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“C’est La Bérézina”: History Lovers Re-enact Famous 1812 Battle With Napoleon In Belarus

In French the expression “C’est la Bérézina” means a complete defeat, loss. Over 200 years ago the banks of the river Berezina some 115 km east of Minsk became a place for a fierce battle between Napoleon’s retreating army and the Imperial Russian army.

The battle ended in a victory for the Russian Empire and heavy losses for the French.

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The memories of that days still excite historians and re-enactors, who gather at the site every year in the end of November to dig up the past. The latest reconstruction took place this weekend near the villages of Bryli and Studienka.

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The 1812 events are often called “the time of the last beautiful war” because weapons were not as effective as they became later, while the military uniform was bright, flamboyant and elegant.

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In those years warriors on a battlefield were visible from far away, partially because weapons fired at a short distance, and there was no need in disguise.

“They could fire effectively at the maximum of 70-100 meters, no farther”, one of the “officers” Mikhail Slepuho, a participant of historical reconstruction for 10 years, said.

“Shotguns of that era often misfired, and were useless when they got wet. So there were no fights during heavy rain.”

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To make an authentic uniform and buy weapons, enthusiasts spend at least $500-$600, the man said.

Often Belarusians take part in reconstructions with their families.

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For example, the captain of the Minsk Infantry Regiment Andrey Ostapenko was there with a 12-year-old daughter Anya (who acted as a drummer) and 77-year father-in-law, who was a soldier in his first ever battle.

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The main battle force of the Napoleonic wars was the heavy cavalry, or cuirassiers. They were protected much better than other troops, and their attack could largerly decide the outcome of a battle.

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This type of uniform is also pretty costly and heavy – a cuirass (a protective armour, formed of a single or multiple pieces of metal – note) alone costs about €4000, and a person wearing it would need help to get on a horse.

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The reconstruction of the Battle of Berezina was accompanied by a deafening roar of the artillery, that was firing tirelessly throughout the fight.

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Pictures and text by TUT.BY.