ESPN explores Russia through the eyes of international soccer reporter Martín Ainstein as he visits the 11 World Cup host cities in The Last Train to Russia.
The series captures the people, food and culture of the country as he journeys onboard the Trans-Siberian railway—known as the longest railway line in the world. Ainstein will begin in St. Petersburg, and snake through the country to cities as far as east as Ekaterinburg; as far west as Sochi; and ending in Moscow.
The 12-episode series will premiere globally across ESPN networks in the U.S., Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, India, China, Australia and New Zealand, and will be produced in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin.
Leading up to the 2018 World Cup, which kicks off June 14, the series debuts March 22 in the U.S. on ESPN Deportes.
“We are thrilled to premiere The Last Train to Russia, the first in our comprehensive global news and information coverage of the World Cup in Russia,” said Rodolfo Martínez, vice president, production, ESPN International and ESPN Deportes, in a statement. “Russia is a country with rich culture and unique traditions. We expect that through Martin’s style of storytelling, we are able to offer a sense-of-place experience to World Cup fans.”
Ainstein spent six weeks reporting for the show as he traversed the country, one train station at a time, capturing the traditions and historic centers of each of Russia’s World Cup cities, including the stadiums where the matches will be played.
“Traveling through the largest country in the world allowed me to get to know the real Russia: a rich, diverse, and ever-changing country,” he said in a statement. “On the train, you begin to understand the country’s history and the lifestyle of its people by sharing and exchanging experiences. It was a fascinating journey.”
Here’s a look at the cities he explores in each episode:
Episode 1 – Saint Petersburg: Russia’s second largest city after Moscow, marked the beginning of Ainstein’s journey. In this episode on the city of canals, Ainstein explores the historic Hermitage Museum, one of the largest art museums in the world, learns about the origin of the railways, and visits the Saint Petersburg Stadium –a new state-of-the-art 68,172-seat stadium on Krestovsky Island facing the Baltic Sea.
Episode 2 – Nizhny Novgorod: Ainstein’s first stop is Nizhny Novgorod, one of Russia’s historic cities. Located at the confluence of the Volga River and the Oka River, the Nizhny Novgorod region is home to the Semionovskaya Matryoshka dolls, distinguished by their bright red and yellow colors, and floral design. Ainstein also visits a vodka factory and the Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, located on the banks of the Volga River.
Episode 3 – Saransk: The capital of the Republic of Mordovia, where Ainstein plays hockey with the locals at the Mordovia Arena, the new stadium built for the 2018 World Cup.
Episode 4 – Samara: Ainstein learns about the history of the Bayan – a type of chromatic button accordion invented in Samara and a staple of traditional Russian music. He visits the Stalin Bunker, a 37-meter deep bunker developed during World War II, and concludes his visit at the Samara Arena, opened in 2018 for the World Cup.
Episode 5 – Kazan: One of Russia’s cultural melting pots with over 100 different ethnic groups. In Kazan, Ainstein learns about the Turkic people, their costumes, language, cuisine and traditions. Kazan Kremlin, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Kazan, is home to many historic buildings including Qolşärif Mosque, the blue mosque. He concludes his visit at the Kazan Arena, built in 2013.
Episode 6 – Ekaterinburg: Russia’s fourth largest city lies near the boundary of Europe and Asia and is the closest gateway to Siberia. Ekaterinburg is home to the iconic Siberian husky. In this episode, Ainstein interviews locals on the history of sled-dogs and significance for the region and visits one of the many factories responsible for manufacturing Russia’s most iconic vehicles during World War II. Ekaterinburg Arena, home to FC Ural, seats 45,000.
Episode 7 – Volgograd: Bordering the Volga River, Volgograd is home to some of the best caviar, generally harvested in Russia’s Caspian Sea fisheries. In this episode, Ainstein visits a local fishery to understand how caviar is harvested and why this region produces the world’s most expensive caviar. Volgograd’s Central Stadium was another highlight for Ainstein.
Episode 8 – Rostov-on-Don: Ainstein visited one of the many Orthodox Churches and the Russian Trains Museum.
Episode 9 – Sochi: While the winters are very cold, the Russian summers in Sochi are beautiful. Ainstein found himself enjoying the scenic mountain life, cooking up shashlik with some locals and taking in the history from the 2014 Winter Olympics. He closed his visit with a visit to the Fisht Stadium, a beautiful modern-day arena right on the edge of the Black Sea.
Episode 10 – Kaliningrad: As Ainstein traveled through the history-filled Kaliningrad, the only city hosting the 2018 World Cup that is outside of the Russian territory, he found himself looking out into the beautiful Baltic Sea. Filled with Russian submarines, Kaliningrad is home to the world’s largest amber factory. Right alongside the Pregolya River is Kaliningrad Stadium, a beautiful soccer arena.
Episodes 11 and 12 – Moscow: Ainstein’s last stop on the Trans-Siberian railway is Moscow, the capital of Russia. Filled with history and beautiful architecture, the heart of Russia was a fitting last stop for Ainstein. In the first of two episodes in Moscow, Ainstein was able to get access to the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC). Located in the outskirts of Moscow, Cosmonaut Training Center is one of Russia’s biggest pride as there, began the country’s quest to send the first man to space. Ainstein, had the opportunity to go through the training cosmonauts (astronauts) go through in their preparation for space exploration. He also visits the national stadium of Russia, with a capacity of 81,000 seats and the Spartak Arena, both located in Moscow. The Red Square, Russia’s famed ballet and Moscow nightlife, one of the city’s landmark markets — making Moscow Ainstein’s favorite stop on the travelogue through Russia.