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Pages of history. Marking 110 years since the Battle of Tsushima


This week marked the anniversary of one of the darkest pages in the history of the Russian Navy - the Battle of Tsushima. Alexey Mikhalev found echoes of that war in St. Petersburg.


Yuriy Zinchuk, «Pulse of the city| host: «This week St. Petersburg and Kronschdadt marked one of the most tragic dates in the history of the Russian Navy. Its been 110 years since the Battle of Tsushima, where the Aurora battleship took part too.

The biggest naval battle in history took place in May 1905. The Russian fleet suffered a crushing defeat from the Emperor’s Navy of Japan. It seemed to have happened so far away and so long ago. But we are actually walking the streets which are tied with the Tsushima Battle with many invisible strings. Alexey Mikhalev found the echoes of that forgotten war in St. Petersburg.

The embankment of Moyka, typical closed inner yard. The Fund of the Interior Troops veterans. Thats where the treasures are kept.

These are authentic things from the Aurora battleship.

And every shelve is like that. This is another rarity, and another. The «unique items on display» sounds like a cliche. But here almost everything is indeed unique. One of the least known museums of St. Petersburg - the Museum of the Russian-Japanese war.

Sergey Shershnev, president of the Interior Troops veterans fund: «These are authentic garments. Look at the fabric here»

All these people are descendants of those who took part in the Battle of Tsushima. This is the direct link with the past, like a time machine of sorts. Here, every storyof the old is materialized and could be held in one’s hands. Yuriy Vitvinskiy is the grandson of Vladimir Vitvinskiy, who defended Port-Artur and found a way to don the forbidden medal even after the revolution.

Vladimir Vit: «He attached it to his cigarette case. Thats how he managed to carry it on himself, although he could have been executed for this»

We heard something about the Russian-Japanese war, but we dont understand it and dont feel it at all. In the «Sluzhebnyi Roman» movie Myagkov’s character sings about the badger, and everybody thinks its funny, although, in truth, its slanderous. «Na Sopkakh Manchzhurii» - is like a remembrance prayer for the fallen fighters of the 214 Mokshanskiy infantry regiment, who died after many days of hellish siege.

Sergey Shershnev, president of the Interior Troops veterans fund: «The Japanese were beating him up for 12 days in a row, but the regiment’s commander gave an order - banner, orchestra and attack! The regiment went offensive and broke the circle. But only 700 people of 4000 survived. 7 of 60 musicians»

Two empires had clashed for 18 months to control Manzhuria and Korea - the growing Russia wanted to conquer the East. Port-Artur - now belonging to China - used to be its main outpost. The country stretched afar, very afar. Historians are still undecided - whether Russia lost that war or it was a draw of sorts. The Japanese invasion was avoided - Tokyo had plans to march on till Chita. But Russia lost disputed territories too.

Kirill Nzarenko, researcher at SPbGU: «The loss of southern Sakhalin, the loss of Port-Artur, loss of influence in south Manchzhuria - all this was a big blow»

Vladimir Belkov, chairman of Spas-na-Vodakh Temple restoration fund: «Who asked for peace first? The Japanese did - through the Americans. It says something. If they felt strong enough to invade, why would they ask for peace?»

Vladimir Belkov fights to restore the Spas-na-Vodakh temple. It was erected in 1910 on the Angliskaya embankment to commemorate the sailors who died in the Battle of Tsushima. In 1932 it was exploded, but its debris - Vasnetsov’s mosaica - were saved by workers of the Russian museum.

The Chapel of Saint Nocholas - another spot in St. Petersburg, connected with the Japanese island of Tsushima, which saw history’s biggest naval battle in its waters in 1905. In order to get there, the Russian fleet made an unprecedented move, covering 18 thousand nautic miles (33 thousand kilometers). And eventually, it almost entirely perished in an uneven battle.

Soviet war with Japan became the next chapter after the Russian-Japanese war - 40 years later. In less than a month - from August 9th to September 2nd 1945 - the Svoiet Union got back everything it had lost before.

Boris Galenin, military historian: «Wearing out a two-million-strong army in 2 weeks - that takes some skill. Americans were estimating up to 2 million in losses at the Japanese islands, even having an atom bomb».

Kirill Nzarenko, researcher at SPbGU: «This was the main fist of the on-ground army in Japan».

Here’s one of the participants of those events. Ivan Plotnikov did fight in the Great Patriotic War, but for him the main fighting happened in the war with Japan. Thats why he celebrates the Victory Day twice, although he’s shy about it.

Ivan Plotnikov, veteran of Soviet-Japanese war: «I sometimes discreetly celebrate the second Victory Day for me - on September 3rd».

Everyone asked him at home - how was it there? «There» turned out to be almost like home, unexpectedly. Having crossed the border, soldiers found themsleves in the pre-revolutionary Russia.

Ivan Plotnikov, veteran of Soviet-Japanese war: «When we marched into Harbin, we were surprised. Oh my - half of those people were Russians, who emigrated in 1918. It was so weird to see them selling stuff at those mini-stores»

Thats how - through World War II - we can understand the so distant war. Thats despite we know of the «Varyag» battleship’s demise and saw a monument to the «Steregushiy» mine-carrier, where sailors are opening kingstones. The reality is that the «Steregushiy» had no kingtones at all. This story was created by the Japanese, who were impressed with the resilience of the Russian navy.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: «Something which wasnt forgetten decades later. In 1943, during the crucial break in the World War II, the book by vice-admiral Rozhdestvenskiy was translated and published massively in Japan. The Emperor’s call to its army - this is how you defend your motherland. So the kamikaze, who directed their planes at American ships, learnt their samurai-style bravery also from the Russian sailors»

Regardless, those heroics have been almost forgotten at home. And history of the Russian-Japanese war still holds hundreds of unanswered questions. How such major historic event was moved into the sidelines of history and didnt even deserve an official museum? And why our memory of that is alive only due to the actions of a bunch of enthusiasts?