I’M either missing something, or all Minsk turned out to play a joke on me! When I planned to go to the capital of Belarus, I read it was the last dictatorship in Europe, and the only country on the Continent to still have the death penalty.
It was full of horrible, dull, Stalinist buildings; there was corruption everywhere and almost nothing to see or do, they warned. Well, I found the exact opposite! Friendly, happy people, clearly with money to spend in the many fashion stores, immaculate streets with not a sign of litter, and roads so free of potholes, they shame the UK. A pint of beer for a quid, a wonderful meal for two for £14 and beautiful buildings everywhere! Yes, it’s a nuisance having to arrange a visa before you go, and unless you stay at a hotel, you must report to a police station to get it all stamped and verified. But this is a beautiful, safe city and, unlike some places, you don’t walk a few miles to the outskirts and find miserable run-down tower blocks hidden away.
The churches alone are worth a visit — Minsk has some astonishing multidomed churches, and none as old as they look. One I visited, made entirely of wood, felt as if it must be centuries old. It was built in 2007! Sadly, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, Belarus took the brunt — one in four locals perished, with just 17 buildings left intact in Minsk. After the Great Patriotic War, as they call it, Russian leader Joseph Stalin rebuilt the city on a massive scale. They’re fiercely proud of how they fought, and you will see Red Army tanks dotted around. We took a guided tour to the Khatyn Memorial, scene of a horrific atrocity by the Germans, who put a whole village in a building and set it alight, shooting anyone who got out. Many Belarus villages were razed to the ground, and our guide, Andrei, told us all about it. The Museum of the Great Patriotic War features all kinds of memorabilia from that time. The huge words on the roof translate as The Feats of Mankind Will Live for Centuries. The Metro system is super-efficient, while the cube-shaped National Library will make you wonder low it stays up. To book an apartment, visit www.apartmentinminsk.com
Minsk is a beautiful sight at night and, right, the churches here are absolutely stunning.
By Craig Campbell