Minsk’s monuments, statue’s and memorials
The Stalinist architecture of Minsk may be the number one reason to spend a view days in the capital of Belarus but the city’s many monuments, statue’s and memorials are certainly not less impressive. Minsk is one of the former Soviet Unions twelve Hero cities, the highest honorary title of the USSR awarded for Minsk’s role during the second world war. The soviets have erected big monuments to honour the cities resistance against the Germans, many statue’s for Poets, musicians, writers and politicians from Belarus can be found. Many works of social realist art like wall sculptures and mosaics can still be found on the streets and inside buildings in Minsk. Most impressive are the World War II victory column, the obelisk to hero city Minsk, the Island of tears (Afghanistan memorial), the monument to Yakub Kolas and the ever present Lenin statue.
Monument: The world war 2 victory column
Belarus suffered heavily from the Nazi occupation during the second world war, 25% of its people (over two million) died during the war and hundreds of villages were decimated. Minsk was a major centre of the Soviet partisan resistance movement against the occupation. For this role, Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974. The WWII memorial consists of the column with beautiful heroic scenes of cast iron, an eternal flame, and granite blocks for each Soviet hero city. There is a passage below the memorial with an illuminated wreath of colour glass and plaques with the names of 566 soldiers.
The forty meters high obelisk is faced with grey granite and is crowned with the Order of Lenin made of bronze and multicoloured mosaics. The obelisk is decorated with 4 bronze high relief’s. These are the ’May 9, 1945’ (sculptor A.Bembel) depicting the triumph of victory, with the state emblem of Belarus above, ’The Soviet Army in World War II’ (sculptor S.Selikhanov) and ’Belarusian partisans’ (sculptor A. Glebov) depicting some episodes from the ’railroad war’ and a combat battle, and the ’Glory to the perished heroes’ (sculptor Z. Azgur) depicting the people’s grief over a hero’s grave. At the foot of the obelisk is a bronze sword covered with laurel wreath as a symbol of victory (sculptor S. Saltykov). On July 3, 1961, the 17th anniversary of Belarus liberation, an eternal flame was lit before the monument.
Granite blocks for each Soviet hero city
Minsk is one of the twelve cities that was awarded the honorary title of Hero city for outstanding heroism during the Great Patriotic War. Every hero city is issued the Order of Lenin, the Gold Star medal, and the certificate of the heroic deed (gramota) from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. Also, the corresponding obelisk is installed in the city. Minsk was encircled by advancing German forces in late June 1941. Trapped in a vast pocket, the Soviets defended their positions desperately. Their resistance was broken on 9 July, with over 300,000 Soviet troops taken captive. During the following three-year occupation, the Germans killed about 400,000 civilians in and around the city. The Minsk area became a centre for the Soviet partisan movement behind enemy lines. Minsk was awarded the title Hero City in 1974.
Monument: Obelisk to Hero City Minsk
The monument was built in 1984 to memorize 40th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. There is a beautiful statue of a bronze woman with trumpet beside the obelisk. Military parades are still held every year with this monument as central point. The Order of Lenin and the Gold Star medal, the highest decorations of the Soviet Union issued to Hero Cities are both depicted on the monument. The Obelisk to Hero City Minsk can be found on Masherov Avenue.
Statue: Felix Dzerzhinsky bust
Statue: Mikhail Kalinin
Lenin statue’s are vastly disappearing from the squares and streets of former Soviet countries. In Minsk there’s at least one still standing if front of the House of Government.
In Moscow the statue of Dzerzhinsky was taken down in 1992. In Minsk the founder of the KGB is still standing. His bust can be found opposite the KGB HQ on Frantsisk Skorina Avenue.
Mikhail Kalinin, Soviet revolutionary of the first hour is also honoured with an impressive statue in Minsk. The statue can be found on Mikhail Kalinin square on Frantsisk Skorina Avenue.
Statue: Yakub Kolas
Statue: Yanka Kupala
Statue: Maxim Bogdanovich
Statue: Aleksandr Pushkin
Yakub Kolas (1882-1956) a "People’s Poet" of Belarus is considered the founder (together with Janka Kupala) of the modern Belarusian literature and Belarusian literature language. The statue by sculptor Z. Azgur (found on Yakub Kolas square) was erected in 1972.
Yanka Kupala (1882-1942) founder of modern Belarusian literature together with Yakub Kolas was a Belarusian nationalist promoting the dying Belarusian language opposing Russification. The statue and a Museum about Kupala’s work can be found in Yanka Kupala park.
Maxim Bogdanovich (1891-1917) born in Minsk is an other famous Belarusian poet. Maxim Bogdanovich Literary Museum is one of the most beautiful museums housed in a two-storey brick building in the Troitskoye suburb (old town). His statue can be found in front of the Bolshoi theatre.
Aleksandr Pushkin (1799) is the most important Russian poet and considered the founder of modern Russian literature. He was a member of an underground revolutionary group and often clashed with the authorities. Famous works are the play Boris Godunov and novel Eugene Onegin.
Street decoration: Plaque’s
An other sight that is typical for soviet cities are the many plaque’s commemorating musicians, writers, scientists politicians and more. One gets the impression all the memorial stones are made by a single artist or factory as they all look very alike.
Monument: The Islands of Tears
A very confronting monument is the Afghan war memorial "The Island of Tears" build in 1988 to commemorate Belarusian soldiers who died in the Afghanistan war. The Island on the Svisloch river is reached by a food bridge. The centrepiece of the monument is a chapel, with haunting figures of grieving mothers, sisters and widows at its base. There are 4 altars inside of the chapel with the names of 771 soldiers who died. A nearby fountain features the boy-like figure of an angel (the guardian angel of Belarus), crying teardrops. The "private parts" of the sculpture are shinier than the rest. This is explained by the Belarusian tradition of newly weds visiting war memorials on their wedding day, and a modern folk belief that if the bride touches the boy’s privates, she’ll be guaranteed children.
Socialist art: Street decorations
Besides the many large monuments and statues in the square’s, parks and streets of Minsk are there also many small sculptures to be seen. Mainly government, army and public buildings are often richly decorated.
Outside Minsk: Mound of Glory
Outside Minsk: The Khatyn memorial
The mound of glory (21 km from Minsk) is build on a 35 meter high hill crowned with and obelisk built on the site where in the Soviet army ended the Nazi occupation of Belarus in 1944. The foundation was laid with a symbolic handful of earth from Minsk, from every Hero City of the former USSR, from the sites of major battles on the territory of the USSR during WW II and from thousands of Belarusian villages, towns and cities terrorized by the German invaders. At the top of the 240 steps stands a typically beautiful and unique Soviet masterpiece. Three huge bayonets, rimmed by an elaborate mosaic, depicting the horrors of the war in words and pictures.
The Khatyn memorial (60 km from Minsk) commemorates the annihilation of the entire village of Khatyn as result of an SS punishment operations against partisans. In March 1943, Khatyn’s 26 houses with their inhabitants 149 people, including 75 children were burned by the Nazi’s. The memorial was opened in 1969. Khatyn was not the only village with such a fate. Population of 618 Belarusian villages were burned alive by the Nazi’s during the war. 185 of burned Belarusian villages were never rebuild. A must see is the Belarusian anti war movie "Come and See" from 1985. It tells the story of these villages burned down with it’s inhabitants.