Monday, October 17, 2005


I spent the weekend in Belgorod (after having trouble getting out of and back into Ukraine, while at the same time all but being offered a cup of tea and a plate of bliny from the kind and friendly Russian passport agents, two women I hope to see again and again).

I don't know what I expected of Belgorod, but I didn't get whatever it was. For a city that's maybe a thousand years old, and still emerging from a planned economy, as they say, Belgorod looks very modern. World War Two played a part in that. "Our city was bombed all to hell too, then," my girlfriend said, after hearing me use these words to summarize Kharkov's experience during the war. So yes, the Germans played a part in Belgorod's city planning (the German-launched Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history, happened not far from here; Belgorod was one of the first two cities freed during the Soviet counter-offensive). And then in the last couple of years, a great number of new buildings have gone up too, while many of the older ones have gotten a face lift, including the Belgorod Department Store, a store that hasn't needed to change its communist-era name because it doesn't have a second department store with which it must compete (and with which it might be confused).

Then there are the stones that line the sidewalks and pave several of Belgorod's streets. Beautiful stones and colored bricks -- and they're everywhere, from one end of the city to the other. So is Belgorod a city dedicated to its beautification? Perhaps. But it's also one with a mayor who owns the brickworks factory. "At least it benefits the people," my tour guide said, and yes, she's right about that. In fact, the government in Belgorod Oblast seems to have its mind in the right place. The state university, a beautiful building I would've photographed if my mind hadn't been elsewhere, went up in a building abandoned mid-construction during the perestroika era, and it only got finished after the governor convinced all the area businesses to contribute to its completion. Not exactly a tax, I was told, but more of a civic duty. Political semantics, you could say, or as my dad might offer: it's just the cost of doing business.

Anyways, to see some pictures of Belgorod, visit the Flickr sidebar (because loading them here is too time-consuming and costly). There's more about the city's history, a picture of its now famous sidewalks, and a shot of one of the city's two Lenin statues (both seem wooden and flat-footed. Sorry, Belgorod. But I'll taking the Lenin who's striding out over Kharkov's Independence Square.)