Voices from Russia

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A Photo Essay… Furry Custodians of the Hermitage Treasures

00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 01. 25.10.14

The Hermitage cats are a living symbol of St Petersburg. Not content with simply showing their pictures, this series offers the lowdown on each of them. The first is Assol, at the Nicholas Staircase, a spruce and sociable, yet bashful, young lady. Evening often finds her on the Palace Embankment, gazing pensively at the ships gliding along the Neva.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 02. 25.10.14

Luchik, in the Winter Palace. A striking Siberian tomcat, his fur boasts the hue of what people in Piter call the “Neva Masquerade” hue. An avid football fan, on match day he always bags the best spot to watch his favourite side, FK Zenit.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 03. 25.10.14

Pingva, in the Pavilion Hall. An elderly cat robed in austere black-and-white, descended from palace stock. This cat was born to guard the Hermitage. The modest sombre black-and-white livery is evidence of her aristocratic roots. She shuns feline company in favour of solitude, preferring to live apart from her fellows in the cattery.


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Gauguin, in Palace Square, across from the General Staff building. This brightly coloured cat seems to have sprung from a canvas by the French painter himself. Life’s travails developed in him the most extraordinary skills. Gauguin knows only too well where the provisions are and how to get them, using his ability to open (and close!) any door.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 05. 25.10.14

Francesca, on the Jordan Staircase. Proud of her famous namesake, she performs her own version of arias from the eponymous opera in the dead of night in the museum vaults. Anyone who strokes her trichromatic coat gets special treatment.


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Vaksa, on the Jordan Staircase. The demure Vaksa suffers from poor eyesight; she isn’t overly fond of strangers, and rarely leaves the Hermitage grounds. However, she’s never short of work… fondly rubbing herself against the feet of employees, this near-wholly black cat has polished their shoes to a shine for many years.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 07. 25.10.14

Kisanya, in the Gallery of the History of Ancient Painting. A cordial hostess, Kisanya pays attention to all guests of the Hermitage, who, in summer, obligingly help this voluble gourmet acquire a rounded figure.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 08. 25.10.14

Lipa, on  Soviet Staircase. The self-sufficient Lipa is the very essence of catness, taking herself for strolls and preferring to observe proceedings from the shelter of a tree.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 09. 25.10.14

Rio-Rita, near the Alexander Column. A graceful, expressive, and unusually melodious Abyssinian cat with a wild hue. In anticipation of human caresses, her body becomes like a bouncing ball, her tail and hind legs performing a kind of dance. When she rubs up against your legs, resistance is futile.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 10. 25.10.14

Tikhon, in the Large Italian Skylight Hall. Named after the pagan god of fate, old-timer Tikhon is extremely discreet and thorough. As fate itself would have it, they brought Tikhon from the General Staff building to the Great Hermitage, where he became the unofficial leader of all the palace cats.


00 hermitage cats. russia. st petersburg. 11. 25.10.14

Caspar, in the Raphael Loggias. A legendary guard and photographic star, he often wanders into camera shots of the most vivid landscapes. Named after German landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich, this romantic feline soul chooses the most picturesque surroundings for his perambulations.


14 October 2014

Yuri Molodkovets

Russia Behind the Headlines



Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Russian Craftsmen to Recreate Parts of Lost Amber Room

00 Amber Room. Russia. 15.05.13


Russian craftsmen in Kaliningrad shall recreate parts of the legendary Amber Room, a Tsarist-era antiquity looted by Nazi Germany during World War II. The restoration plan by the Kaliningrad Oblast government is part of a campaign to stop illegal mining in amber-rich areas near the Baltic coast. The region has the world’s largest-known amber deposits. Experts estimate that criminals mine 60-100 tons of amber illegally every year in Kaliningrad Oblast, which holds more than 90 percent of the world’s total known amber reserves and is home to the world’s only natural amber strip-mine.

King Friedrich I invited German craftsmen to decorate the main hall of his palace with amber panels shortly after his accession to the Prussian throne in 1701. However, after the king’s death in 1713, his son Friedrich Wilhelm I put an end to the expensive work, and put the amber panels on the walls of a small room of the Stadtschloss (City Palace) in Berlin. Three years later, he gave the panels as a present to Tsar Pyotr Veliki, who stored them in his Summer Palace, at Petergof. It was only in 1743 that Tsaritsa Yelizaveta Petrovna decided to use the amber panels to decorate one of her main chambers in the Winter Palace. Craftsmen expanded on the original decorations, eventually turning them into the legendary Amber Room, often referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world”.

The Wehrmacht looted the decorations during World War II, and took them to Königsberg (now Kaliningrad), where they were lost in the fierce fighting and air raids at the end of the war in 1945. Eventually, the Russians only rediscovered two small parts of the room’s decoration and returned them to Russia. According to the Kaliningrad Oblast Culture Minister Svetlana Kondratyeva, the Amber Room replica will be in the 1899 building of the Königsberg State Amber Factory, which, following its renovation, will then house the Kaliningrad Amber Museum. Museum visitors will be able to watch the craftsmen at work replicating the room through glass panels.

14 May 2013



Sunday, 24 March 2013

24 March 2013. RIA-Novosti Infographics. Global Event “Earth Hour”: History, Purpose, Participants

00 RIA-Novosti Infographics. Global Event 'Earth Hour'. History, Purpose, Participants. 2013


Click here for an “Earth Hour” image gallery

The World Wildlife Fund sponsors “Earth Hour” annually. On the last Saturday in March, at 20.30 local time, all participants turn off lights and electrical appliances for an hour. This is the fifth “Earth Hour” held in Russia; last year, about 20 million people in Russia took part in it. According to WWF, about 70 Russian cities will participate in the action in 2013. The WWF specifically mentioned that Moscow, St Petersburg, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Lipetsk, Serpukhov, Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Voronezh, Irkutsk, Krasnodar, Vologda, Nizhny Novgorod, and Syktyvkar would have special events. For the first year, Novy Urengoy will take part.

In Moscow, on 23 March, more than 80 buildings will plunge into darkness for an hour. On Saturday, the main attractions of St Petersburg… the Winter Palace, Palace Square, and the Petropavlovsk Fortress… will turn off their architectural and artistic lighting. The same thing would happen at St Petersburg State University, as well as at Troitsky Bridge, Blagoveshchensky Bridge, Bolsheokhtinsky Bridge, and Aleksandr Nevsky Bridge.

A giant ball, symbolising planet Earth will be set on fire in Nizhny Novgorod on Rozhdestvenskaya Street. The organisers of the action said, “The contours of the Earth’s continents would burn only for a short while, thus, presenting a representation of the limited and exhaustible basic resources used by mankind”. The event will take place on Markin Square near Rozhdestvenskaya Street. Residents of Krasnodar shall place candles outside a shopping mall on Stasov Street. The candles will have the inscription “Kuban +” as a symbol that the Krasnodar Krai joined the “Earth Hour” event. The shopping mall will turn off all its lights and signs.

23 March 2013




Monday, 4 June 2012

“Guard Cats” In Public Service at the Hermitage

Is this a feline Bulat Okudzhava? Ya never know…



The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg “hires” cats to protect its artworks against rodents. The so-called “guard cats” go unnoticed as they dwell in the attics and basements, away from the eyes of tourists. The museum administration has “employed” these highly skilful “guards” ever since the museum was founded in 1764. Even though nowadays rats and mice can easily be exterminated using chemicals, the museum can’t do without the cats, who’ve become a living legend and its mascots.

The first “public service” cats came in the 18th century. Tsar Pyotr Veliki was the first to provide shelter for a big cat he had brought from Holland at the then-wooden Winter Palace. Later on, Tsaritsa Yelizaveta Petrovna ordered a batch of rat-catching cats from Kazan because she was scared of small rodents. Cats acquired the status of palace guards during the reign of Tsaritsa Yekaterina Alekseyevna Velikaya. Under Yekaterina, they were divided into chamber cats (the Russian Blue breed), and backyard cats who chased rats and mice guarding Her Majesty’s peace of mind. The State Hermitage Museum started as a private collection of Tsaritsa Yekaterina, who acquired 220 works by Dutch and Flemish artists through her agents in Berlin. At first, most of the paintings she acquired were placed in secluded parts of the Winter Palace, which became known as the “Hermitage”, or “Retreat”, in French.

Hermitage-employed cats survived the October Revolution and continued their service under the Soviet government. However, they didn’t survive the siege of Leningrad during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. After starving people ate all the cats, rats infested the city. However, as soon as the blockade was over, two railway cars filled with cats arrived in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) from Russia’s central regions, to form the backbone of a new squadron of rat-eating cats. Cat numbers rose to an unprecedented high in the second half of the 1960s. As the cats prowled the basements, museum rooms, and corridors, the museum administration received orders to get rid of them, which they did. However, several years later, the “four-legged guards” were ordered back, for the museum found it too hard to do without them in its struggle to preserve cultural artefacts.

Since then, the Hermitage cats have gotten good care. Each so-called “hermit” has a passport with a photo certifying that he’s qualified to pursue the difficult task of protecting the museum basements against rodents. The cats are well looked after, fed properly, attended to if ill, and respected for their hard work. Museum employees know all male and female cats by their names, and the name for each cat is picked carefully, to suit his or her character. The team of four-footed guards consists mainly of alley cats, and like the imperial times, the cat community hinges on strict hierarchy. The cats fall into aristocrats, the middle caste, and the low caste. Each group operates within a certain designated part of the building. The cat staff cannot exceed 50-60 cats, but not because they’ll be difficult to look after in terms of cat food. If the number of cats exceeds 60, they start cat fights and neglect their duties. For this reason, from time to time, the museum has to look for people who’d adopt their extra cats.

The museum’s basements have specially designated areas for storing cat food and attending to ailing cats. The roadway near the museum has road signs warning drivers about cats’ presence and urging them to be careful and slow down. Road accidents are the most frequent cause of death amongst Hermitage cats. The Hermitage budget allocates no funds for the cats’ keeping. The cats live on donations from the public and museum workers. Hermitage Cat Day, marked annually on 28 March, is one of the museum’s memorable dates. The museum staff prepares a large number of informative exhibitions and exciting contests.

28 May 2012

Yuliya Galiullina

Voice of Russia World Service


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