For anyone who loves tanks, guns and all things Soviet, Stalin Line, just outside Minsk in Belarus, is an absolute must-see. On our recent “Belarus: Back in the USSR Tour” it got even better than usual though.
Our overly enthusiastic local Stalin Line guide, Mikhail, was dressed in the standard Soviet khaki-coloured (what’s that material like a potato sack?) suit and boots, complete with a red star on his hat and colorful epilets. He took us through the bunkers and around the many tanks and other Soviet military equipment that comprise the open-air museum. Entering a hidden bunker, he explained what could be done down there.
Just in case we had any ideas that social media hadn’t crossed every cultural and language barrier, he finished with “Hashtag Stalin Line”.
“Посмотрите на все это оборудование, можете притвориться, что вы стреляете из огромного пулемета. ТA TA TA TA TA TA,” complete with hand signals of firing a machine gun, and the “ТA TA TA TA TA TA” sound effects, that made no translation necessary. Yuliya translated anyway though, just to make sure no one missed it. “Have a look around, then if you like, pretend you’re shooting a huge machine gun. ТA TA TA TA TA TA.” Then just in case, we had any ideas that social media hadn’t crossed every cultural and language barrier, he finished with “Hashtag Stalin Line”. Needless to say, that became a theme for the day and even the rest of the trip.
After this delight, we had the first surprise of the tour. A chance to shoot real-life Kalishnakovs (AK 47’s). Complete with lack of safety equipment and rules, we were given free reign of these notorious guns, to shoot at ruined tanks and old military vehicles.
Yuliya repeated the details of particular pieces of equipment, and stories about them, but just like “Hashtag Stalin Line” and “ТA TA TA TA TA TA”, some things just don’t need to be translated. “А теперь вы можете забраться на этот танк и сделать selfie,” to which we all had a giggle. “And now you can climb on this tank and take a selfie.”
Hashtag Stalin Line.
With everyone’s blood pumping and a general aura of excitement hovering over the group, we were walked down a slippery, muddy track to our next surprise. At the bottom of the path, we were faced with at least a dozen beige and khaki-colored tanks, all spattered with mud and clearly still in use. You guessed it. We were going to ride on one of them!
We were only allowed ten people per tank, so we split into two groups. Even ten though was pretty hair-raising.
There was enough space for three to stand in the opening at the top, and four across the front in various states straddling the main gun. Three of us were left to squat on the back of the tank, grabbing onto the opening that the other three were standing in for dear life. Not being natural squatters, needless to say after a few minutes of that we had to rearrange, so we were taking it in turns to shakily stand up, lean over the three in front of us, kneel down, fall over each other, go back for another squat, fall on top of each other some more, and all the while frantically taking as many photos and videos as we could for hashtag Stalin Line (and ourselves).
Flying over bumps and skidding around corners, we tore our way through recreated war scenes, mud splattering up at us as he hurtled past bombed-out trucks, abandoned tanks, and piles of unrecognizable military equipment, the noise from our tank’s engine was deafening. Looking backward, continuous plumes of thick black smoke spurted from the exhaust, hovering in the air for several minutes before dissipating.
If you haven’t ridden a tank, you haven’t lived.
Hashtag Stalin Line
Make sure to check out the Young Pioneer Tours Central Asia Facebook page for a video of us on the tank!