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Murmansk, Russia: The Hero City
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The title Hero City was given to 13 cities of the former Soviet Union. To be precise, there are 12 Hero Cities and 1 Hero Fortress. Each of the Hero Cities was honored for its great heroism, sacrifice and role in the eventual defeat of Fascist invaders during the Great Patriotic War. Of the 13 Hero Cities, 7 are in present day Russia, 4 lie within Ukraine, while the remaining 2 are in Belarus. Murmansk was named a Hero City on May 6, 1985.
Located on the Kola Peninsula, Murmansk was a strategic northern sea port vital for receiving supplies from the west. In an attempt to cut Russia off from this important supply line, German and Finnish forces launched an assault against Murmansk on June 29, 1941. Despite heavy shelling and enemy attack, Soviet resistance was able to persevere. Failing to take Murmansk, Axis forces discontinued their assault in late October 1941. As a result, important supplies continued to reach the Soviet Union for the remainder of the war.
I was leading a group for an expedition to the North Pole. We would board our nuclear powered ice-breaker from Murmansk. The ship would be our home for about 2 weeks.
We arrived on a charter flight from Helsinki, Finland. When we landed at the airport it was 2 in the afternoon as per Murmansk time. After passing through the strict Russian immigration formalities we were ready to leave for the port in our chartered buses. The city is about 40 kms from the airport.
Since we had to board the ship by 6 PM, there was some time on hand to tour the City of Murmansk and make a few stops at places of interest. The city runs north-south and that’s how the local transport negotiates the town. Electric trolleys are the main source for local transportation.
The marks of war were still evident as we drove along. The murals on the walls of the buildings were quite iconic. Each one of them had a story to tell. The residential buildings had a similar pattern. I was told that the façade of all buildings in most of Russia follow the same pattern. Probably, taking advantage of economies of scale.
Murmansk has a population of about 300,000. In the early days, most of the residents had moved to this extreme town on the northwest to tap the opportunities. Murmansk enjoys moderate temperatures only for a brief period during the summers. And that’s the time when children along with their families travel to other parts of Russia to be with their relatives.
Winters are severe, but thanks to the gulfstream, the waters of Murmansk never freeze, thus making it an ideal port.
Our first stop was at the memorial complex to the soldiers and seamen who died in peaceful time. Also known as the Lighthouse Monument, this evocative memorial commemorates lost sailors including the 118 crew of the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in the Barents Sea in 2000.
At the top end of the memorial is the beautiful Church of the Saviour of Water. This beautiful gold-domed, white coloured church was built in 2002 by funds collected from the common man. As the name suggests, it was built to protect the people on the sea.
Our next stop was Alyosha Monument. Indeed the most iconic of all. It’s a monument of the defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War. Popularly known as Alyosha to all, this 30-meter-tall statue of a soldier overlooks the city and was built in 1974 to commemorate the Soviet defense of the Arctic during World War II.
It was now time to move towards the port of Murmansk from where we would be boarding our ice-breaker ‘50 Years of Victory’. The port of Murmansk is the only one of its kind to dock 4 nuclear powered ice breakers, including ‘Arctic’ the largest in the world and a few military atomic submarines.
There was another round of inspection of our travel documents at the gates of this very high security port. By 6:30 PM we were in our cabins… ready to commence the expedition to the North Pole.
Murmansk Image Gallery Photo viewer
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