2015 in review: Editor’s choice

The Pulkovo airport memorial devoted to the 224 passengers who died on the flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to St. Petersburg on Oct. 31.

The Pulkovo airport memorial devoted to the 224 passengers who died on the flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to St. Petersburg on Oct. 31.

Valya Egorshin / RIA Novosti
We have already published a list of our most popular articles of 2015 – the stories our readers read more than any other. Here we present 10 of the stories that our editors feel are among the best work we have published this year.

1) Combating ISIS from within

On the eve of the Paris attacks in November, ISIS extremists published a video in Russian: “Soon, very soon,” it said, “there will be a sea of blood.” Is there an possibility that terrorists from the jihadist group will reach Russia and harm its citizens not only abroad? Why are Russians fighting for ISIS? What connections does the restive North Caucasus region have with Islamic State? RBTH staff writer Alexey Timofeychev attempted to answer all these questions in this article: rbth.com/545993.

The Pulkovo airport memorial devoted to the 224 passengers who died on the flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to St. Petersburg on Oct. 31. Source: Valya Egorshin / RIA Novosti
The Pulkovo airport memorial devoted to the 224 passengers who died on the flight from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt to St. Petersburg on Oct. 31. Source: Valya Egorshin / RIA Novosti

2) Kursk submarine tragedy: 15 years on, families no closer to truth

RBTH commemorated victims of one of the biggest tragedy of the last decade with a report on how the Russian submarine Kursk sank in the Barents Sea on Aug. 12, 2000. Yekaterina Sinelshchikova chronicled the tragedy and spoke to some of the relatives of those sailors that died in the Barents Sea on that dreadful day for Russia: rbth.com/48461.

A Russian boy stands by portraits of Kursk submarine victims in their barracks during a memorial ceremony in the Russian Arctic port of Vidyayevo, August 12, 2001. Source: Reuters
A Russian boy stands by portraits of Kursk submarine victims in their barracks during a memorial ceremony in the Russian Arctic port of Vidyayevo, August 12, 2001. Source: Reuters

3) How a Russian straight-A student fell victim to Islamic terrorists

RBTH got exclusive comments from the father and classmates of Varvara Karaulova, the Moscow State University student who was caught at the border between Turkey and Syria this spring and has now been arrested and charged with terrorism for attempting to join the Islamic State terrorist group, with suspicions that she may have been acting as a recruiter: rbth.com/539497.

Varvara Karaulova at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: TASS
Varvara Karaulova at the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: TASS

4) New bankruptcy law may bring Russians relief from debt collectors

Debt collectors hired by banks in Russia sometimes use threats and aggression when dealing with debtors. In one typical such case exposed by RBTH, collectors threatened a 75-year-old pensioner and child survivor of the Siege of Leningrad with violence, acting under cover of the law.

Since October new legislation has been in effect, aimed at protecting citizens from predatory debt collectors who may be overstepping the boundaries. At the same time, some experts are afraid that the bankruptcy procedure will become a cover for dishonest debtors who technically can pay off their debts but choose not to.

Read more in this report by Oleg Yegorov: rbth.com/533845.

In the first six months of 2015 there were almost 22,000 complaints concerning illegal activities by collectors Source: Shutter Stock/Legion Media
In the first six months of 2015 there were almost 22,000 complaints concerning illegal activities by collectors Source: Shutter Stock/Legion Media

5) Web-doc: The memory of the Solovetsky Islands

In August 2015 the RBTH team traveled north to the Solovetsky Islands to try to weave all the historical strands of the archipelago into a single fabric and answer the question: What lies buried in the memory of the Solovki?

The resulting 20-minute documentary explores not only the dark and tragic side of history of this Gulag archipelago, but also the sacral Orthodox history of its ancient monastery, the scientific research into the islands’ unique flora and fauna and the special atmosphere and spirit that make people return to the islands more and more: rbth.com/536773.

A screenshot from RBTH web-doc
A screenshot from RBTH web-doc

6) American communists rest in peace behind Lenin's tomb

The Kremlin walls are a necropolis and the final resting place of such illustrious Soviets as Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, Georgy Zhukov and Yuri Gagarin. In addition to these luminaries from Russia’s Communist past, there are more than a dozen European and American communist figures buried by the Kremlin wall, for example journalist John Reed and industrial unionist Bill Haywood. Read more about how this happened: rbth.com/539231.

Red Square in Moscow. Source: Lori / Legion media
Red Square in Moscow. Source: Lori / Legion media

7) In the last emperor’s words: Life as a prisoner in the USSR

On Aug. 18, 1945, Puyi, China’s last emperor, who by that time was reduced to being the emperor of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, renounced his throne and prepared to flee northeastern China along with the defeated Japanese Army.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s Academy Award-winning film The Last Emperor depicted the moment when Soviet troops seized a Manchurian airport and stopped Puyi and his royal entourage from escaping to Korea. They were instead taken to the Soviet Union to meet an uncertain fate. In an autobiography that was published in the 1960s, Puyi vividly described his subsequent life in exile in the eastern Russian cities of Chita and Khabarovsk: rbth.com/48561.

A still from 'The Last Emperor' by Bernardo Bertolucci. Source: Kinopoisk.ru
A still from 'The Last Emperor' by Bernardo Bertolucci. Source: Kinopoisk.ru

8) Nuremberg trial photographer's unknown face

Photographer Yevgeny Khaldei captured the iconic image of Soviet soldiers flying the red flag over the Reichstag and documented the post-war Nuremberg trial of the Nazi elite. Surprisingly, 70 years after the end of the war, his name is barely recognized outside of Russia.

As part of RBTH's celebrations of the 70th anniversary of VE Day, British filmmaker and journalist Nick Holdsworth, who knew him personally, told the story of a talented and modest man, revealing new details of his turbulent biography: rbth.com/45581.

Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. Source: Photographer Yevgeny Khaldei via Ullstein Bild /Vostock-Photo
Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials. Source: Photographer Yevgeny Khaldei via Ullstein Bild /Vostock-Photo

9) Mapping literature: Key places from Russia's most famous novels

This year RBTH launched a mini project devoted to Russian books – we chose locations from six novels – War and Peace, Lolita, The Idiot, The Master and Margarita and Doctor Zhivago – and made an interactive map depicting the geographical movements of the main characters: rbth.com/multimedia/mapping_russian_novels

With these maps, which bring literary characters to life, it is easy to plan a trip to the embankment where Natasha Rostova dances at the ball, see Moscow from the same spot where Napoleon first laid eyes on it, find the apartment where Doctor Zhivago spent last the years of his life, and enjoy the lakes, gardens and mountains where Lolita and Humbert Humbert spent time.

We would be happy to continue our series, so please help us to choose the next novel you would be interested to see on the map.

10) My life in Russia: Ballerina Joy Womack

"My first Russian word was bestolkovaya (silly), da (yes), net (no), spasibo (thanks), pozhaluista (please), zdravstvuytye (hello), and of course vyvorotnost (turnout).

In this edition of RBTH’s long-running video blog about expats living in Russia, we spent a day with American ballet dancer Joy Womack, who attended the Bolshoi Theater Academy and became the first American ever accepted into the Russian ballet company. Now she is a principal dancer at the Kremlin Ballet Theater in Moscow. Find out why she chose to build a career in ballet in Russia and how her parents agreed to let her move to this cold and distant country:  rbth.com/multimedia.

A screenshot from RBTH video 'My life in Russia'
A screenshot from RBTH video 'My life in Russia'

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