Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vytegra: Day 1

On Monday, having spent the night in Vytegra we went to the local museum. Despite the day being a work holiday, the museum workers were present to give us a tour of the exhibits. After the tour, we had a snack and then got to work assisting the museum with various tasks, mine being translation of a portion of their history of Vytegra booklet. After a long day of museum work, we finally had time to catch up on our reflection essays.

I was impressed by the comprehensive exhibits that the Vytegra museum had, and by the tour through the museum. They had many taxidermy animals including a wolverine, which was of great interest to us for obvious reasons. They also had several exhibits that were of great personal interest and will be valuable to my research project; the medieval Vytegra exhibit with its many icons and religious artifacts, the 1800s Vytegra room with its pictures of the churches in Vytegra and its religious cartoon, and the Soviet exhibit and its many propaganda pieces. The translation work that I did for the museum was of personal interest to me, as it was on the World War II soviet submarine B-440 that is on display in Vytegra. But, this work was also extremely difficult. It took me the whole day to finish translating all the naval terms describing the components of the submarine and its diving protocols. We still are unsure what exactly the English equivalent is to “hydro acoustics”, though we think it might be SONAR.

The Vytegra museum gave us a great rendition of the local history, and how the local Vytegrans view their own history. They are very proud of how the German offensive was stopped in the region, of how Vytegra gave Russia 5 admirals, how the graduating class of 1941 was sent to the front, and none returned, and of the mine-clearing battalions that sustained 3 local losses when they removed everything that the Germans had left behind when they retreated. In a small provincial town like Vytegra the major events of the past have an ongoing role in the lives of contemporary Vytegrans.

The museum devoted as large a portion of its space to the World War II exhibit as it did for the medieval exhibit, I guess this just shows how central the Great Patriotic War (as WWII is called in Russia) is to Vytegra. They had photos of those who died in the minefields laid around Oshta, the southernmost part of the Vytegra district, along with actual unexploded German ordinance, soviet uniforms, and photographs of the soldiers . In this focus on WWII, Vytegra is in no way different from the rest of the former Soviet Union. The USSR suffered 30 million casualties from the war, and I found it amazing that the Germans were able to advance this far into Russia. Oshta is about 400 km east of St. Petersburg, the fact that a Lake Onega flotilla was needed just shows how dire the situation of the USSR was in during Operation Barbarossa in 1941-1942. Learning the Vytegran WWII story helped me find a personal connection with the area, as my family had similar experiences in WWII, with a great uncle of mine being the only survivor out of his Marine artillery battalion on Iwo Jima in the Pacific, and my grandfather being a navy radio operator also serving in the Pacific Theater.

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