‘Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch ‘entrate’ would look very appropriate on the top of the railway station where the bus from Krasnoyarsk drops me off. Some 160 km from Krasnoyarsk and I’m back in time when wifi and ATMs still didnt exist. Welcome to Achinsk.
The man with a dirty beard and a kind smile approaches me as I light a cigarette and asks for some change. ‘I just came out of prison and need to get to Abakan’ explains the man while I’m fishing out the coins from the pocket.
Achinsk, the 3rd biggest city in Krasnoyarsk region, is one of the oldest known inhabited places in the area. Paleontological study has shown that people lived here as early as 28,000–20,000 BC but looks like the last 20 years if not turned the time backwards then at least stopped it as the city seems to be stuck in the mid 1990.
The correction institution 24/3 or simply saying Achinsk prison and many pretty 2 stored buildings appear behind the window as I take a ride from the train station to the city center.
In 1990 Achinsk was included into the list of Russian cities with the historical and cultural heritage of the national level but was either not informed about it or simply forgot about it’s mission to preserve the national treasures.
If you’ve ever heard about Achinsk it was most likely because of Joseph Stalin, who lived here in winter 1916-1917 after his exile in Siberia. On the 12th of March 1917 Stalin left Achinsk but the city saved the memory about him turning the small building where he lived into the Stalin museum.
The building of the museum caught the fire and former dictator’s belongings that were saved from the fire were moved to the local history museum. This museum is my main interest in Achinsk. I’m having a lunch in the only cafe that I happened to find in the city center and trying to imagine what was the city like when the former notorious leader lived here.
The cafe is simple, cheep and empty, the music’s bad, mostly the prison songs. The other two customers in the cafe keep staring at me and after finishing the meal a lady with golden teeth approaches me asking if I would like to buy a laptop from her. I joke back saying that I’m interested only if it’s Stalin’s laptop. The awkward silence fills up the cafe. The lady blinks and goes back to her table.
The museum where Joseph Stalin’s belongings should be stored is of course on the Lenin street and one passes by the golden statue of Kirov, another prominent early Bolshevik leader, on the way to the museum.
Achinsk itself looks like a museum, a bit underinvested but quite interesting.
The museum turns out not to be exhibiting the Stalin’s belongings, they are stored in the funds of the museum and the storage is closed. Everyone who knew about Stalin’s stay in the city are long dead, explains me the museum director while refusing at least to tell me about the exhibits.
‘And in general, there’s nothing interesting here’ sums up the director. I stand up and leave.
The hardest for me in Russia is to see the people who give up on themselves. You can blame the regime or the difficult life or the lack of funds or misfortune but you should never lose hope and stop fighting. While going through Siberia I see that it’s very far from perfect but it’s changing rapidly thanks to the effort invested by the simple people be it a factory worker, street cleaner, businessman or a student crafting his first start up.
Walking along the streets of Achinsk I take the pics of the stray dogs and 19th century buildings falling apart when two man with the beer bottles in their hands appear in my way.
‘What are you taking pics of? There’s nothing interesting to photograph. Just empty streets.’ I’m not in the mood to argue. ‘If you say so’ I reply to my new friends and start walking back to the train station.