! Off to Siberia with You !

Siberia conjures up an image.

! a Land of Banishment ! a Prison of a Country ! a Hell on Earth !

Here Exiles and Troublemakers and Inmates fall off the face of the Earth. Here in Labour Colonies and Concentration Camps and Psychiatric Hospitals they expire. Here in the World’s Worst Weather they chop wood, lay railway tracks, work in mines and build factories.

Yet all we see Here is a Land of Plenty ! Plenty of Wheat ! Plenty of Sunflowers ! Plenty of Water ! Plenty of Animals ! Plenty of Colour ! Plenty of Beauty !

So where is this insufferable hell-hole?

We read …

… Russian peasants flee east to Siberiain 1610 and take with them alcohol & disease. The first Jewish criminals (their crime being ‘Jewish’) arrive in the 17th century. Old believers seek religious sanctuary in 1653. The Tsar, Nicholas 1, deports the Decembrists to Siberia after a failed coup in 1825. Stalin expels his many enemies to his notorious Gulag camps. The Gulag population grows from 30,000 in 1928 to 8 million in 1938. Heavy industry shifts to the east for safety reasons in ww2. German prisoners of war follow to build heavy industry and cities.  And now they want to banish Moscow’s gamblers to Siberia…

… The story of General Volkonsky and his Princess of Siberia enthralls me. He is one of the 125 ‘Decembrists’, key figures in the first liberation movement of Russia. Tsar Nicholas deports them to Siberia after their failed coup in ‘December’ 1825. Volkonsky receives a sentence of 20 years; hard labour. His wife, Maria is one of 11 wives who request to follow their husbands. The Tsar first offers to annul their marriages so they can remarry. Eventually he concedes and lets them go to Siberia but without their children! Maria leaves behind their 2-month old firstborn son. These women become the Florence Nightingales of Siberia. They deliver food parcels, shame guards into reducing jail brutality, communicate with the families of prisoners and start charities. This forms a core for civil society in Siberia. In 1845, the Volkonsky’s receive permission to move to Siberia’s capital, Irkutsk. Here Maria dazzles the urbane in Irkutsk and becomes known as the Princess of Siberia. She holds cultural events, musical recitals and debates and is visited by many well-known Russian novelists, poets, musicians and intellectuals. The Volkonsky’s only receive amnesty in 1856 …

We meet the Off-spring!

We meet the Off-spring of these Exiles and Troublemakers and Inmates in countless country villages and a few large cities.

And, overnight, their Land of Plenty disappears!

YESTERDAY … A Season of Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness!  TODAY … The Winter of our Discontent!

Siberia has no spring. Autumn lasts a week. Winter temperatures dip to -50 degrees Celsius in February.

It is a country-full of prison sentences that re-new every year. Today, Siberia brings down the gavel. We hear the prison doors whine open. Soon they will slam shut. Steel clangs and keys jingle.

All around us, everybody-everywhere, is chopping wood again! It’s serious. It’s frantic. The idle do not survive this annual incarceration.

And now we see where all that Plenty is off to! Plenty of Hay, Wood, Food, Vodka! It is off to IN-DOORS, all of it. Siberia still banishes everything, every winter.

Brrrrrr ….

 

Plenty of Wheat.

 

Plenty of Sunflowers.

 

Plenty of Trees.

 

Plenty of Water.

 

Plenty of Animals.

 

Plenty of Colour.

 

Plenty of Beauty.

 

Siberians in the countryside stay in houses like these ...

 

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Siberian cities support heavy industry and most urban Siberians stay in apartment blocks like these ...

 

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We also spend 4 rainy days in an apartment block in Krasnoyarsk. We have a KITCHEN and go food shopping ...

 

... and, at last, COOK again ...

 

...

 

Cities still have a lot of old wooden 'gingerbread' houses dotted all over the place.

 

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Here a flashy apartment block towers over an old wooden house.

 

This is the old wooden house of a Decembrist. Today it is a beautifully renovated museum & tells the story of General Volkonsky and 125 other Decembrists expelled to Siberia in 1826.

 

Volkonsky's wife (Maria, above) & 11 others follow their husbands to these harsh labour camps. They are lifelines for their husbands ...

 

... and later bring culture & education to Siberian cities. Maria becomes known as the Princess of Siberia and many poets, musicians & intellectuals visit her.

 

She is eventually allowed to return to Moscow. Here she is visited by her first son who she leaves behind when she follows her husband to Siberia.

 

This is an early example of the home of a Decembrist (not glammed into a museum).

 

We meet the off-spring of the Decembrists and all the other 'trouble-makers' that were banished to Siberia!

 

Buying fruit along the road turns into a lovely encouter.

 

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And the 'little old bird lady' comes ...

 

This lady is collecting mushrooms in the forest.

 

This yound girl sells these forest mushrooms and berries.

 

A fruit seller in Irkutsch ...

 

... and three other 'babushka' ...

 

Siberia (and Russia) is filled with little old ladies affectionately called 'babushka'.

 

This is a ferry terminal to a small island peninsula on Lake Baikal called Svyatoy Nos (Holy Nose).

 

We chat easily once I show that we come from the southern tip of Africa ... Afrika ... Afreekaa ...

 

Check these guys drinking on the sly!

 

And then all of a sudden a change comes over the scene ...

 

... green starts making way for ...

 

... brown and ...

 

... red and ...

 

... gold ...

 

It becomes wet and cold ... in the countryside ...

 

... and the cities ...

 

We start to layer ...

 

... and stuff our feet into plastic bags before our boots ...

 

...

 

We often take cover at bustops.

 

Can you imagine hunkering down for a long snowy winter in this house ...

 

... behind this old fashioned type of double glazing ...

 

... in this little village ...

 

... or this little village ...

 

... or this little village ...

 

People all over the place start collecting wood ...

 

... frantically!

 

And it is not just wood ...

 

... but heaps of hay for the animals too.

 

In no time at all ... ALL STREETS LOOK LIKE THIS ... each house has a huge stock pile of wood for winter.

 

...

 

And this 'babushka' must be feeling a lot more ready now ... for ANOTHER SIBERIAN WINTER!

 

 

 

8 Responses to ! Off to Siberia with You !

  1. Schalk Potgieter

    Your compassion for people and their struggles is once again standing out! Dankie

  2. JMOL

    What a place. Would like to see it for myself . . . . . One day when I’m BIG 🙂

    Thanks for sharing

  3. Scottish Stephens

    loved the smile under the ‘layers’ What a fantastic and engrossing story with pictures of life in Siberia

  4. jan and gail

    Yoh! And you traveled on these very muddy roads! I have spoken to Germans and I got the feeling that the mud possibly bogged them down more or possibly as bad as the snow and ice. We – the South africans in Angola discovered that Russian lorries could ajust there tire pressure to the conditions of the terrain! Oddly enough the Argentinians can do this too and claim it as a Argentinian invention! _JAN

  5. jan and gail

    Such a warm description of such a cold place and so wonderfully brought to us in all the great pics. Memorable faces and places and wood piles!, so well done. Gail

  6. Melville

    Port Elizabeth has also had its share of floods and cold weather over the past week, but nothing compared to a Siberian winter! I can’t imagine how cold it must be. You guys are having an adventure of a lifetime, you are two extremely brave humans. Linda you will have to publish a book! Maybe you can put all the long trips that the two of you have done together into one book! Ride safe, from Mel in PE.

  7. Philna

    I just put on another jumper, opened some wine and got Maltesers.

  8. Naude

    And ….Plenty of great pic’s. Wow, it is like reading a story book. Real country style living there I see. But also I see winter is approaching. Travel safe! Regards, Nod’s

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