Letter: Misery of Russian tourist traps

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The Independent Online
Sir: I quote your Moscow correspondent: 'many historical sites such as the beautiful monastery at Zagorsk outside Moscow have been turned into garish tourist traps' ('Pornographers set up shop on Tolstoy estate', 26 February). In late October 1992, my daughter and I visited Zagorsk. Despite the beauty of the architecture we were left with nothing but sadness for Zagorsk and the people we encountered.

In driving snow, gasping with the air pollution, we walked a short distance from our bus to the monastery entrance. There were beggars, professional or otherwise, and half a dozen Russians trying to sell the usual souvenirs as we entered the monastery gates. Inside, private enterprise was an old lady selling water from a shrine in dirty bottles.

The saddest aspect was in a cathedral where, during the service, many of the congregation were being given food and were obviously there for warmth and a little comfort. They were mainly old ladies wrapped in layers of clothing little better than rags. In all this there was the most exquisite a cappella singing.

Perhaps Zagorsk is different in summer, but garish is the last adjective I would use. My daughter and I felt we were intruders in a very private grief. No doubt the Zagorsk experience is repeated all over Russia. One day these people must be given proper help, not a few pieces of stale bread and cheese.

Yours faithfully,

MORAG DREW

Rowlands Castle, Hampshire

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