[b]Pogranichny Island is located between two bridges — automobile and railway — which unite Belarus and Poland across the Zapadny Bug River. Once called Zapadny Island, it was home to Brest Fortress’ Terespol Fortification. From September 1939, the state border of the USSR (now, the Belarusian border) ran along the by-pass canal, around the island. [/b]
The island is connected with Brest Fortress via two bridges: a new cable bridge and the old hanging bridge. The latter links Pogranichny Island with Gospitalny Island but is too dangerous to cross; entrance is forbidden, guarded by border officers on both sides of the Zapadny Bug River. The cable bridge was constructed recently, only opening in February and welcoming the first tourists in May. Pogranichny Island is now part of city territory and a tourist attraction, although it remains a border zone, requiring presentation of your passport to enter.
In summer 2011, the President of Belarus unveiled a monument to border guards and those members of their families who died at Brest Fortress’ Citadel, requesting that the island become open to tourists. As in the famous military song: ‘the birds are singing here and the trees are growing, on concrete bunkers, powder depots and even through the red bricks of the former barracks’.
On a June morning in 1941, 72 years ago, the small island was the first place to be taken by the Nazi invaders. Its peace was showered with the blood of dozens of people, since drivers were attending a training course at the site. Also stationed there were a transport company and a combat engineer platoon. There were also training camps for cavalrymen and sportsmen, a veterinary hospital and a blacksmiths. Meanwhile, the 9th frontier post of the 17th Red Banner Border Guards Detachment was on duty; a total of almost 300 people were the first Soviets to see the ugly face of that war.
In 1991, a monument was erected to the motor transport arm of the 17th Detachment of Red Banner Border Guards and to those training to be drivers for the Belarusian Border District.
It was once possible to reach Pogranichny Island from the Citadel via beautiful Terespol Bridge, through the Terespol Gates. Famous traveller and ethnographer Pavel Shpilevsky said that it was ‘similar to the Chain Bridge in the Summer Garden’ adding that ‘the Brest bridge is longer and its chains are made from wire while those in St. Petersburg are made from cast iron’.
Terespol Bridge was blown up during the Great Patriotic War, but only after the forces of Hitler and Mussolini had driven across. Sergey Smirnov described this ‘visit’ in his Brest Fortress book in the following way: ‘Hitler and Mussolini get into a car and drive along the dusty road between two lines of soldiers, who passionately stretch out their arms in Fascist greeting, excitedly yelling ‘Heil Hitler!’. Suddenly, a wide river surface appears in front of them, followed by the deep tunnel of the gates. This is the Zapadny Bug River and these gates are the Terespol Gates of Brest Fortress. The cars of the Fascist dictators and those who serve them drive over the 1941 bridge, which connects Zapadny Island and the centre of the Fortress, stopping near the Terespol Gates. Through the tunnel, the Fuehrer and Il Duce appear in the courtyard, standing and looking around, enjoying the panorama of destruction before them. To the left are piles of stones and the deformed shell of the 33rd regiment building; the ruins of the border guards’ house are in front of them. Everything speaks of long and heavy fighting…’
Probably, the bridge will be restored, as the city authorities hope.
I’ve walked into the centre of Pogranichny Island, along the road next to the border and canal. Some plans are afoot to create another hanging bridge, to unite the Island with Polish Terespol. It’s a small island, being only 400m at its widest, and occupying 46 hectares. There are two border markers: one Belarusian and the other Polish, situated symmetrically either side of the canal. Terespol is close by…
Employees from Brest Fortress Defence Museum conducted investigations at Terespol Fortification in 2006, finding around four dozen mid-19th—early 20th century sites: aircraft shelters, fragments of powder depots and casemates in earth mounds, as well as barracks which once housed a school for non-commissioned personnel. There’s also a customs booth, which dealt with travellers crossing the Russian Empire border in the late 18th-mid-19th century. The watch-house is older than the Fortress itself but cannot be explored by tourists, being located beyond the public zone of the border.
An excursion route has been developed by Alexander Korkotadze, who heads the Museum of Fort 5 branch of Brest Hero Fortress Memorial Complex. Information boards are sited along its length and an observation platform is located on the embankment where Terespol Bridge once started.
The opening of Pogranichny Island is a first step in creating a historical and cultural centre for the 300 hectare territory of the Brest Hero Fortress Memorial Complex, within the Brest-2019 project. Brest City Executive Committee has joined forces with Vladimir Mikulik, an investor with roots in Brest, in creating a joint programme of action. Historical experts are to liaise with the business and cultural community of Belarus, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Austria, the Netherlands and the UK in deve-loping the legendary site. The future of Brest Fortress is certainly at the heart of the development of the city and of the region.
Brest Fortress has many historical layers, each of which must be taken into account. When serious work begins, it will become clear what needs to be restored: the Town Hall, Berestie Castle or the monasteries…
By Valentina Kozlovich