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Yulia Skripal to return to Russia

Viktoria Skripal said on Thursday.




Reports are emerging that Yulia Skripal will return to Russia before long, based on statements that have surfaced from her cousin, Viktoria Skripal. Viktoria says that Yulia is faring well and now has an internet connection, and that Yulia has indicated that once her father, former double agent Sergei Skripal, has sufficiently improved she will go back to her homeland. A phone conversation between Viktoria and Yulia reportedly took place on Tuesday on the occasion of Yulia’s grandmother’s 90th birthday, Sergei’s mother, who expressed that she was happy to learn that Sergei was okay.

Sputnik reports

Yulia Skripal, who was allegedly poisoned alongside her father Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury in March, will return to Russia when the latter gets better, Yulia’s cousin Viktoria Skripal told Sputnik on Thursday.

“[Yulia] said she was doing well and already had a connection to the Internet… She will return home when her father gets better,” Viktoria said.

The phone conversation took place on Tuesday, when Sergei Skripal’s mother was celebrating her 90th birthday.
“She was very happy to hear that Sergei was okay,” Viktoria stressed, adding that, according to Yulia, Sergei Skripal still had a respiratory tube in his trachea.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were allegedly poisoned with military grade nerve agent novickok on March 4th, and were found unresponsive on a park bench following lunch at a nearby restaurant. The alleged poisoning was the pretext for various international political bouts between Britain and Russia, resulting in the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from countries all over Europe as well as America. Sergei and Yulia miraculously survived the attempted assassination which the British government suspects the Kremlin to have been behind, however, conclusive evidence has yet to be shown to the public that this line of reasoning is reasonably substantiated.

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Veliky Ustyug – city of cultural monuments, explorers and Ded Moroz

Every December, Veliky Ustyug comes into sight, especially for children awaiting Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost.




A lot has been written and said about Crimea, the Kerch Strait and Russia’s conflict with neighbouring Ukraine which has been dominating the news lately. Russia, however, is a lot more than only Crimea, its latest acquisition after the Crimean people’s referendum, in 2014. Of course, the Crimean peninsula is Russia’s jewel in the Black Sea but there are many other beautiful places in the Russian Federation, worth while a visit.

Every December, Veliky Ustyug comes into sight, especially for children awaiting Ded Moroz, Grandfather Frost. The town of 35.000 inhabitants is located in the northeast of Vologda Oblast, at the confluence of the Sukhona and Yug rivers. Downstream they form a single waterway called the Northern Dvina. Veliky Ustyug is the hometown not only of Ded Moroz, a Russian version of Santa Claus, but also of three famous Russian explorers of Siberia. Today, this beautiful small town in the Russian heartland is mainly a tourist attraction because of its architectural monuments.

Ded Moroz Museum in Veliky Ustyug

On New Year’s Eve, Ded Moroz brings gifts to Russian children. He is awaited eagerly all over the Russian Federation. On the 7th of January 2008, President Vladimir Putin visited Ded Moroz’ residence in Veliky Ustyug. The Ded Moroz Museum, founded in 1998, comprises Ded Moroz’ personal rooms, a gift shop, library and study. The surrounding park has a size of 42 hectares, complete with winter garden and sleighing slopes for children.

In the 19th century, Ded Moroz and his granddaughter Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden, became popular figures in Russian music and art. Nicolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) created fifteen operas, one of them is “Snegurochka” (1880), a musical fairy tale with Russian folk music and ballet. This opera consists of a prologue and four acts. The story deals with the opposition of eternal forces in nature. Rimsky-Korsakov characterized the townspeople with folk melodies. This opera was first presented on the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, in 1882.

The Russian painter Victor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926) also made use of the theme. In 1885, he created theatre decorations for Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Snegurochka”. In 1889, Victor Vasnetsov painted “Snegurochka” in oil. His Snow Maiden is standing alone in a snowy winter wood, wearing a long white fur coat and fur hat. Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876-1942) was another Russian-Soviet painter who elaborated the motif. In 1942, he died of cold and starvation during the Siege of Leningrad by the Nazis. Ivan Bilibin worked for the theatre and illustrated books. His illustrations of Russian fairy tales have gained worldwide fame, including “Snegurochka”.

History of Veliky Ustyug

The town was first mentioned in written documents in 1207. In the 15th century, it developed into a commercial centre. The churches and convents of Veliky Ustyug are excellent examples of northern Russian architecture. The town owns 152 historical monuments. Of touristic interest are the Assumption Cathedral (1619), Ascension Church (1648), Archangel Mikhail Cathedral (1653), Saint Prokop Cathedral (1668), Saint Vladimir Gate Church (1682), Epiphany Church (1689) and Saint George Church (1696). The modern day town has a shipyard, jewellery factory and several food production plants. Its main industry is tourism which received an immense boost, in 1998, when Veliky Ustyug was named the residence of Ded Moroz.

Three explorers born in Veliky Ustyug

Three famous explorers of Russia’s Far East were born in Veliky Ustyug. The first was Yerofey Pavlovich Khabarov (1603-1671). In 1625, he began exploring Siberia. When he reached the Lena river in 1632, he founded a farm and saltworks. In 1645, he went on to explore the Amur river. In 1650, he built winter quarters for his men at the northernmost point of the river. Yerofei Khabarov defeated local tribes, as well as Manchu and Korean warriors who disputed the area with him. He was also the first man to draw a chart of the Amur river. The city of Khabarovsk in Siberia, located near the Chinese border, is named after Yerofey Khabarov. The explorer died in Irkutsk Oblast, in 1671. His descendents now live in Stavropol.

The second explorer from Veliky Ustyug was Semyon Ivanovich Dezhnov (1605-1673). In 1630, he was recruited for service in Siberia as a Russian government agent. He served eight years in Tobolsk, then in Yakutia. In 1639, he founded the settlement of Yakutsk and married a Yakut woman. In 1641, he sailed to the Kolyma river and built a settlement at the easternmost Russian frontier, in 1643. Semyon Dezhnov sailed around the Chukchi Peninsula with 120 people in 1648 and discovered the easternmost cape of Asia, which was named Dezhnov Cape after him. He found a walrus rookery and collected two tons of walrus ivory, very precious goods for trading. In 1659, Semyon Dezhnov went to Moscow to remain in the Russian capital until his death, in 1673.

The third explorer born in Veliky Ustyug was Vladimir Vasilyevich Atlasov (1661-1711). A farmer of Cossack origin, he was the first Russian to explore the Kamchatka Peninsula. Atlasov Island, an uninhabited volcanic island at the southern tip of Kamchatka, is named after him. In 1697, Vladimir Atlasov led a group of 65 Cossacks and 60 Yukhagirs on an exploration trip to Kamchatka, where they erected two forts along the Kamchatka river. These served as fortified traders’ posts for Russian fur traders. Vladimir Atlasov was the first Russian to describe the region and its inhabitants in great detail. Later he also explored the Kuril Islands, which belong to the Russian Federation thanks to him. Vladimir Atlasov died on the Kamchatka Peninsula, in 1711.

From Veliky Ustyug to the Russian Far East with Kamtchatka, there are many interesting spots for tourists to visit. Russia is rich in history and beautiful landscapes. Hopefully not only Crimea, but also the Russian Far East and the beautiful little town of Veliky Ustyug, home of Grandfather Frost, will attract more visitors from western countries in the near future.

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.

Her blog: 

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Remembering Armistice Day 1914: Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “Quiet Don” as document of First World War and Cossack life

Although the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, liked to see himself as a man of peace, he favoured an expanded Russian Empire and considered Germany to be the main threat to its territory.




Authored by Olivia Kroth:

A hundred years have gone by since the end of World War I, from November 1918 to November 2018. With the celebration of Armistice Day, on the 11th of November 2018, the right moment has come to look back on those troubled times from a Russian Cossack writer’s perspective.

On the 1st of August 1914, the German Empire declared war on the Russian Empire, an action of far-reaching consequences. On the 11th of November 1918, this atrocious war officially ended. When the armistice with Germany was signed in Compiègne, France, at 11 a.m. local time —”the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”— a ceasefire came into effect that ended World War I, in which most of the major political powers of that era had been involved.

Although the last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, liked to see himself as a man of peace, he favoured an expanded Russian Empire and considered Germany to be the main threat to its territory, even though Germany was ruled by the Tsar’s cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Nicholas II was urged by his council not to enter a war with Germany because it would be mutually dangerous to both countries, no matter who won. However, Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch said that Russia, if it did not mobilize, would “face the greatest dangers and a peace bought with cowardice would unleash revolution at home.”

The eastern front during World War I was much longer than that in the west. It ran from the Baltic Sea in the northwest of the Russian Empire to the Black Sea in the South, a distance of more than 1,600 kilometres. Because of its length, the line was easy to break. Once broken, the communication networks did not function any more, making it difficult for Russian troops to mount rapid counteroffensives and seal off any breakthrough of the German forces.

Millions of Russian peasants were conscripted into the Tsar’s armies but supplies of rifles and ammunition remained inadequate. It is estimated that one third of Russia’s able-bodied men were serving in the army. The conscripted peasants were unable to work on the farms producing the usual amount of food. By November 1916, food prices were four times as high as before the war. As a result strikes for higher wages became common in Russia’s cities.

Cossacks supplied a disproportionately high number of soldiers for the war. Women left behind struggled to feed their families. During the overthrow of the monarchy, many war-weary and impoverished Cossacks sided with workers and ordinary soldiers against the tsarist regime. Traditionally, the Cossacks of the Russian Empire had always been warriors who provided the tsars with mounted troops in return for land. During the First World War, the Cossack communitiees were weakened and some even destroyed. Yet the war also helped to forge and solidify Cossack identity which has survived until today.

As supreme commander of the Russian Army, Tsar Nicholas II was held responsible for the country’s miltary failures during the First World War. During 1917, there was a strong decline of his support in Russia. On the 1st of March 1917, he was forced to abdicate. On the 25th of October 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power and Vladimir Lenin, the new leader of the Russian government, announced an armistice. He sent Leon Trotsky, the people’s commissar for foreign affairs, as head of the Russian delegation to Brest-Litovsk to negotiate a peace deal with Germany and Austria.

The novel “Quiet Don” deals with the Don Cossacks’ fate during World War I and the October Revolution 1917. Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov (1905 – 1984) created a broad, multi-faceted panorama of Cossack life at the beginning of the 20th century in southern Russia. For his outstanding work the author was awarded the Stalin Prize, Lenin Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature.

In this novel, the beginning of World War I and the invasion of German troops in Russia is told from a Cossack point of view:”The Cossacks rode at a smart trot. Now they saw the German Dragoons’ blue uniforms. ‘Start firing’, Astrakhan shouted, jumping from his saddle. Upright, both reins wound around his hands, he fired the first volley. Ivankhov’s horse reared up, throwing its rider to the ground. While falling, Ivankhov saw how one of the Germans died.”  This was one of the first German casualties in Russia. Many more would follow.

In his masterpiece Mikhail Sholokhov not only depicted the bad times for Don Cossacks during World War I but also the end of the tsarist regime as a consequence of the war. Many of the tsarist Cossack regiments changed sides. After 1918, they followed the Bolsheviks, giving them military support. Later, during World War II, called the Great Patriotic War in Russia, some Cossack regiments joined the Red Army and fought for the Soviet Union against Nazi invaders.

In the novel the figure of Bunchuk is a Bolshevik Cossack. He shoots a tsarist officer into his open mouth as this one is holding a speech to win the Bolshevik Cossacks back for the tsar’s cause. Then he explains the motives for this deed to a comrade: “It is either them or us. There is no middle way. People like him must be killed like vipers”. Many “vipers” are killed at the end of the novel, when Bolshevik Cossacks saber captured counter-revolutionaries.

Two Bolshevik Don Cossacks are talking about Vladimir Lenin in the course of the novel. Chikhamasov says, “He is a Cossack from the stanitsa Veliky Koknyeskaya. He served in the artillery. By the way, you can tell from his physiognomy that he is a Cossack from the lower Don river: the high cheekbones, the slanted eyes. He is a true Cossack but he will not say so now. He is going to overthrow many more, not only the tsar. No, Mitrich, do not argue! Lenin is a Cossack.”

Mikhail Sholokhov, of Cossack origin himself, was born in the stanitsa Veshenskaya, on the 24th of May 1905. He joined the Bolsheviks, in 1918. In 1923, he moved to Moscow where he worked as author and journalist. After publishing his cycle of “Stories about the Don” (1926) he began writing the epic novel “Quiet Don”. The work of 2.000 pages took him 14 years to complete (1926-1940). It appeared in four volumes of 500 pages each.

For “Quiet Don” the author was awarded the Stalin Prize (1941), the Order of Lenin (1955), the Lenin Prize (1960) and the Nobel Prize for Literature (1965). The Nobel Prize Committee gave the following explanation for its choice: “The Nobel Prize for Literature 1965 goes to Mikhail Sholokhov due to the artistic force and integrity with which he created the epic novel ‘Quiet Don’, showing a historic phase in the life of the Russian people.”

Mikhail Sholokhov became famous in the Soviet Union and worldwide. He was a member of the USSR Supreme Soviet and Vice President of the Union of Soviet Writers. Mikhail Sholokhov was twice awarded the title “Hero of Socialist Labour”. The asteroid 2448 Sholokhov has also immortalized his name. In Moscow, the Sholokhov State University for Humanities was named after the author. This pegagogical institute was founded in 1951. In 2005, it ranked among the best 14 pedagogical universities of the Russian Federation.

The novel “Quiet Don” follows the tradition of Russian history and society novels. It can be compared to Lev Tolstoi’s “War and Peace”. Mikhail Sholokhov’s work deals with the life of Don Cossacks at the beginning of the 20th century, between 1912 and 1922. The Don Cossacks enjoyed greater liberties than other subjects of Imperial Russia. They did not have to pay taxes and were not serfs but free citizens. They lived as farmers, breeding horses and cattle. Don Cossacks were and still are great riding artists. They also knew well how to handle the lance, saber, rifle and pistol.

The Don Cossacks were a military society, constantly engaged in warfare, as an old Cossack song explains: “It is not the plough that is cultivating this glorious earth. / Our earth is churned by the hooves of horses. / Our earth is covered with Cossacks’ heads. / Our peaceful Don is adorned with young widows. / Our father, the Don, has many orphans. / The tears of fathers and mothers are rolling in the waves of the peace-loving Don.”

Many passages of the novel are lyrical, flowing as quietly as the river itself, whose surface changes from day to night and during the four seasons: “In the evening the sky turned cherry-red in the west. Behind the great poplar the moon was rising, shedding a cold white light over the Don. At night the murmur of the water mingled with the voices of countless ducks swarming southwards.”

Unfortunately, this marvellous novel has almost been forgotten nowadays. It is worth reading, not only because of the rich information about World War I in southern Russia, but also as a document of Cossack life on the Don river. Could this book be an adequate Christmas gift? The following Don Cossack Christmas carol sounds inviting: “Frost and cold, ice at Christmas, bad ice / You have frozen the wolf / You have also brought love into the house.”

Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.
Her blog:

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The Crystal Palace ballet comes to Russia with star-studded cast

The combined ballet / opera “The Crystal Palace” is a large – scale, significant event, the only show of its kind in Russia.




On September 10, 2018, at 19:00, the Great Hall of the State Kremlin Palace will host the Russian premiere of “The Crystal Palace”, a ballet with operatic element incorporated into it. The initiator and main organizer of the project is the European Foundation for Support of Culture (EFSC) headed by Konstantin Ishkhanov. The premiere of the ballet in Moscow was organized jointly with the Association for Support of Cultural Initiatives (APKI) and the State Kremlin Palace.

The world premiere of the ballet “Crystal Palace” was successfully held in Malta on July 21st, 2017. This event was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Russian Federation and Malta. This year the ballet was staged in Armenia. Now the organizers are preparing to conquer Russia with this unusual performance.

After the premiere in Malta, Vladimir Malygin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Malta, stressed: “I am particularly pleased to note that the ballet received many enthusiastic responses, including from high-ranking guests who attended the event. It really helped to strengthen the image of Russia as a country with a rich musical and spiritual heritage.”

Stage Scene from “The Crystal Palace”

The audience will see a bright costumed performance with luxurious Baroque decorations with the participation of the stars of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia and the Mikhailovsky Theater. The action of the ballet takes place in the year 1740, during the reign of the Russian Empress Anna Ioannovna, played by the famous Italian actress Ornella Muti, known for her roles in the iconic films of world cinema: “The Taming of the Shrew (Il bisbetico domato)”, “Life is beautiful (La vita e bella)”, “Madly in Love (Innamorato pazzo)” and many others.

The plot of the Crystal Palace is based on a historical episode that took place at the court of the Russian autocrat. Anna Ioannovna was famous for her love of magnificent celebrations and unusual amusements.

One day she decided to bring about the marriage of a couple of court jesters, but they were to spend the winter night after the nuptials in a specially erected palace right on the River Neva, where the walls, the bed and even the flowers, are made of ice. This is the Crystal Palace.

The roles of the two lovers will be performed by the world ballet star, Honored Artist of Russia Ivan Vasiliev, and leading soloist of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia Maria Vinogradova.

The star cast also includes the Prima Ballerina of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, People’s Artist of Russia Maria Allash, and soloist of the Opera Company of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia Anna Nechaeva.

The ballet will also feature artists from Russia’s leading musical theatres, the Bolshoi Theatre Children’s Choir and the School of Classical Dance under the direction of Gennady and Larisa Ledyakh.

The ballet is set to the music of the famous American-Maltese composer of Russian origin, Alexei Shor, whose work has received worldwide recognition.

Alexey Shor, born in the Soviet Union and now Maltese-American, the composer for this program.

The development of the dance and musical components of the ballet was led by leading Russian directors and choreographers: Ekaterina Mironova and Alexander Somov, which speak of the play as the “Crystal Palace” of human relations…”

The era of Anna Ivanovna reveals interesting facts to the viewer. Few people know that in 1738 the Empress became the founder of the first Russian “Tantsevalniy – Her Imperial Majesty’s school” (now the Academy of Russian ballet named for Agrippina Y. Vaganova). Historical costumes, embroidered by hand according to the canons of the XVIII century, will amaze the audience with their exclusivity, wealth and splendor.

The two-act performance will be accompanied by a symphony orchestra, the members of which include musicians from some of the premier orchestras of Moscow. Pavel Klinichev, a multiple winner of the Golden Mask award, conducts the program.

The combined ballet / opera “The Crystal Palace” is a large – scale, significant event, the only show of its kind in Russia, with a unique character which is emphasized by great intercultural theatrical and musical connections.

Do not miss the opportunity to dive into the history, and immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the times of the great Empress Anna Ioannovna on September 10!

More information and tickets can be found at this link for the State Kremlin Palace Theater.

The main roles are played by:

Ornella Muti                                      –           Empress Anna Ioannovna

Ivan Vasiliev                                      –           Lover, Jester

Maria Vinogradova                           –           The Jester’s beloved, a Cracker

Maria Allash                                       –           Fairy Frozen flower garden

Anna Nechaeva                                 –           Opera Diva


Composer                                           –           Alexey Shor

Directors and ballet masters           –           Ekaterina Mironova and

Alexander Somov

Conductor                                          –           Pavel Klinichev

Costume Designer                             –           Elena Netsvetaeva-Dolgaleva

Production Designer                         –           Sergey Timonin

Lighting Designer                              –           Anton Stikhin

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