Photographer: Диана Серебренникова
Text: Диана Серебренникова
Shushenskoe, a rank growing village in the South of Krasnoyarsk Region, back in the XIX century was considered to be a solitary and far-away place. As old-hands used to say between themselves, “Only the Sayans are behind the Shush, and behind the Sayans there is nothing but the edge of the world”.
After an eight hours’ ride, feasting eyes on the endless steppes of Khakassia, I found myself at an old Soviet bus station, where one could still buy a hot dog from a serious-looking elderly lady and see portraits of V.I. Lenin on the walls. Around the station there was nothing but tiny two-storey houses, little stores and garages. In a small distance, some poplars were rocking under the wind. At first it seemed that the village was so remote and obscure that only cows wandered along the streets. But linen put out in the balconies, a bicycle parked at the entrance door, smoke wreathing over chimneys proved that life was not over there; it just followed its own rules, different from the urban ones.
Behind the fir-tree park and N.K. Krupskaya library I could see the wooden walls of the main local place of interest: Museum of History and Ethnography.
Back in the XIX century, Shushenskoe village used to be the place of political exile for Decembrists, then for the participants of Poland liberation movement, revolutionary and democratic movements of Russia, Narodnaya Volya members. Due to its location, it was perfect for isolating the exiled from the centres of political life. In the year 1897, upon the volost (district) authorities’ order, a peasant called A.D. Zyryanov hosted a political exiled in his house. The twenty-five year old man turned out to be Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who later became widely known under another name: “Lenin”. The three years he spent in exile became the reason for memorializing his life in the Siberian village. In the year 1970, “Siberian Exile of V.I. Lenin” Reserve Museum was opened.
Today people come to “Shushenskoe” Reserve Museum to see the carefully maintained historical part of the Siberian village, to take a look inside the houses built in the late XIX century, to learn more about the daily routine of Russian peasants.
Strolling along the museum street, experienced guide Lyudmila Grigoryevna recalls the times when the place was a purely ideological institution:
“In those times I had to tell more about the activities of Lenin, than of the Siberian village life. Let’s say, passing by a grain threshing mill, besides telling how it was used and who could possess it in those times, I could not avoid mentioning that it leaded to better labour productivity as described by Lenin in his book “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”. And it concerned not only the threshing mill, but every single museum exhibit! But a lot has changed since then. Now, when the country has been through all the changes, many museums of Lenin got closed. As for us, we still go on due to our ethnographical exposition. Now we focus on Siberian identity”.
A screeching porch of a restored house. A large white Russian oven takes up the major part of the kitchen, and in the middle of the table there is a bowl for making dough. Even though among late XIX century’s peasants the most popular meal was buckwheat, bread had always been essential. The house interior is reproduced in such subtle details, that in the baby crib I find a small doll-shaped amulet, and at the entrance I accidentally touch a hand-towel of home-made hempen cloth. But the interior is not the only thing the museum staff works on. The crops that appear on the garden plots every spring are the same vestures as one hundred years ago.
The museum territory is not small: it stretches for 15 hectares, so here we can drop by not only the house of the volost monitor Simon Ermolaev, but also take a walk along a nameless street. Here we can easily imagine a flock of kids, running to “terebilovka” (a fighting spot), or a tipsy man, leaving the tavern with the fulfilled duty feeling: in those times tavern revenues were used for social needs.
In “The Store” exposition one can find some small things used in old times: pieces of colourful fabrics, tea boxes, scales, coins. But lady’s shoes are presented in the greatest number. The reason is the fact that the shoes, given to the bride by her groom, were carefully kept for the whole life, sometimes worn to church. That is why so many amazing specimens were found in the coffers of local women.
In the XIX century, peasants engaged themselves in their basic traditional activities: animal breeding and agriculture. There were over thirty crafts and trades practiced by local residents. Today in the premises of the museum there are several functioning workshops, where you can see local men painting wooden spoons, learn the special composition of clay and pottery making techniques, or even watch a blacksmith and a cooper, who work with old tools, following only traditional technologies, with no mechanization involved.
The museum runs a family club, where village dwellers learn traditional crafts of the past: making spoons and rag dolls.
(Non) touristic place
Now the museum in the stable development phase: restoration works are carried out, and trade fairs and folk festivals dedicated to traditional holidays, such as “Wide Maslennitsa” and the “Village Whitsun”, are visited by thousands of people from nearby towns. However, the village cannot be called a touristic place. Its main problem is poor infrastructure. There used to be two summer facilities, but now there is just “Tourist” hotel with unreasonably high prices. There are no comfortable inns or cafes to relax after a long journey. It takes long to reach the village: from Krasnoyarsk, the trip takes around eight hours. If the only cafй of the village, “Sadko”, is closed for a private party, there is no place to have a snack.
However, the cultural potential of the village is very high. Shushenskoe is a site for International Ethnical Music Festival “The Sayan Ring”, which was later renamed into “The World of Siberia”. Every June its tent camp gathers listeners of both unknown folk bands and world famous performers, who in their free time rush to explore the village sites and, of course, to visit the “Shushenskoe” reserve museum. The museum staff welcomes the guests: last year, in one day the exposition was visited by 70 groups! But it is not the only place where visitors can learn the history of the village.
In Shushenskoe woods surrounding the settlement, there are many places associated with the activities of young Ulyanov. During the exile he was not allowed to go farther than ten versts (10,67 km) from the village, so, besides reading books and skating on the frozen Shush river, Lenin used to hunt a lot and explore every little place around: the Birchwood, Perovo lake, on the banks of which his hunting shelter was reconstructed, Zhuravlinaya and Peschanaya hills, which were his favourite places for promenades with Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, who came to visit him in Shushenskoe.
In the evening it is not that easy to take a lonely stroll along the alleys: you meet many women with full string bags, slowly walking to their homes in pairs. On the benches you can hardly see peacefully chattering aunties: they prefer taking bicycle rides. The residents of this quiet and solitary town are used to cockcrows in the morning, puzzled faces of lost tourists and even diplomats of international delegations.
History gave a chance to this place. But Lenin story is not enough to bring a tourist “to the edge of the world”, so the locals have to do lectures on the peasants’ routine, sing songs at a fashionable ethnical music festival, dance with bread and salt on Russian holidays. But do you know any Siberian museum that does not mix it all up? Yes, it is nothing but touristic nonsense, but this is exactly what the place is remarkable for. This museum is the Hero of our time, which did not close down, but keeps on struggling to survive through the times when the audience is too hard to surprise.
How to get here
To Krasnoyarsk or Abakan by plane or train, and then by regular bus to Shushenskoe village. You can also take a car ride on route M-54 from Krasnoyarsk to Shushenskoe (approximate travel time: 8 hours).
Where to stay
Closetothevillagecentrethereis “Tourist” hotel. Besides that, in the territory of “Shushenskoe” reserve museum there is a “Novaya Derevnya” (“New Village”) inn complex: six houses made in the style of the past century’s Siberian izbas. Inside there is all necessary infrastructure for comfortable rest and complete plunge into the life and routine of Siberian peasants. The inns have 30 beds. In the territory there is a diner, a steam house, a garage. Daily accommodation cost is higher than that at “Tourist” hotel.
Where to eat
Upon preliminary booking, you can try Siberian dishes at “Novaya Derevnya”, in the territory of “Shushenskoe” reserve museum. In the very centre of the village, there is “Sadko”, the only café which, however, provides a wide choice of dishes. It can be closed for various occasions. You can have a nice snack at the diner (closed on weekends) or, in the evening, at the bar (18.00-02.00), both located in the territory of “Tourist” hotel.