National Geographic : 1993 Jun
On Television Down the Volga: Journey to Russia's Heartland Stream cruise has been put in dry dock. The prospect of a voyage on the Volga brightened long winter days for workers and their families during the communist era. Many sailed to Volgograd (above), known for its memorials to Soviet heroism in World War II. Now most of the Vol ga pleasure fleet lies idle, grounded in part by ticket prices that have soared to half a year's earnings. To discover how ordinary citizens manage their lives in this time of turmoil, National Geographic film makers Peter and Cornelia Schnall traveled into the Russian heartland. Their film "Volga, the Soul of Russia," a two-part EXPLORER presentation, follows the river to uncover stories of personal experi ence amid public upheaval. Ports of call include Kazan, capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, where a police captain battles corruption. In the auto-manufacturing city of Togliatti a single mother paints cars on the assembly line but does not earn enough to both feed her family and buy a warm coat for herself. A journalist in Astrakhan, "capi tal of caviar," investigates the least known of many environmental disasters in the Volga basin-under ground nuclear explosions set off to create vast reservoirs for natural gas. Above ground, one of Russia's largest natural-gas processing plants, six years old and already out moded, emits fumes so toxic that doctors say the health of children in villages 50 miles away is affected. Russians affectionately call the 2,200-mile river, longest in Europe, Matushka, or "mother." As long as Russia rules the Volga, folks say, the country cannot be conquered. It is, however, caught in a sweep of radical change. Cornelia Schnall, raised in East Germany, was struck by a scene in Nizhniy Novgorod (right): "A vendor displayed reli gious art and engaged in private en terprise-and no one arrested her!" "Volga, the Soul of Russia" airs June 13 and 20 on EXPLORER, TBS SuperStation, 9p.m. ET. NATIONALGEOGRAPHICEXPLORERAIRS ON TBS SUPERSTATION,SUNDAYSAT9 P.M. ET . NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSPECIALSAIR ON PBS; CHECKLOCALLISTINGS.