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The Russian Warrior-Princess Who Captured a City With an Army of Birds

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When you think of a great Russian military leader, do you imagine a princess warlord? If not, why not? Were it not for Saint Olga of Kiev, there may not be a Russia today. This Warrior-Princess conquered the tribe that killed her husband, enamored the Roman Emperor so much he wanted to marry her, burned a city to the ground using only birds, established one of the earliest tax systems, and is single handedly responsible for saving the very name of Russia.

Had it not been for her, what we call Russia today could be called Drevlia. Known as Helga in the Old Norse sagas, she was born in Pskov in the year 879, and is the grandmother of the greatest Russian leader in history. Her grandson Vladimir the Great, baptized the entire nation in the river Dniper, but before his baptism, she became the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity, and she was a great inspiration to him not only in her faith, but because of her legendary skill in battle strategy. 

<figcaption>Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?</figcaption>
Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?

Let’s take a look at Olga the Wise of Kiev, Sovereign and Defender of Rus’, Lady and Harbinger of Fire, Mother of the Motherland and all the Russias.

Olga of Kiev in all her majesty

According to the Primary Chronicle, Olga was a daughter of one of the minor Kings that dotted the Russian lands. Their kin were called Varyagi, or Vikings in Russian, as they were originally of Scandinavian decent, though quickly assimilated to the Slavic culture. The greatest amongst them was Rurik, Russia’s founder, who landed at Novgorod, and sent his son Igor with his brother Oleg to Kiev. Kiev was the center of a major trade rout from Scandinavia to Constantinople, which brought early Slavs and Vikings as far as Baghdad. Igor took a wife from one of these lesser rulers – the future Olga of Kiev.

Vybuty in the Pskov Province, not far from the birthplace of the princess

Olga’s husband Igor Rurikovich (Son of Rurik) called Ingvar in Norse, lead many campaigns against the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and domestic foes. In his day, Christianity was threatened in the Russian land by both the presence of the Norse-Slavic pagans, and the Khazar Jews, neither of whom wanted to see it have any influence, and Igor remained himself a pagan.

Olga’s Bridge, the site where she met her husband Igor of Kiev

Igor went to collect taxes from one of the Slavic tribes, the Drevlians (forest dwellers), and in return, they brutally killed him. They tied his limbs onto two birch trees that when released, tore him asunder. With the assassination of her husband, the Drevlians sought to force Olga to marry their prince, not only for her great beauty, but in order to conquer Russia. She had no choice but to defend herself. They would not only force her into marriage, and destroy her people, but likely murder her children to prevent her husband’s dynasty from living on; her young son was only three years old. By murdering her husband, they awoke a dormant fire in the princess, though she herself still a pagan, these men worshiped only fire and the sword, and so Providence ordained that the future Saint Olga began her rule of Russia, by avenging her husband with fire and the sword.

Olga sees her slain husband with her son Svyatoslav

Please understand the actions which you are about to read about, were in an attempt to save her people from absolute destruction. These were brutal times, and actions we consider horrifying where common practice in the ninth century.  All of the fighting occurred before she became a Christian, it is not the reason for her canonization. Though she was at this time a pagan, her fiery victory was a victory of the early seeds of Russian Christianity over dark and destructive paganism

In this picture, behold a great Russian warlord…

The Drevlians underestimated her, because she was a woman, and they paid dearly. She entrapped their envoy in a sauna, and burned it to the ground, but then sent word to their Prince that she accepted his offer. She demanded he send his best advisers and officers to escort her to him. Incredibly, they fell for the same trap, not knowing their predecessor’s fate, and met the same fiery end.

Later in what would be a Russian red wedding, as bloody as the episode of Game of Thrones, she and 5000 of her soldiers destroyed a great host of Drevlians whilst they were drunk, and with their army weakened, and leadership crippled, she was ready to march on them, and she laid siege to their capitol.

Olga directing her army in an ancient manuscript 

In what may have been the most brilliant siege tactic in history, Olga said she would leave if they paid her tribute in all their birds, which they accepted thinking her a fool. Legend has it she then set the birds on fire, and they flew back to the city, burning it to the ground.

Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?

Her skill in battle was not her only talent, that would make her like her son Svyatoslav, who won every battle but lost every war. She was called Olga the God-Wise for a reason, whilst her military strategy preserved Rus’, it was her administrative tenacity that secured it as a great power. As she fought to unify the Russian lands, she simultaneously raised tribute and taxes among them. She understood the importance of peace, and only waged war in order to obtain it.

Even this little bird will fight when her babies are in danger.

 Her pogosts, became state owned trading stations, where local princes would pay taxes to Kiev, allowing them for the first time, to receive regular, predicable income based in law, not Viking style raiding. She learned from her husband’s mistakes. He failed to realize a true king doesn’t come down to his subjects making demands, he demands that they come to him. Igor personally traveled to collect tribute, and thus he was killed, but Olga the Wise understood that you don’t go take money from people, you establish the law so they must come pay taxes to you. Every pogost she built was marked with a symbol called the trizub or trident, which is the basis for the Ukrainian coat of arms, though each prince slightly modified it.

The Trizub was the sigil of Kievan Rulers. Saint Vladimir (Volodymer’s) trident is the Ukrainian coat of arms
If one looks closely, they can see the letters B,O,Я inside of it, standing for Vladimir, Olga, and Yaroslav

By spreading the influence and dominance of Kiev, she unified the Russian lands. Using her new income, she minted their first coins, ensuring they were marked with this symbol. Soon all that she owned from inns, to hunting grounds, to animals, and every last grivna (coins) was marked with it. She was brilliant, her plan was to use this revenue to build new infrastructure, some of which could generate sustainable income paying for itself. She would then ensure all infrastructure built was permanently associated with the state in people’s hearts and minds. She ensured everyone from the nobles counting their coins, to the peasants working the land never forgot who built their walls, filled their towers with grain, and who owns everything in Russia, by putting the symbol of Kiev always before them. She established the rule of law, and the power of the state, she made sure everyone knew that everything you can see is property of the State of Rus’

A coin of her great grandson which says essentially “This is Yaroslav’s Silver”
Ergo: Don’t forget who made it when you pay me taxes.

Later in life she traveled to Constantinople, and accepted orthodox faith, having impressed the emperor so much he wished to marry her. Wishing to be married only once, she tricked the Emperor into baptizing her, thus becoming her Godfather, saying she would marry him afterwards.

The Baptism of Olga

The Emperor accepted, forgetting that in Orthodox law, a godparent may not marry their spiritual children. She received baptism in the name of Saint Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine who’s life she mirrors, her grandson Vladimir, is like her Constantine. The four hold the title Equal-to-the-Apostles, earning this title because their piety, charity, and evangelism contributed to the baptism of an entire nation, a feat matched only by Apostles.

Saint Olga Equal-to-the-Apostles

She returned to Kiev living out her days in penitent piety, trying hard to evangelize, and to established orthodoxy in Rus’. Unfortunately, her son Svyatoslav, like his father, remained a pagan and attacked Constantinople. He fought in many wars, but for as many Viking shield-maidens he brought with him, he ignored the council of his mother, and was slain. In her final years, she tearfully accepted God’s will, as nothing is harder than seeing the ones you love choose the wrong path.

If only they had seen what she saw in Constantinople

Nothing is harder than trying prevent them from making the wrong choice, and being unable to stop them, knowing they are blind, and they go to their doom, and being unable to save them. But she never gave up hope that Russia would one day become Christian, even if she would not live to see it. She ended her life in a Christian way, blameless and peaceful saying

“God’s will be done! If it pleases God to have mercy upon my native Russian Land, then they shall turn their hearts to God, just as I have received this gift.”

Though she never saw all of Rus’ become Christian during her life, her dream was fulfilled by her grandson Vladimir the Great. With him, she shares possibly the highest honor of sainthood “Equal-to-the Apostles” counting Olga and Vladimir among the likes of Mary Magdalene, Emperor Constantine and Helen, and Cyril and Methodius. Through the blood and tears of Saint Olga, a red sun finally dawned over Kiev, dispelling the primordial darkness, and her grandson, Vladimir the Bright Sun, baptized Rus’ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Topiarian Hymn to Saint Olga:

Giving your mind the wings of divine understanding,
you soared above visible creation seeking God the Creator of all.
When you had found Him, you received rebirth through baptism.
As one who enjoys the Tree of Life,
you remain eternally incorrupt, ever-glorious Olga.

Equal-to-the-Apostles Right Believing Saints Vladimir and Olga of Kiev

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Covid-19: More than half of Austrians now fully vaccinated

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With 53,386 vaccinations carried out on Thursday, Austria cross the 50 percent mark for total vaccinations. 

This means that 4,479,543 people are completely vaccinated against Covid-19 in Austria as at Thursday evening, July 29th. 

A further nine percent of the population have received one vaccination, bringing the total percentage of people who have had at least one shot to 58.9 percent or (5.2 million people). 

UPDATED: How can I get vaccinated for Covid-19 in Austria?

The Austrian government has welcomed the news. 

“More than half of the total population is now very well protected against the coronavirus and thus the highly contagious Delta variant thanks to the full immunisation,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said on Thursday afternoon. 

Burgenland has the highest percentage of vaccinated people with 66.1 percent, followed by Carinthia (55.7 percent) and Salzburg (55.2 percent). 

The lowest percentage is in Upper Austria, where 54.9 percent of the population is vaccinated. 

Kleinmürbisch in the Güssing district has the highest percentage of vaccinated people in Austria, with just under 80 percent of people vaccinated. 

The village however only has 230 residents. 

“But we are still a long way from reaching our destination,” warned the minister. 

Around one quarter of the Austrian population has indicated a reluctance to be vaccinated, with around 15 percent saying they will refuse the vaccination. 



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6 Amusing Historic Stereotypes of Major Russian Cities

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About the authorFor lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.

He is also a deacon of the Russian Orthodox Church, a professional translator, and choir director at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, NY, where he lives. Here is his bio from his blog, where he writes about many aspects of Russia. We highly recommend following it and subscribing to his email list to get exclusive material.

He has an excellent Pinterest page, and you can follow him on Facebook. Here is an archive of his work published on Russia Insider.

He is currently running a remarkably successful crowdfunding on Kickstarter to be able to publish his upcoming novels. Please support him if you can!


Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”

This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.

However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)

EVERYONE IN GREAT NOVGOROD IS A REBEL

Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).

Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.

EVERYONE IN PSKOV IS A THIEF OR A MORON

Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.

It used to be that a hat symbolized one’s personal dignity. In Pskov in particular, to actually take off your hat meant to be shamed. It may be a bastardization of the more generally accepted rule that if someone else took your hat off your headthat was a terrible insult.

EVERYONE IN NIZHNI NOVGOROD IS A DRUNKARD

The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”

Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.

EVERYONE IN VLADIMIR IS A CRIMINAL

This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”

Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.

Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.

EVERYONE IN ROSTOV IS AN ARTISAN

When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.

The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.

THE INDUSTRIOUS YARSOLAVIAN

The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.

Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.

Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.

True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.


Source: Nicholas Kotar

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Health officials warn of strain on hospitals but Covid-19 admissions remain low

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Health officials have warned of mounting strain on hospitals as coronavirus infections increase, although the absolute number of admissions remains below previous surges of the disease.

Prof Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (Nphet) epidemiological modelling group, reported rising intensive care admissions but said the rise in hospital and ICU admissions was “far less” than “if we didn’t have so much of the population protected through vaccination”.

Dr Nolan said the expected pattern of infection in coming weeks was “really quite uncertain”. The background of exponential virus growth earlier in July “may or may not be stabilising” but the increase in hospital and intensive care admissions tracked the rising rate of infection.

While there was one intensive care admission every two days toward the end of June, Dr Nolan said the ICU admission rate in the past week was approaching three per day.

There were 152 people in hospital yesterday. The figure contrasts 1,949 during the January peak. There were 333 inpatients at the start of November 2020 and 862 in April 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic.

But admissions are again rising fast.

“We’re seeing on average 26 per day admitted to hospital in the last seven days and 30 today. You can see that that’s very significantly up, pretty much double what it was two weeks ago,” Dr Nolan told reporters at the Department of Health.


In a sign of pressure on the system, nurses in Limerick’s main hospital complained yesterday that overcrowding there is worsening despite the provision of more than 100 additional beds.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to intervene directly to “look under the bonnet” and see why additional beds at University Hospital Limerick had not made a substantial impact.

More trolleys had been placed on wards and corridors in University Hospital Limerick in recent days as overcrowding continued, the union said.

Uneven pressure

Chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the uneven spread of coronavirus infections throughout the State meant some hospitals might be under more pressure than suggested by overall admissions data.

“It can happen that individual hospitals can be under quite a degree of pressure when the overall situation in the country might not suggest that’s the case. So we do know that maybe some hospitals in the west have already had a challenge with much more infections based on the most recent wave than other hospitals.”

He acknowledged reported pressure on hospitals in Limerick and in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, and cited pressure also on hospitals in Co Mayo.

“We have seen quite a wide variation in case numbers in individual hospitals,” Dr Holohan said. “We have 150 give or take hospitalisations. That’s not spread evenly spread across the 30 or 40 hospitals that might be admitting patients with this infection.

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said hospitals would be under pressure if there were no coronavirus admissions.

“The point that obviously the absolute numbers are much less than previous waves is very welcome,” he said.

“The reality is that if we had no cases of Covid in hospital tomorrow morning our hospitals would be under extreme pressure. Unfortunately that’s what we’re dealing with, both pre-Covid and now but particularly as a result of Covid in the last number of months

“Our healthcare workers are exhausted frankly. They’re facing into enormous backlogs in elective care, non-Covid care, non-Covid health plans, social care: both in acute settings and in community,” he confirmed.

“So while the absolute numbers are less than previously we’re very conscious that any increase in those number … has potential to be very significant to the health service that we’re trying to get back up to full function.”

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