The Surprising History of the Beatles in Yekaterinburg

Matryoshka Beatles Dolls |© Faber1893/Shutterstock
Matryoshka Beatles Dolls |© Faber1893/Shutterstock
Photo of Zita Whalley
5 October 2017

While the West was in the grips of Beatlemania during the ’60s, the Soviet Union was doing its best to censor the band’s jangly tunes from inside the Iron Curtain. However, just as the quartet made their mark in Western pop and youth culture, their music crept into the Eastern Bloc and into the hearts of the Russian people. They also made their way into the soul of one city in particular, despite never even playing a gig in Soviet or Russian territory.

If you wander down near banks of the Iset River in the centre of World Cup host city Yekaterinburg, you will find a life-sized statue – cookie-cutter outlines based on photographs of the Fab Four playing live – set against a wall inscribed with The love you take is equal to the love you make, taken fromThe End’, one of the songs from Abbey Road.

Monument to the Beatles | © yachmenev/ Wikipedia Commons

This monument is a real labour of love and testament to the passion and dedication of the lads from Liverpool’s local fans, as it was created solely in funds raised by them. It is also thought to be the only 3-D tribute to the band in Russia.

Abbey Road – The Beatles | © Ian Burt/Flickr

Conceived in 2003 by Vladimir Popov, president of the Beatles Fan Club of the Urals at the time, US$9000 was needed for the fans to realise their homage to the band, as government and local council refused to contribute financial support.

The club set about raising funds through concerts, music events and auctions, a process that took around six years to complete. Fundraising efforts pulled together a community bonded by a strong appreciation for the band, evident by the size of the crowd the statue was unveiled to when it was finally completed in 2009.

The Beatles | © David Magnus/REX/Shutterstock

For the design, local artists and creative types were invited to bid for the monument’s aesthetic and shape. The brief was to create an infrastructure that could pull together the region’s artistic and creative community, as well as Beatles fans, naturally. It also had to allow for a performance space, where bands could play as part of gigs and festivals. Above all, the design had to reflect the Fab Four’s cultural impact on Russia and the Soviet State, which was immense.

During the Soviet era, the regime considered the Beatles to be part of the Western propaganda machine, spreading anti-Soviet messages, and so listening to the banned musicians was risky. To be caught listening to their music, in possession of their albums, or dressing as though you look like you might, meant people chanced potential travel bans and trouble from government officials.

The Beatles | © EMI / Wikimedia

Despite this, Soviet youth culture gambled with repercussions and embraced the Fab Four. They listened to them on expensive bootlegs and even more expensive smuggled-in vinyl, and brought the Beatles into the very centre of the Soviet underground music scene and Russian counter-culture.

With the collapse of the USSR, the new nation’s people were free to listen to the Beatles openly. Passionate fans united to create fan clubs, all over Russia and ex-Soviet states, to collectively enjoy and celebrate the influential band’s music and Western youth culture. And this is how the idea to construct a monument dedicated to the Beatles in Yekaterinburg, one of Russia’s contemporary cultural hubs with a flourishing alternative art scene of its own, came about.

The Beatles playing with Jimmie Nicol | © Janericloebe/WikiCommons

So if you are in town for the 2018 World Cup, take a break from the festivities and check out the Beatles monument, and take a moment to appreciate the spirit those lads from Liverpool fostered in Soviet youth culture and the region all those years ago.