Omsk – city of exile and military tradition
Omsk, in south-western Siberia and more than 2,000 kilometers from Moscow, is particularly famous for two things – the exile history of the tsarist regime and its centuries-old military tradition.
The fate of the exiles sent here by the Russia’s tsarist regime was not easy, with a long and dangerous route to get there, and prison and forced labor once they arrived.
A group of people in the western Siberian region of Omsk discovered that they are living on the only surviving stretch of the original 9,000 kilometers of Siberian exiles' track that has had no modern changes made to it.
Now they regularly re-enact the march into exile made by thousands in Tsarist Russia to show people what it was like.
“It took them [exiles] years to go there. Summers, winters…entire years. A lot of people died on the way,” says Valentina Stepanova, one of the re-enactors. “It’s scary to put the shackles on, of course, but it’s interesting. If we don’t remember our history we will have no future.”
Under guard, men and women walked one of the longest, and probably loneliest, roads in the world.
“When you come to the track you can vividly picture the convicts on their walk and hear the clinking of their chains. You can smell Russian history here,” says Evgeny Zenzin, director of the Siberian Tract Museum.
The museum tells the story of the exiles. Zenzin decided to build it after he had discovered that he was descended from some of those exiles. Zenzin and his re-enactors now receive visitors from all over the world to show them what it was like.
One of the more noble traditions in Omsk is military professionalism, practiced here at the city's cadet college for nearly 200 years. The military academy provided very famous officers and generals for the Russian and the Red armies.
“Here they created Siberia's first Cadet Corps to prepare officers to protect the territory. Before that it was a Cossack military college. That’s why I think that we’re the successors of those old times,” says Viktor Pronkin, Lieutenant Colonel and deputy director of the Omsk Cadet College.
Young hopefuls have to pass tough exams to get in here. For those that do, it is a very different school to others in Omsk.
“It was strange to be away from home. Unusual. But when you get used to it, it feels like home,” says one of the cadets, Roman Nikolov.
Military personalities are dotted throughout Omsk's history. The city served as the capital of anti-Communist White Russian leader, Admiral Kolchak, in the civil war from 1918 to 1919. Though, the study of the man, as well as the maintenance of the building he lived in, has remained taboo right up until the present day due to the notoriety of Kolchak’s rule.
“We still receive hate mail saying that he hanged a lot of people and was famous for severe punishments. It’s all true, but it was at the time of a civil war. Both sides were monstrously cruel,” says Aleksey Sorokin, a local historian.
The history of Omsk is quite amazing – it was established as a fortress, Russia’s famous writer Fyodor Dostoevsky spent quite a long time in exile there. Under Kolchak it was a capital of Russia, says local resident Aleksandr Semyonov. Over the recent years, he notes, the city has undergone big changes."If you came to Omsk 15 years ago, you wouldn’t be so amazed. But it’s really developed in the last 15 years: they’ve built new roads, new buildings. Right now we have very rich aspects of social life and cultural life: we have famous theaters coming on, festivals going on. I really am proud of living here,
" he told RT.