|From 1937 to 1990 Mongolia was a Russian satellite state maintained as a buffer against Chinese invasion. During this time Sainshand was one of the more important military bases, controlling the sole rail line from China 4 hours from the border. The Russians tried to destroy any vestige of the original Mongolian culture. Besides slaughtering the monks and destroying monastaries they suppressed the beautiful Mongolian written language, replacing it with the Cyrilic Russian alphabet. Since the Russians left there has been a movement to restore the Mongolian written language, and all children now study it in school.
The remains of the Russian military still dominate much of the area around town. One morning I walked for an hour out to an old radar station outside of town, and then back along the ridge of hills that protects the main city from the north winds. The entire trip was through the Russian base, and the desert was littered with foxholes, bunkers, and garbage left from the occupation.
It was also interesting to look at the affect on the town geography. The town is in several sections. The railroad runs on the north side of the hills. In that section the houses are brick, 2 or 3 storey, and the roads run in a grid pattern. It clearly seems to be where the Russian civilians lived during the occupation.
South of the ridge are several sections where the Mongolians lived. Here the compounds are all different sizes and shapes, and the houses and gers are built in all sorts of ways. In addition, in the largest of these districts, there are several 5-storey Russian-era apartment blocks where the Russians were trying to move the nomads. These are not completely relics of the past though - behind our hotel a typical Chinese apartment block was being built by a Chinese company, with a sign in front in both Mongolian and Mandarin Chinese.
There are some better traces of the Russians too. The school is large and well designed. The hospital, on the south end of town, is also larger than I had expected.
Also on the south end of town are the ruins of the Russian barracks. This appears to be where the troops manning the Soviet base lived, but all that remains are abandoned, disintigrating buildings, looted of anything of value first by the Russians as they left, and then by Mongolians scavenging for anything of worth.
Outside of town there are many more similar remains. One of the areas Dr. Na visited was a town beside an old MIG base in the desert.