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Asian Exodus: The Logistical Nightmare of Leaving Afghanistan | Spiegel

The best way to get to Ulyanovsk is via riverboat. The Russian provincial city, formerly known as Simbirsk and established by the czar more than 360 years ago as a border fort, lies on a steep bank of the mighty Volga, at a spot where the river is at least 3 kilometers (about 2 miles) wide.

A writer once dubbed Ulyanovsk the Bethlehem of the 20th century, because it was the home of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, who was born in the city in 1870 and went down in history under the name Lenin. He had hardly died before the communist faithful from around the world embarked on pilgrimages to the city on the Volga, which owes its current name to its famous son. Above the river is the enormous Lenin Square, with its oversized Lenin Monument. The small wooden house where the revolutionary leader grew up is still standing on Lenin Street.

Now the city, once a magnet for communist idealists, is about to become a gathering place for Western troops. When the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops from Afghanistan begins, a portion of the NATO contingent will pass through Ulyanovsk — or, more precisely, Ulyanovsk Vostochny Airport. The airport will act as a hub for one of the most costly and complex troop withdrawals in modern military history. Some 130,000 soldiers must leave Afghanistan within two years, together with at least 70,000 vehicles and 120,000 containers.

Ulyanovsk Vostochny used to be the airfield for the local aircraft plant, which produced the An-124, once the world’s largest transport aircraft. It has a runway that is more than 5 kilometers long and was conceived as an alternate landing site for the Soviet Union’s Buran space shuttle.

For more on this story, visit: Asian Exodus: The Logistical Nightmare of Leaving Afghanistan – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International.

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