Completely rebuilt from the ground up following its devastation in the second world war, Minsk was hailed as a model Soviet city. It formed the centre of the German resistance to the Soviet advance in the first half of 1944, and the huge military activity pretty much reduced the city to a pile of rubble, decimating its population to a little over 50,000. The peacetime rebuilding was bold and brave, encompassing the best in Stalinist architecture, with impressively grand designs, broad, sweeping avenues and stylish, bustling boulevards.
Nestling peacefully by the Svislach river, the Minsk of today is home to a contented blend of the cultured and cosmopolitan. Those visiting in the expectation of dowdy, grey tower blocks and tenements are in for a pleasant surprise; the authentically Soviet city skyline shows off communist chichi at its very best. It does hold on to a vague notion of communism, but its grip on the city is more like a half-hearted limpet than an iron fist. Even the slightly pervasive rule of president Alexander Lukashenko isn't as obtrusive as it could be, even though most of the populace are inherently aware of where to draw the behavioural line.
A city of the unexpected and largely unexplored, modern day Minsk offers the twenty-first century traveller a rare taste of something that little bit out of the ordinary; a glimpse into a world which is truly different, yet which in many ways is just another example of a fine European city. A degree of westernisation means the difference is one you can't always put your finger on, but none-the-less leaves you in no doubt that you're altogether richer for having experienced it. When it comes to former USSR destinations, Minsk is most certainly one of the most rewarding to visit.
1.) The mothers, sisters and widows of the Island of Tears in Minsk
2.) The Saint Maria Magdelena Church in Minsk
3.) Minsk nestles peacefully on the banks of the River Svislach
4.) The Minsk evening skyline across the River Svislach
5.) Messing about in boats on a summer's evening in Minsk
6.) The Church of St Simeon and St Elena in Minsk
7.) The Church of Saint Roche in Minsk
8.) Statues in Yakub Kolas Square, Minsk
9.) Former KGB Headquarters in Minsk
10.) Independence Square, Minsk