Minsk, Belarus: Minsk will almost certainly surprise you.
The capital of Belarus is, despite its thoroughly dreary sounding name, an amazingly progressive and modern place.
There are relatively few traditional sights in the city but myriad places of interest for anyone fascinated by the Soviet period, and plenty of cosmopolitan pursuits to keep you entertained come the evening.
Here fashionable cafes, wi-fi–enabled restaurants and crowded bars and nightclubs vie for your attention. Sushi bars and art galleries have taken up residence in a city centre totally remodelled to the tastes of Stalin.
Population — 1 917 344 people
Area — 348,84 km
Minsk has been pushed to the brink of extinction several times. It has been frequently destroyed by fire, sacked by Crimean Tatars in 1505, trampled to ruin by the French in 1812, and damaged by the Germans in 1918 and the Poles in 1919-20. Its greatest suffering came in WWII, when half the city's population died, including most of its 50,000 Jews.
Virtually every building here has been erected since 1944, when Minsk's recapture by the Soviet army left barely a stone standing.
Over the past 50 years Minsk has watched its population triple with the pouring in of industry. Before independence, it was the industrial and economic powerhouse of the western USSR. It is currently the headquarters of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Photos: Alexander Kuznetsov, Sergey Nik Melnik