Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From Vladivostok

Greetings from the Russian Far East! Here is an entry from my trip journal. The historians among you may be particularly interested in the details of my meeting with Russian scholars yesterday. I will send some more photos soon! Ben

0806 hrs (Vladivostok GMT+11), March 26, 2008
Vladivostok, Russia

Yesterday morning I dined on a tradition Russian feast -- a huge breakfast buffet as a blizzard blew outside the Hotel Vladivostok: a plate of pickled beats, lots of broccoli, salami, cheese, rice, eggs, and potatoes, topped with sour cream; two pieces of white toast with salami and cheese; a bowl of muesli and yogurt; a cup of fruit salad; and a plate of pastries and thick rye toast. A few cups of coffee, orange juice, and water. I was full!

Then I walked down to the central train station, where I tried in vain to determine train schedules "up country." Walked through Revolution Square to the waterfront, past the Russian naval installation to visit a beached WWII-era submarine. The short tour was interesting and worth the 50 rubles.Made my way east. Dropped into the Pushkinskay Theatre, headquarters of the Canadians in 1918-1919, and got an impromptu tour from the theatre manager and her son, a candidate in history (equivalent to our entry level PhDs). Checked out the four floors of the ornate building, including a reception room, hall, Pushkin library and museum, atrium, and musical theatre. Very friendly people who provided a real insiders' perspective on the building, which has been recently restored. Interestingly, the operators seemed unaware of the buildings' Canadian occupants 90 years ago. I will sent some records to them. The Pushkinskay is located on Pushkinskay avenue, next to Vladivostok's furnicular railroad (a vertical lift up the hilly city).

From there, I continued east along Pushkinskay, picking up a haircomb and dropping into a grocer for a cheeseburger, water and chewing gum off Svetlanska, Vladivostok's main drag. I arrived at 89 Pushkinskay (the Institute of History) a little before 2 pm for my meeting with Doktor Boris I. Muchanov, author of many books on the history of the Russian Far East in the years of Allied intervention. A 23-year-old interpreter named Sergey Ivonov provided translation, which was very satisfactory (Sergey insists he is more proficient in Chinese than English!). The deputy director of the Institute of History, Sergey Vradis, had arranged the meeting, which included three other historians with expertise in Vladivostok's history in this period.

The meeting lasted three hours and was marked by a stimulating exchange of ideas and information between Dr. Mukachev, the other scholars, and me. A semi-retired professor from the Soviet era, over the age of 70, Dr Mukachev was highly knowledgeable of the organization of partisan and White forces from March 1917 until the Red Army's entry into Vladivostok on 25 October 1922. He brought along many photographs of partisan leaders and mass demonstrations that accompanied the downfall of the Czar. He also gave me several of his books on this topic, while Dr. Vradis gave me a book on the Aboriginal peoples of the Russian Far East. It was a highly professional and productive meeting, where I had the opportunity to share aspects of Vladivostok's history unknown to these Russian scholars, including the Canadian headquarters at Pushkinskay and first-person historical accounts from Canadians of conditions in Vladivostok in 1918-1919. The Russians were very interested in the Victoria mutiny that preceded the Canadians' departure from Victoria. It was an outstanding experience, a definite highlight of my career as a historian to this point.

Segey Ivanov scanned Dr. Mukachev's photographs and then accompanied me past the former Red Staff Buldings, headquarters of the Vladivostok Soviet. We then visited the regional train station to determine connections to the village of Shkotova. We made plans to visit the Churkin Russian Naval Cemetary (where 14 Canadians are buried) and the Canadian barracks at Gornastai Bay.

I dined at Izbushka, a traditional Russian place on Vladivostok's main drag, the Arbat (named after the Moscow street). The food was excellent – a platter of Russian appetizers and stew covered in baked bread called shchi – washed down with a few healthy shots of vodka. I returned to the Hotel Vladivostok for an early sleep, preparing for the next stage of this adventure.