Tourists listen to echo of past wars

Over the past two hundred years, Belarus has been involved in several devastating conflicts. In the early 19th century, the Napoleonic army attacked and, a century later, our territory was cut by the WWI frontline. The Great Patriotic War followed, with the battle between the USSR and Germany fought across our territory as part of WWII. Of course, the events of the past have left their material legacy: hundreds of defensive constructions, fortresses and monuments honouring those who died.

By Yevgeny Grudanov

Amateur historians find much of interest in Belarus and, naturally, wars not only separate nations, they also unite us. A historical-cultural complex near Minsk provides full information on the engineering constructions and military vehicles of the 20th century, including those used during WWII. A battlefield has been reconstructed and those who like to re-enact regularly organise realistic shows there. The ‘soldiers’ who participate in these performances personally restore their own weaponry and uniform. In late February, when the complex was hosting a re-enactment of a winter battle, I met a visitor from the USA who said, “Americans and Belarusians have many differences but our hatred of fascism, no doubt, unites us.”

This year, in June, we mark the 70th anniversary of the start of the Great Patriotic War. Thousands of guests are to arrive at Brest Fortress, in the west of Belarus. In summer 1941, its defenders fought against German troops, restraining a whole division. Of course, almost every Belarusian city has its own sites relating to war. Sadly, we experienced deep tragedy. One of the most tragic is Khatyn Memorial Complex, to the north of Minsk, located on the site of a village burnt by the fascists — one of so many from that time. Its once busy paths have been replaced by concrete, with visitors viewing obelisks which resemble chimneys; each rise from the ground like exclamation marks, marking the former homes of villagers.

For the memory of the past to be honoured, we must carefully preserve the graves of our soldiers while also keeping our enemies’ remains. Dozens of military cemeteries are now maintained, cared for by organisations and local residents, without distinguishing between ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’. Often, the graves of German and Soviet soldiers border one another. Meanwhile, the search for remains continues, as does the challenge of finding the identity of the killed soldiers. The Defence Ministry’s 52nd specialised batallion is involved in this task on a regular basis.

Some unearthed relics will find a worthy place in the new Museum of Great Patriotic War History, being built on Pobediteley Avenue, near the Minsk — City-Hero Monument. The older building, constructed in Soviet times, no longer meets requirements.

Evidently, Belarus shall never forget the tragic events of its past, as must be apparent to those with a passion for history.

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