Welcome to the Siberian city of Bratsk, in the Irkutsk Oblast, and located on the Angara River near the vast Bratsk Reservoir. The population is about 250,000 and it's name is a contraction meaning roughly "city of Buryats."
Buryats (Буряадууд) are a Mongolic people of Russia with their own Buryat language (Буряад хэлэн) a Mongolic tongue. In 1937, in an effort to disperse Buryats, Stalin's government separated a number of counties (raions) from the Buryat-Mongol ASSR and formed Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug and Aga Buryat Autonomous Okrug; at the same time, some raions with Buryat populations were left out.
Fearing Buryat nationalism, Joseph Stalin had more than 10,000 Buryats killed. In 1958, the name "Mongol" was banned. Many were forced out of their homes and transplanted elsewhere in Russia to dilute their culture. That is how so many of them came to this area.
Stalin made Bratsk a Gulag prison city after the war to house Red Army soldiers (and families) who had been captured by the Germans. Capture was a crime of treason during Stalin's reign. In 1947, the Gulag Angara prison labour camp was constructed near Bratsk, with capacity for up to 44,000 prisoners for projects such as the construction of the railway from Tayshet to Ust-Kut via Bratsk.
On the outskirts of the city, new subdivisions of single-family houses, most of them built of red brick, or the combination of brick and wood, have been mushrooming recently.
The Bratsk hydro station was the largest in the world when finished in 1961. it powers the largest aluminium producer in the world, the Bratsk Aluminium Smelter. Recent decrease in demand has hurt the local population, but even when at full production the smelter brings severe respiratory problems caused by tiny aluminium particles to both workers and the general population. The average worker must retire in their 40's because of health.
The smelter is of course not only the source of wealth, but also of the air pollution for the entire the city. The severity of the problem depends on the wind direction and year around the aluminium particles appear as tiny round snowflakes falling almost non-stop out of the air.
The summers are be beautiful in the Bratsk area. Most people have dachas outside of the city, where summers are spent growing vegetables, fishing, picking up berries and mushrooms.
Unlike in Moscow, where most of the street names reminding the communist area have been changed since 1990, in Bratsk (and also inIrkutsk and Ulan-Ude), the street names remained mostly unchanged.