RT travels to the Nizhny Novgorod region. The region has a great heritage and is on the UNESCO list of cities with cultural value. The area is known for its large number of churches, some of them built in medieval times.
The Serafimo-Diveevsky Monastery is considered one of the most important spiritual centers of Russia and hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Christians make a pilgrimage there every year.
They come to be blessed by St. Seraphim of Sarov, whose tomb lies inside the cathedral. One of the oldest and most respected Russian monks in the Eastern Orthodox Church, Seraphim is celebrated for his healing powers.
And that’s why Velimir Buljancevic made a journey further than most. Originally from Serbia, he was living in Sydney, Australia, when he had an accident which left him immobile and with heart problems. He is better now.
“When I came here I needed a stick to help me walk and now I am almost cured. I come here, pray and go to the nearby holy springs – so I was healed in Diveevo,” Buljancevic says.
People from far and wide come here and celebrate the monastery’s cultural and spiritual value. But another ancient building not too far away, is being largely ignored and left in ruins.
Even with a sturdy 4x4 and an expert rally driver at the wheel, you have to struggle though the uphill mud path leading to its entrance.
But it hasn’t put off one determined woman: while the local authorities have lost interest in the property, this is not the case for Zhanna Potravko, 39. She’s been living alone in this crumbling mansion for five years after falling in love with it on a visit
The estate dates back to the 16th Century, but years of neglect and looting have caused severe devastation – something Zhanna is fighting to prevent, and so is investing all her time and money to the cause. Well, at least her husband’s money.
Zhanna was living the high life in Odessa, Ukraine, before moving here. Her husband and son remain there, but Zhanna says she can’t go back.
“In the most difficult times, when I feel desperate, these walls hug and protect me. I feel safe here and so I won’t let it be destroyed,” Zhanna says.
Swapping riches for ruins, Zhanna plans to restore the ancient mansion to its former glory, even if it involves battles with the authorities who want her out.
Like the Serafimo-Diveevsky Monastery, Zhanna finds peace and spirituality here, and although it might not get as much attention, Zhanna hopes to attract more tourists and investment to ensure the mansion’s long history continues.
The city of Nizhny Novgorod is the region's capital and is the fourth largest city in Russia with a population of 1.3 million.
Speaking with RT’s Charlotte Lomas-Farley, tourist guide Angelina Kalinina recalled a saying about Nizhny Novgorod: “Moscow is the head of Russia, St. Petersburg is the heart of Russia, and Nizhny Novgorod is the money pocket of Russia.”
Ksenia Kemova, a teacher at Nizhny Novgorod Linguistic University also recalled the historical importance of her city.
“Being situated on two great Russian rivers: the Volga and the Oka, at some point it became a great commercial city, introducing the Great Russian Fair, which still plays a big role in our lives,” Kemova said.
Irina Porynina – a Nizhny Novgorod resident for twenty years – shared some details of her city’s foundation with RT.
“Initially the idea was to fortify the north-eastern borders of Vladimir-Suzdal principality. Along with the fortification, the first church was built. It remained intact even after the Soviet era,” Porynina said.
“For example, recently we celebrated a nationwide holiday – the Day of National Unity, which in terms of personalities was devoted to Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin [the men who raised the army that ejected the Poles in 1612], both of whom were born in Nizhny Novgorod,” she noted.
RT also spoke with Gleb Virshin, a knowledgeable Nizhny Novgorod resident, who shared more curious facts about the city's history. For example, among many famous Russians to have stayed in the city was Alexander Pushkin, considered by many to be Russia's greatest poet. Pushkin began writing Eugene Onegin – his famous novel in verse – in the Nizhny Novgorod region village of Boldino.