Cathedrals of the Russian Orthodox Church are iconic and instantly recognisable. The distinctive domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square and the Church on Spilled Blood in St Petersburg attract visitors from all over the world. These famous onion domes sprout up all over Russia, particularly in the west of the country, where the towns tend to be older and more numerous. To the north east of Moscow, cities such as Yaroslavl, Vladimir and Suzdal make up the ‘Golden Ring’, ancient towns which played a large part in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. These picturesque towns are largely a source of tourism, but in recent years Russia’s Orthodox Church has been undergoing something of a revival.
It may sound odd, but I have never felt more relaxed than when surrounded by naked Russian men. Men who ferociously beat each other with silver birch leaves and branches. Men who let out low grunts of either pain or pleasure as a twig thwacks across their buttock. Men who suffer in sweaty silence as a searing wave of heat emanates from the hot stones in the corner. This is, of course, the Russian banya. A place where worries dissipate, friendships are cemented, and a man’s genitals are afforded more freedom of movement than an EU national with an inter-rail ticket.
After a 16-year wait, Spartak Moscow are champions of Russia again. Not since 2001 have “The People’s Club” claimed top spot. And if Wednesday night’s colossal pitch invasion following Spartak’s 3-0 victory over Terek Grozny is anything to go by, the supporters are understandably delighted to have ended the drought.
Victory Day in Russia, the 9th May, is a triumphant celebration of the military, a colossal tribute to the millions who gave their lives during The Great Patriotic War (Великая Отечественная Война), also known as World War II. Through the lens of a camera, the world sees parading army regiments, an extravagant fireworks display, and an ominous procession of tanks and missiles passing through Red Square. On the evidence of these images alone, Victory Day might seem like a display of military strength and power. However, on the streets, one discovers that the 9th May is a personal experience, emotional, and collectively shared.