Staying in Ekaterinburg in an oppressive Stalin-style housing block, with no hot water (more than 10 million Russian households go without hot water) in cold and wet weather, with three nights of showerless Trans-Siberian train ahead of me, sadly I found little enthusiasm for Boris Yeltsin’s home city, today Russia’s fifth city. My visit to the surprisingly visitor-free Romanov burial site, where the Tsar and his family were assassinated in 1918, was disappointing. The site consists of the whitewashed Cathedral On the Blood and a museum, all rather too close to the main road and opposite a modern Gasprom office building.
The Romanovs were declared saints in 2000, so I was obliged to wear a shawl on my head during my tour of the museum with an energetic Russian guide. With her lack of English and my ‘Hello, goodbye, where’s the restaurant, Swan Lake’ Russian, I’m not sure I was the wiser after the visit. I was strongly encouraged to admire the multiple photos of the Tsar’s family before their bloody assassination in a cellar, which is now where the Cathedral stands. I enjoyed the Fine Arts Museum more, full of beautiful wrought-iron work, reflecting the region’s abundance of iron ore, and pottering along the riverside chatting with my English whist-playing co-travellers I met on the Trans-Siberian.
The Soldier dustbin definitely had charm. He made me think both of a soldier and an unusual percussion instrument, his helmet full of potentially interesting sounds. Soldiers and all things military have their place in this city: only recently open to tourists, Ekaterinburg, called Sverdlovsk until 1992, was the heart of the Soviet empire’s military and industrial complex, specialized in armaments research and production. Some parts still remain closed off.