A City of War Heroes and Industry
Published: October 12, 2011 (Issue # 1678)
VLADIMIR FILONOV / SPT
‘The Motherland Is Calling,’ an 85-meter-tall World War II memorial, towers over the city of Volgograd.
VOLGOGRAD — Volgograd is a proud city, and justifiably so. Famed for its dogged resistance against Hitler’s invading forces under its former name, Stalingrad, it bore the brunt of the German onslaught between August 1942 and February 1943 and was awarded the title “Hero City” accordingly.
Aside from its military significance, Volgograd has also served as an important industrial center and transport hub for more than a century. Shipyards, a tractor plant and a steel factory were all built here during the first Five-Year Plan. Since the completion of the Volga-Don canal in 1952, millions of tons of cargo have passed through the city every year.
Today, Volgograd remains a bustling urban center and an industrial powerhouse of the Southern Federal District. The city stretches 80 kilometers along the western bank of the Volga River, its historic heart flanked by sprawling suburbs, malls, cinema complexes and industrial sites to the north and south. The Volga Hydroelectric Station, the largest of its kind in Europe, lies just a short distance away.
But, despite its forward-looking ambitions and dynamic industrial sector, Volgograd is a city in which memories of former glories still loom large. This is a place that consciously strives to remember its past and celebrate its privileged position in the drive to industrialize and defend the motherland.
Wandering through the center, you are first struck by the abundance of street names and monuments recalling Soviet times. The city’s main thoroughfare is called Prospekt Lenina, and streets named after Red Army generals, the divisions they commanded and the Soviet-era youth movement, the Komsomol, line the surrounding area. “The Motherland Is Calling,” an 85-meter-tall sculpture that commemorates the Battle of Stalingrad, towers over the city and features prominently on the Volgograd region coat of arms.
For this reason, it is perhaps unsurprising that Volgograd was designated Russia’s most Soviet city in a 2011 Communist Party poll. Even local election outcomes hark back to Soviet days: Roman Grebennikov, Volgograd’s last elected mayor who was ousted in early 2011 after a well-publicized feud with the governor, ran on the Communist Party ticket.
While seeking to preserve the city’s Soviet heritage, Volgograd’s post-Soviet administration has attempted to provide a blueprint for future development by overseeing a number of ambitious construction projects. One example is the recently completed Volgograd Bridge, which took 13 years to build. Spanning over seven kilometers, it is among the longest in Russia and has had an eventful history. In 2010, it achieved fame as “the dancing bridge” after a video posted on YouTube showed the bridge swaying violently due to powerful gusts of wind.
More impressive, construction began in 2005 on Volgograd City, a business complex that will include a state-of-the-art business center, five modern apartment blocks and a hotel, as well as provide a range of public services. It is estimated that the project will be finished in eight to 10 years and will cost at least 1.5 billion euros ($2.2 billion). Once completed, it will constitute the largest business complex in the south of the country.
Volgograd has also started to flex its muscles as an up-and-coming tourist destination for international and Russian travelers. Alongside its historic attractions, the city boasts a burgeoning ecotourism industry. Visitors can savor the Volga-Akhtuba floodplains, the Elton salt lake and the Don River, all within a few hours of the city. Now that Volgograd has been officially chosen to host the 2018 football World Cup, visitors will soon be able to enjoy sporting spectacles of the highest order in a 45,000-seat stadium due to be built in the shadow of “The Motherland Is Calling.”
The city’s name has been changed thrice over 3 1/2 centuries. Founded in 1589 under the regency of Boris Godunov, the fortress town of Tsaritsyn acted as the first line of defense on Russia’s southeastern border. In 1925, the city was renamed Stalingrad to honor its role in the struggle against the Whites during the Russian civil war. Nikita Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization program inspired its rechristening as Volgograd in 1961.
What to see if you have two hours
Although the suburbs of Volgograd stretch out for dozens of kilometers, the center is relatively compact. For the time-pressed visitor, the city’s main historic attractions can be navigated easily using the high-speed tram system that runs parallel to the Volga.
Start by ascending Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd’s main vantage point and the site of the fiercest fighting at the time of the Nazi onslaught. Today, this high ground is the home of the Heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad memorial complex, “The Motherland Is Calling” statue and the All Saints’ Church. There are few more moving experiences than to wander the cavernous hall of the memorial building warmed by the eternal flame that rises from the ground beneath you and surrounded by plaque after plaque listing the names of the fallen. Marshal Vasily Chuikov and sniper Vasily Zaitsev are among those buried on Mamayev Kurgan.
Next, after wending your way back to the center on the tram, stop off at Pavlov’s House, the four-story apartment building by the banks of the Volga for which Yakov Pavlov, the commander of a machine gun unit, fought tooth-and-nail. While only fragments of the outer shell still remain, these serve as a powerful reminder of the Red Army’s stubborn resistance.
From here, you can stroll along the embankment and take in the mighty river flowing past you. Continue as far as the river port, where you will see a set of grand steps leading to the tree-lined Alley of Heroes. A welcome strip of green in the heart of the city, this is a perfect spot to sit, contemplate and end your fleeting tour.
What to do if you have two days
After visiting Mamayev Kurgan, you can spend a few hours in Volgograd’s Panoramic Museum (47 Ulitsa Chuikova; +7 8442-23-67-23; panorama.volgadmin.ru). The museum houses more than 3,500 exhibits on the Battle of Stalingrad, including Soviet and German weapons, propaganda and documents. It also contains the largest painting in all of Russia, composed by seven painters of the Grekov school and titled “The Defeat of the Fascist Armies at Stalingrad.”
Should you tire of military exhibits, the city’s other museums can cater to a range of tastes. The Volgograd Regional Studies Museum (7 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8442-38-84-39; museum.ru/m742) contains archeological, ethnographic, zoological and musical displays. Another option is the Volgograd Museum of Fine Arts (21 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8442-38-19-38; volgogradmuseum.ru), which is sure to impress with its array of works from the pre- and post-revolutionary period. The centerpiece of its collection is the artwork of Ilya Mashkov, a native of the Volgograd region.
For those wishing to travel further afield, Volgograd can serve admirably as a base for exploring the surrounding area. Tour operator Volgograd Compass (75A Ulitsa Mira, Volzhsky;
+7 8443-58-18-00; volga-kompas.ru), which is based in neighboring town Volzhsky but can pick you up from the city center, can arrange tours to any of the Volgograd region’s six national parks as well as hunting or fishing excursions. Alternatively, a Volga cruise can be easily organized with any of the companies operating out of the river port building.
If you are looking for an unusual way to spend an evening, then there is nowhere better than Volgograd’s New Experimental Theater (5 Ulitsa Mira; +7 8442-38-08-45; net.volgograd.ru). Staging highly original, if somewhat bizarre, productions of classic and contemporary drama, the theater has built a reputation for itself locally. For more mainstream shows, you should head to the city’s musical theater (4 Ulitsa Chuikova; +7 8442-38-30-68; muzteatr-vlg.ru).
Keen to show off your dance moves to Volgograd’s hippest? Then nightclub Piranya (6 Naberezhnaya 62nd Army; +7 8442-90-05-33; pirana.ru) is the place for you. Located in the river port building with views overlooking the Volga, Piranya is regularly visited by top Russian and international DJs and stays open till the early hours. Calypso (2/1 Raboche-Krestyanskaya Ulitsa; +7 8442-95-64-50) offers the same thumping music and laser lighting, but with more upmarket decor and four themed bars.
An artist’s conception of the $2.2 billion Volgograd City complex.
Where to eat
Cafe Bellagio (13 Ulitsa Mira; +7 8442-38-48-86; cafe-bellagio.ru) is home to some of the finest cuisine in all of Volgograd. A hit with business visitors and the local elite, this tastefully decorated European restaurant offers all the Italian staples and an impressive wine list to boot. A meal for two people with three courses and a bottle of wine will set you back about 4,000 rubles ($140). Plus, if you visit in the summer, there is a charming terrace at the back where you can soak up the sun while dining.
Another option nearby is restaurant Moliere (12 Ulitsa Mira; +7 8442-55-14-55). Here you can sample a mix of Russian and European dishes, with everything from fish to fowl on the menu. Located right in the heart of the city on the Fallen Fighters’ Square, this restaurant is popular with all comers and especially convenient if you are planning to spend the evening at the New Experimental Theater, which is a stone’s throw away. Expect to pay upward of 4,000 rubles for a three-course meal for two, wine included.
If you are looking for a hearty, informal meal, then German-themed Bochka (16 Sovietskaya Ulitsa;
+7 8442-91-93-19) will do the trick. Satisfying and inexpensive stews and draft beers from Europe are what this restaurant does best. A meal here should cost less than 1,000 rubles.
Where to stay
Volgograd Intourist (14 Ulitsa Mira; +7 8442-30-23-01; volgograd-intourist.ru) is the most luxurious hotel the city has to offer. Visiting politicians, businesspeople and the wealthy tend to choose the Intourist for its central location and modern facilities. Built in 1957 in pseudo-baroque style, it counts among its former guests ex-French President Jacques Chirac. Prices start at 3,000 rubles per night and rise to 10,000 rubles for a two-room suite overlooking the central square.
Next best is Hotel Volgograd
(12 Ulitsa Mira; +7 8442-55-19-55; hotelvolgograd.ru), which is situated opposite the Intourist on Fallen Fighters’ Square and is just as popular with business visitors. Completely rebuilt after the German bombing in Stalinist empire style, it represents a slightly less ostentatious alternative to its neighbor across the way. Conveniently, restaurant Moliere is within the hotel complex, on the first floor. Rooms cost 2,600 rubles to 8,500 rubles a night for a two-room suite with a hot tub.
A more affordable alternative is Hotel Astoria (276 Ulitsa Parkhomenko; +7 8442-37-76-25; astoria-vlg.ru). Five minutes’ walk from the train station, this small four-star hotel is modern and comfortable. Rooms here vary from 3,000 to 5,000 rubles a night.
History is everywhere in Volgograd. So mention the city’s glorious past or pay tribute to its war heroes, and you are sure to get the locals talking. In particular, Alexander “Sasha” Filippov and Mikhail Panikakha are dear to Volgograd hearts. The first worked as a Red Army spy, reporting on German troop movements at the age of 17; the second threw himself on an advancing enemy tank, destroying it with the two Molotov cocktails he clutched in his hands, while defending the Red October factory.
If military reminiscences fail, you might have more luck mentioning the achievements of some of the city’s sporting greats. Yelena Isynbayeva, five-time world champion in the pole vault, and tennis player Nikolai Davydenko, formerly ranked third in the world, were both born locally. Also, Volgograd’s LUKoil-sponsored water polo team is among the best in Russia.
How to get there
Volgograd is easily accessible by plane, train and boat. From St. Petersburg the 1535-kilometer journey is most comfortable by air. On even days of the week, Aeroflot and Rossiya Airlines offer direct flights, taking about two hours and forty-five minutes to reach Volgograd International Airport and cost upward of 4,150 rubles one way.
Direct trains from Moscow Railway Station leave every other day. The journey takes nearly a day and a half and tickets cost 1,761 rubles for a one-way second-class ticket and 4,217 for first. If you can’t wait for a direct train to get there, many trains leave from the same station to Moscow, where you can then change trains and continue on to Volgograd.
Although impractical if you are planning a quick visit, there is no more beautiful way to arrive in Volgograd than by riverboat. Between the months of May and September, Volga cruises depart from Moscow and St. Petersburg, passing through the city on their way to Astrakhan. Prices vary considerably depending on the itinerary and level of comfort you choose, but expect to pay more than 35,000 rubles for a three-week round trip from the capital.
Alex Winning lived in Volgograd for six months.
ALEX WINNING / SPT
The New Experimental Theater stages original, if somewhat odd, works.
Acting mayor: Sergei Sokolov
Main industries: shipbuilding, oil refining, chemicals and petrochemicals, machinery and vehicle manufacture, electrical and thermal energy, food processing, and steel, iron and aluminum production.
Interesting fact: Anna Chapman, a former sleeper agent returned to Russia in a 2010 spy swap with the United States, was born and grew up in Volgograd.
Sister cities: Yerevan, Armenia; Liege, Belgium; Coventry, Britain; Toronto, Canada; Chendu, China; Dijon, France; Köln, Germany; Chennai, India; Turin, Italy; Hiroshima, Japan; Cleveland, Ohio, U.S., and 10 others.
•Alexander Belitsky, president of the Volgograd Chamber of Commerce
(7 Gvardeiskaya Ulitsa;
+7 8442-24-22-26, 56-36-11;
•Yevgeny Golovko, head of Volgograd administration’s economy department (25 Ulitsa Lenina;
(45 Elektrolesovskaya Ulitsa;
+7 8442-40-72-09; vnm.ru) is the largest Russian manufacturer of machinery for the gas, oil and petrochemical industries. As with all else in Volgograd, the company has changed names repeatedly since plans were laid for the Stalingrad cracking equipment factory in 1941. Over the 70 years since its first incarnation, Volgogradneftemash has expanded production significantly and now works with Gazprom, LUKoil, Rosneft as well as partners from Belarus, Ukraine and Central Asia.
• Khimprom (23 Promyslovnaya Ulitsa; +7 8442-45-19-39;
vocco.ru) is a major chemicals producer, specializing in inorganic and chloro-organic compounds as well as disinfectants, insect repellents and detergents. The enterprise is part of the state-run Russian Technologies corporation and employs more than 8,000 staff at its factory, to the south of the city.
ALEX WINNING / SPT
A brand-new, state-of-the-art business center in the city of Volgograd.
•The Volgograd Red October Metallurgical Factory (110 Prospekt Lenina; +7 8442-74-87-77;
vmzko.ru) is one of Russia’s largest metallurgical facilities supplying the aviation, machine-building and chemical industries with high-quality steel. The factory currently produces more than 600 grades of steel, including alloyed and superalloyed varieties. Its export, trading and marketing activities are managed by the Midland Group.
Sergei Sokolov, Acting mayor
Q: Why should investors choose to invest in Volgograd’s businesses?
A: Volgograd is an important junction for the international north-south transportation corridor. Through our city run river, rail and road routes to Kazakhstan and the countries of Central Asia and beyond — to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China. This opens up broad opportunities for the creation of logistical centers and other organizations serving Russian and EU retail companies here. The city’s powerful industrial complex is made up of leading machine-building, metallurgical, chemical and petrochemical enterprises. Compared with other cities in southern Russia, Volgograd certainly wins in terms of its investment potential, including the education level of its population, the efficiency of its scientific-technical activity and its labor resources.
Q: Which sectors of the city’s economy are most attractive to Russian and foreign investors?
A: Of course, the most attractive sectors for investors are the machine-building, metallurgical, chemical, petrochemical and energy-producing industries, as well as light industry and food processing.
Q: What steps has the city’s administration taken in recent years to improve the investment climate?
A: The main goal of the Volgograd administration’s municipal policies has been providing the conditions for an economic uplift in the city, including attracting investment in efficient, competitive, ecologically safe methods of production. For this, the city has created a whole range of normative acts regulating investment activity. Volgograd’s investment council carries out a coordinating role in supervising investment projects locally.
Q: What do you see as Volgograd’s biggest asset?
A: I believe that the main asset of our city is the people themselves, representatives of diverse nationalities and faiths who have lived in peace and harmony and worked productively on this God-given land for several centuries. Sources of social tension are absent here.
It is also worth mentioning the city’s favorable geographical location. Volgograd is “the city of the five seas,” located on a picturesque bank of one of Europe’s largest rivers and within touching distance of major raw materials deposits.
Maxim Sergiyenko, General director, Volgograd City, a business complex that is being constructed locally.
Q: What’s it like doing business in Volgograd?
A: Running a business in Volgograd is not simple, and the economic crisis has played its role, but, as they say, “the road will rise to meet you.” Local authorities also contribute to this. Our project will raise the town to a new level, the level of a modern metropolis.
Q: How does Volgograd City aim to contribute to Volgograd’s development?
A: The Volgograd City business center has already become a local tourist attraction. Volgograd City is the tallest building in Volgograd and the only Class-A business center in the city. It is capable of holding more than 2,000 people and boasts restaurants, an entertainment center and fitness club with a therapeutic pool.
We believe that we represent a success story on how to run a business in our “hero city.” The project is truly unique and ambitious. We are building a city of the future.
Q: How can investors help your project?
A: In order to realize the whole project, we would be glad to welcome partners in the restaurant business, large fitness club operators, experienced hotel firms and representatives from modern, Western-looking medical centers.