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. Last Updated: 08/29/2014

Vyazma: A Small City That Cannot Be Kept Down

The local history museum is situated in a nonfunctioning Russian Orthodox сhurch and houses many exhibits dedicated to World War II.
Anton Filippov / For MT

The local history museum is situated in a nonfunctioning Russian Orthodox сhurch and houses many exhibits dedicated to World War II.

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Vyazma
Population: 56,799
Mayor: Alexander Klimenkov (+7 481-312-4794)
Main industries: plastic production, metallurgy
Founded in 1239
Interesting fact №1: Vyazma Mayor Alexander Klimenkov is also an ordained Orthodox priest.
Interesting fact №2: Vyazma was a temporary capital of Russia from 1654 to 1655, during an epidemic in Moscow.
Sister cities: Novo-Peredelkino, Moscow region; Maloyaroslavets, Kaluga region; Orsha, Belarus.
Helpful contacts: Viktor Kirillovich Goncharuk, the head of city's economic development department (+7 481-312-4874); Travel agency Vyazmaturist (5 Ulitsa 25 Oktyabrya, +7 481-314-2552); Vyazma-taxi (+7 481-312-3456), police (11 Ulitsa Prosveshcheniya, +7 481-314-1953).

VYAZMA, Smolensk Region — October is a really unlucky month for this town. Located 230 kilometers west of Moscow in the Smolensk region, the city of Vyazma that is now home to 57,000 people, has served as a resilient doormat for foreign invaders for nearly 800 years.

The last occurrence was October 1941, when the Nazis came. Several Red Army divisions were annihilated and Soviet figures say 400,000 soldiers died, though German sources put the number of dead Russians at closer to 1.5 million. This tragedy is still regarded as one of the biggest losses of World War Two for the Russians. The town was held until 1943, during which time two death camps functioned there at full throttle.

Napoleon picked Oct. 22 1812 to make a major stand of his retreating army at Vyazma. The death toll was high as well, although at least one piece of famous art was a byproduct. Thirty years later, Bavarian painter Peter von Hess, who took part in this war, created the painting "Battle of Vyazma" which is on display at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The generous people of Vyazma gave their lives on many other occasions to serve as a buffer for Moscow and the Russian Empire.

In 1403, the town was conquered by a Lithuanian prince. It eventually gained its freedom and joined the Principality of Moscow, but in 1507 Vyazma was burned to the ground in a raid by Lithuanians.

Major Local Businesses

Plastic Republic (7 Ulitsa Panino; +7 495-933-0077; info@plastic-republic.ru) employs 1,000 people and is a leader of the Russian plastic goods market. It supplies plastic goods for households and the home repair market in Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The company was founded in 1997 and has a plant in Vyazma.
Metrika (150 Komsomolskaya Ulitsa, 8-800-700-3707; vyazma.metrika.ru) is the largest chain of DIY hypermarkets in Russia. It was founded in 1995 and has 3 shops in the Smolensk region, one of which is in Vyazma.
Acoustic Sound Reproduction (5 Ulitsa Stepana Razina; +7 481-314-2006) are manufacturers of professional sound systems, and the company was founded in 1991.

By 1618, the town became the main stronghold of Russia's western flank because Smolensk was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian state until 1654.

The locals suffered again when a peasant uprising in 1762 saw them mowed down by Tsarist cannon.

During Napoleon's occupation, following a failed battle to defend the town by 12,447 Vyazmichi, as the locals are called, French soldiers looted and destroyed local churches, such as the Svyato-Troitsky Cathedral.

Vyazma has on the one hand always been honored as a city of great military glory, but at the same time has suffered as a "little brother" to regional capital Smolensk, with which it has many similarities. Both are hilly, green and have their obligatory World War II tank monuments at their gateways and Lenin statues in their central squares — though all these attributes are just a bit smaller in Vyazma. Smolensk has the designation of a "Hero City," while Vyazma was awarded the slightly less distinguished title of "City of Military Glory." Some locals, considering the bloodshed and suffering, see this as an injustice, even though the Central Bank included a coin honoring Vyazma in a series commemorating the country's bravest cities.

The Vyazmichi have not lost their sense of irony, and will tell you that the main mineral wealth of town is in the remains of fallen soldiers buried in its earth, which are still found to this day. This summer, another 216 soldiers were found and buried.

Vyazma is a vivid example of a place that honors its history, despite inherent contradictions. For example, while the monument to the anti-religion founding father Lenin still stands in the city center, Vyazma is one of the few Russian cities whose official city day is tied to an Orthodox holiday. The fact that the city's mayor, Alexander Klimenkov, is also an ordained Russian Orthodox priest might have something to do with this.

Many famous people were born or lived in this city. Anatoly Papanov, one of the most famous actors of Soviet cinema, who voiced the role of the charismatic wolf in the most popular Soviet cartoon, "Nu, pogodi!" hailed from Vyazma. Mikhail Bulgakov, author of "The Master and Margarita" worked in Vyazma as a doctor.

For MT
Alexander Klimenkov,
Mayor
Q: What is the average monthly income of resident of Vyazma?
A: In 2012, the average income was 11,691 rubles per person. But this figure is constantly growing compared to previous years.

Q: What did you do to make this city a nicer place to live?
A: In 2012, we built two apartment buildings with a total area of ​​nearly 9,000 square meters, 25 single-family houses with a total area of ​​4,900 square meters and 18 single-family homes were rebuilt. Last year, we also repaired 11 streets in Vyazma. We also support our sportsmen. To create conditions for the development of mass physical education and sports we spent 316,000 rubles last year.

Q: What is being done to support the cultural life of the city?
A: To preserve the historical and cultural heritage of the city, new monuments and memorials were created such as the one to the Russian lapot traditional birch bark shoe, a memorial plaque "Mother's Heart" in honor of soldiers from Vyazma who died in domestic conflicts, and a memorial plaque "Bulgakov's Shadow" in honor of great writer Mikhail Bulgakov who worked here as a doctor. In 2012, we spent 2.3 million rubles to facilitate the cultural life of our residents.

Q: Do you have a motto?
A: I am confident that difficulties temper us, but it is important to make the right conclusions. So my life principle, my motto is "only forward!"

— Anton Filippov

The modern fame of the city is associated with the sportsman Andrei Sorokin, a two-time champion of The Arnold Classic, one of the most famous bodybuilding competitions in the world. The top prizes in 2010 and 2011 were personally presented to the athlete by then-acting Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Vyazma has a few peculiarities worth mentioning. The first one is the local dialect, which is characterized by frequent use of a soft ''g'' sound, which results from the town's proximity to Belarus, where this pronunciation is a norm.

The name of the city seems to be based on the Russian word vyaznut which means "to stick" because the town was founded on a swamp. The old names of local streets "Kozye boloto," or "goat's swamp" and "Podbolotye," or "under the swamp" support this version.

What to see if you have two hours

A visit the local history museum (3 Sovetskaya Ploshchad; +7 481-314-1316) is a must. It is located in the building of a beautiful Orthodox church, a typical tribute to the communist past when Orthodox churches were used by Soviet officials for any purpose except worship. The main exhibits are, naturally, devoted to World War II. Here you can see many photographs portraying the horror and suffering, which not so subtly endeavor to overturn the ideal of ​​Germany as a cradle of European civilization. Also here you can see common items, including old coins, medals and badges. Some of them have the emblem of Vyazma, which includes the Gamayun bird and symbolized happiness, wealth and power in ancient Russian mythology. It is also the only place where you can buy the tasty homemade honey cakes that Vyazma has been famous for since the 19th century.

Visit Ploshchad Yefremova, which has a monument to Major-General Yefremov, who commanded the surrounded Soviet troops from 1941 to 1942. He fought like a true hero, was wounded three times and committed suicide instead of surrendering. The monument is also interesting because its creator was the famous Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, who also made the ''Warrior-Liberator'' in Berlin, ''Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares'' in New York, ''The Motherland Calls'' in Volgograd, and the famous ''Iron Felix'' that used to stand in front of the KGB headquarters in Moscow.

If you have an interest in bodybuilding, then stop by the Champion Sports Club (23 Ulitsa Pushkina, +7 908-288-2200), where Andrey Sorokin, a two-time winner of the world-famous bodybuilding competition Arnold Classic, works as a coach. For 150 rubles, you can have a healthy workout with modern and professional machines, drink a protein shake, get valuable advice from the world champion, and just shake hands and take photos with the man who was twice declared as the world's best bodybuilder by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself.

The majority of sights are in the center of the city on the main square, but near the railway station you can also see a steam engine from the early days of Soviet railroading that will provide a memorable photo opportunity.

What to do if you have two days

Take a trip out of town to the Griboyedov estate (Khmelita village; 7 481-313-0629). It is located 37 kilometers outside of Vyazma and is in very good condition. It is not only an estate building in the baroque style of Catherine the Great, but also a beautiful park. The famous Russian Renaissance figure, Alexander Griboyedov, spent a lot of time here. A great playwright and composer, he also played the piano well. Emperors Alexander I and Nicholas I valued him as an outstanding diplomat. He was killed in a massacre in Teheran. To make amends for Griboyedov's death, the Shah of Persia sent the Tsar the world-famous Shah Diamond, which can now be found in the Kremlin's Diamond Fund.

You can also visit Ioanno-Predtechensky Convent (48a Ulitsa Dokuchaeva; +7 481-316-1801), which was built in 1536. There is the beautiful Odygitriya church here, a real jewel of Vyazma architecture. There are also several monuments at the convent, such as the statue in honor of Major-General Zherebtsov, the hero of the war of 1812, and the monument to the monk Gerasim Boldinsky. There is a consecrated well on the territory of this convent.

For MT
Andrey Sorokin,
Bodybuilder and coach
Q: Why were you not included into the list of honorary citizens of Vyazma?
A: It is difficult to comment, and it is disappointing for me, but I am not going to ask the local officials for this title. I already have a lot of titles.

Q: What does your fitness club offer to its clients?
A: I love this city, and I created the club firstly to make sports popular among the residents. That is why prices in my fitness club are low, but the quality of training facilities is very high. I am a professional athlete, so I bought the equipment basing on my personal experience of training. Besides, I visited the best fitness clubs of the world, for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Gold's Gym fitness club in New York. So I just know what people need to train, and what is absolutely useless for them. It is very important because my main goal is the promotion of sports and professional assistance for people during their workouts instead of getting them to pay for lofty benefits that they do not need at all.

Q: What are your future plans?
A: I am going to continue participation in bodybuilding competitions as long as possible. However, I do not always find necessary funding because it is quite difficult to find a sponsor, being here in Vyazma. Expenses are always high. To prepare for my first competition, I sold my Audi and its garage. I also want to become a coach who will create new champions here. For example, I have recently prepared Sergei Gorokhov from the nearby town of Gagarin, Smolensk region. He took first place in an important bodybuilding competition in St. Petersburg in October. So, people must be proud that they live in the Smolensk region and in Vyazma.

— Anton Filippov

The date of the official city day holiday for Vyazma is not fixed. It depends on a celebration of the Orthodox feast of the Holy Trinity. In 2014, it will be June 8. If you visit the town during this celebration, you will see a spectacular performance by the aerobatic team "Rus," which makes its home base in Vyazma. This flying club is well known in Russia and abroad. The pilots fly Czech-made L-39 Albatros fighter jet planes. During the recent MAKS 2013 air show outside of Moscow, the team showed many unique stunts, for example, "the golden barrel" using brilliant yellow smoke. The club also offers a flight inside the cockpit of the fighter jet plane. (russ-pilot@yandex.ru).

Nightlife

Slava Night Club (9a Moskovskaya Ulitsa; +7 951-69-0444) is the main and most popular nightclub in Vyazma. It has an excellent sound system, VIP rooms, an exciting atmosphere and a bar with a large variety of drinks. Various Russian pop stars and rap singers sometimes perform here. There is also a cafe that offers a wide range of dishes and tasty pastries for those with a sweet tooth. Access to Wi-Fi is free. For private meetings, there is a banquet room with a pool table and karaoke. The club is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The cafe is open daily from 11 a.m. to midnight.

If you are a movie buff and do not want to miss any new releases, then you should visit the Pobeda cinema (13 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 481-314-1951; vyazma3d.ru). It also shows movies in 3D. The timetable can sometimes be found at the city website.

Where to eat

Vyazma, like other cities of Smolensk region, has a Pizza-Mario cafe (1 Komsomolskaya Ulitsa; +7 481-314-1782). Here you can eat delicious pizza and blini and drink juices, tea or coffee. This cafe offers appetizers and main dishes. It has two big banquet rooms. A slice of pizza costs 68 rubles, while a whole pie ranges from 272 to 600 rubles, depending on the size and toppings. This cafe does not offer business lunch.

Inexpensive but tasty meals can be had at Charlie bar and restaurant (18 Ulitsa Lenina; +7 481-312-5316). A three course business lunch will cost 200 rubles.

Where to stay

Vyazma-Hotel (4 Ulitsa Kosmonavtov, +7 481-314-1465) is the main hospitality venue. The cheapest single room with a shower, a toilet, television and a refrigerator costs 1,400 rubles per night. A double room with the same facilities costs 2,400 rubles.

Another hotel you can see as you enter the town is the Hotel Balu (+7 481-314-2477), which offers a single room with a shower, a toilet, television and a double bed for 1,600 rubles per night. You can book the same type of room with air conditioning for just 1,700 rubles. Rooms do not have fridges but there is a cozy cafe on the ground floor.

Conversation starters

As a typical provincial Russian city, the road surface is pretty bad in Vyazma. A set of shockabsorbers can be destroyed by slowly driving along the main drag of Stachechnaya Ulitsa. According to an official report by the city administration, more than 70 percent of roads are severely deteriorated, and some are not paved at all.

So, just mentioning the road condition to a local will result in an emotional reaction, especially if they have changed the shockabsorbers of their car several times already.

You can also say something good about the two most famous elements of Vyzama: Sorokin the bodybuilder and the "Rus" aerobatic team. Everyone knows them and will be proud to express their excitement.

How to get there

By suburban commuter train: Go from Moscow's Belorussky station to Vyazma for 400 rubles,  several times a day. The journey takes four hours.

By car: Take the Moscow-Minsk highway, 230 kilometers west. The trip takes three and a half hours.

By bus: At the bus station in Moscow near Tyoply Stan metro, you will find a bus that will charge 550 rubles for a one-way ticket and departs several times a day. To get more specific information about the schedule, call M-auto Company (+7 481-356-2369).

Contact the author at bizreporter@imedia.ru







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Vyazma: A Small City That Cannot Be Kept Down

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