not to go through with the explosion the day before, but the zealously anti-religious Bryansk obkom – apparently still in the throes of Khrushchev’s anti-religious campaign – had other ideas and went through with it anyway.

    It was the right decision esteticaly, the New Pokrovsky Cathedral was ugly

    • LOL: Anonymoose
    • Replies: @Anonymoose
  7. What was the weather like? Was it be about 18-23 Celcius?

    Why were you unable to visit the kurgan? Looks cool and impressively shaped but doesn’t seem like there’s too much to it.

    AK: “There were a couple of places I was unable to visit in Bryansk: The local museum (краеведческий), and the Kurgan of Immortality WW2 monument.”

  8. @melanf

    *Astetucaly

    FTFY

    At least the new commemorative chapel looks nicer and grander on the inside and outside.

  9. @Marshall Lentini

    Yeah I wonder why. Barely saw any female homonids here. The only girl he took a picture of was at that fast food place. Karlin needs to work on his creepshot skills more for next time.

    • Replies: @Marshall Lentini
  10. @Anonymoose

    It isn’t even creepy, Russian girls love to have their picture taken. You just ask.

    I turned down a job in Bryansk and now I’m regretting it. Looks like Kaluga, which is surprisingly pretty.

  11. @melanf

    What is it with your obsession with quasi-Nordicism?

    P.S. Thanks for another fun little travelogue, AK.

  12. Dmitry says:
    @SafeNow

    uncrowded streets surprised me; for a city of its population, I would have expected more pedestrians

    I have not been there.

    But you can see centre of the city is built almost completely with attractive Stalinist architecture, which is quite spaced out between buildings.

    Having so much Stalinist architecture, creates a very elegant and beautiful city, with almost Parisian streets. But these grand buildings and very wide roads, also spreads out everything in centre of cities.

    You can see in the photo also the Stalinist building of city’s central department store

    This Stalinist architecture in the city centre is very beautiful, but also creates a lot of open space and spreads people out, where it could otherwise look crowded.

    • Agree: Anonymoose
    • Replies: @Anon
  13. Svevlad says:
    @melanf

    Eh, to each their own, for example I don’t find nordic blonde types attractive at all, probably because it ain’t really a native phenotype here

    • Replies: @melanf
  14. Svevlad says:

    I like it, looks real clean, like people try to keep it that way.

    You mentioned that you plan on visiting Belgrade this year, no?

  15. Anon[377] • Disclaimer says:
    @Dmitry

    I dont understand the love for those bleak colors, even if you paint those buildings simple dark gray it would be SO MUCH BETTER than what they are now…

    • Replies: @Dmitry
  16. Dmitry says:
    @Anon

    You find the colours are bleak?

    Whether you like it or hate it, Stalinist architecture are designed to be often painted with bright colours.

    (Examples of quite typical designs of Stalin architecture).
    https://img-fotki.yandex.ru/get/15570/194398330.b6/0_1116ff_365b1700_XL.jpg

    • Replies: @Dieter Kief
  17. melanf says:
    @Svevlad

    Eh, to each their own, for example I don’t find nordic blonde types attractive at all, probably because it ain’t really a native phenotype here

    I would say that in those places in Europe where I was in my opinion about the same percentage of beauties, ugly and ordinary girls (regardless of the predominant phenotype) . But with girls of other races strange thing – they are not seen as ugly or as beautiful women, their faces my brain “reads” very bad

  18. nice travel pix and commentary. Which reminds me:

    I haven’t watched any Russian car crash vids for several months and must get caught up: aside from the mayhem, if you watch the roadsides, architecture, signage, and people you can pick up all sorts of other interesting information. Thing I notice first and foremost is an exact opposite of ‘Murka. In ‘Murka, c. 60% of the population are grossly obese slobs. In Russia, you see relatively few such.

  19. @SafeNow

    Speaking of uncrowded and quiet streets, as of now this comments section is pretty scanty for an article that is 1300 words long which Karlin took quite some time to think and write. Almost as sparse and quiet as the streets of Bryansk.

    • Replies: @cacad
  20. Looks like a fairly decent place of a city. Adjusting for the difference in cost of living, how are living standards and access to amenities for locals in comparison to Moscow/SPB/various Million Cities?

  21. 216 says:

    If it was WW2 vintage?

    Wouldn’t it have been a functioning “Tokarev” not a “Makarov”. The latter in the 1960s would have presumably leaked from official stocks.

  22. cacad says:
    @Anonymoose

    Especially compared to Giraldi’s threads.

  23. @Dmitry

    Stalin for your heart – a devil’s bargain. But a bargain nonetheless.

  24. Ah, Anatoly Karlin – I love these city-sketches of yours.

    Therefore I feel entitled, to send you a caveat – your article reminds me of the Talking Heads
    second if I remember right LP

    More Songs About Buildings and Food

    Ok – and tanks and a german train and – pretty girls, too.

    Other than that: What’s up? – – This might be asking too much. – Take it as a compliment, that I even feel inclined to ask for too much .

    The effect of your photos and words is very refreshing – and they calm me down. Very nice. Thanks.

  25. @SafeNow

    Your comment is moving. It reminds me of experiences the Polish writer Andrzej Stasiuk shares in his numerous and very well written travel-books about his eastern routes and experiences – “Galizische Geschichten” or “Unterwegs nach Babadag” or “Der Stich im Herzen” for example, in the German edition (Suhrkamp Verlag).

  26. D Binsky says:

    I think Russia should allow immigration from India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Philippines. These countries have a huge number of well trained professionals who can help rebuild the Russian economy especially its Defence Industry.
    Moreover, Russia would benefit from Diversity of food, thought and color as well. India and Russia are good friends as well and many Indian students come to Russia to get Doctor’s bachelor degree every year
    Just my 2 cents.

    • Replies: @Thorfinnsson
    , @216
  27. 216 says:
    @D Binsky

    Selling arms to the Philippines would irritate China. Pakistan is a Chinese vassal state, again minimal chance of selling them arms. India desperately wants its own military-industrial complex. That leaves Nigeria, which is in a geopolitical dead zone and has no need for advanced weaponry.

    All four countries diaspora tilt moderately to heavily left-wing in the United States. The least leftist would be Filipino, but they aren’t the social conservatives of even 10 years ago. Duerte, for all of the praise given to him by the Dissident Right, is a secular leftist and a particularly vulgar one.

  28. >”Southern Russian girls really are prettier than Northern and Central Russian girls. I think you’ll even see hints of this in these photos.”

    Quite frankly I was expecting more than a sample size of 1 Anatoly, disappointed, disappointed.

    • Replies: @Meneldil
  29. Alfred says:

    My ex-wife came from Bryansk. I have been there several times over the past 20 years. It is a pleasant place. When I first went there, there were few restaurants. Last time I went, it had changed completely. Lots of new blocks of flats. New churches and so on.

    We used to take a sleeper train from Moscow as it took so long. I am glad to hear it is now only 4 hours. That makes a huge difference.

    The closed border with nearby Ukraine must be a real pain for the locals. Lots of them have relatives in Ukraine. Bryansk is halfway between Moscow and Kiev – a strategic position.

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