A child plays on a war tank.
People eat ice cream as they walk past weapons capable of destroying an entire continent.
Tens of thousands fill a park full of Russia’s latest military weapons:
Helicopters. Missiles. Tanks. Boats. Submarines.
This is the Disneyland of Russia’s military. And right now in Russia, patriotism is in. Its President, Vladimir Putin, opened Patriot Park this week in the latest move to capitalize on the popularity in Russia of the country’s recent displays of military force.
We arrive after an hour’s drive from Russia’s capital city, Moscow. We park and take a bus into the main area where a huge exhibition of weapons and technology is on display.
Most people here are families. A father is here with his son. “Russia is unbeatable” he says – and he wants his son to learn it.
The air of patriotism is palpable here. As people walk by in Putin T-shirts, we search for Putin souvenirs on sale. No luck.
But we do find several shops run by the Russian army. They’re quite popular. The shops sell camouflage jackets, fleeces, things like that. And to be honest, they’re pretty stylish.
It’s all part of the effort to keep the military cool – and reach out to the young. It seems to be working.
Elsewhere there’s a massive line of people queuing up for free army food. For the price of a wait, you can get a dollop of buckwheat porridge. More traditional fare seems hard to come by, though there are a lot of ice cream stands. We finally find a restaurant and I order a kebab with rice.
Patriotic music blares nonstop.
A stage hosts different acts: an air force choir singing, funky dancers dressed as Russian soldiers.
Some children perform, too.
A few foreign military types walk around. A Saudi Arabian Navy officer says they normally buy weapons from Americans – but they are interested in the innovation here. We see uniforms of Venezuela and Myanmar, too.
The park itself is massive.
Our photographer takes a bus to a different area where there are live demonstrations.
Re-enactments of key Russian and Soviet battles are expected to be a regular part of the Patriot Park experience.
Here in the exhibition area, we see a Buk missile launcher on prominent display. This type of weapon is suspected of downing an airliner last year. MH17 crashed last July, killing 298 people on board.
Children play happily on the weaponry and people seem to enjoy themselves. And yet there is something brazen, if not insensitive about the display. These are, after all, the tools of war – killing machines really – paraded as if they are toys and rides at an amusement park.