A Historical Flashback in Moscow - United Hub
Employee Travel Blog

A historical flashback in Moscow

By The Hub team, March 20, 2017

Each week we will profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By Ground Safety Program Integration Specialist Kerry Fischman

Growing up in the age of the Cold War and the monthly air raid drills, my wife and I never imagined that one day we would be able to visit Russia, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and a country that had instilled so much fear in us as children. My wife had loved the movie "Dr. Zhivago" (cue "Lara's Theme") and thought it would be interesting to visit during a Russian winter. However, saner minds prevailed, and we chose August of 2011 to visit Moscow.

In order to visit Russia, we needed to obtain a visa. In addition to the appropriate paperwork, the visa required a letter of "sponsorship," which our hotel was able to provide for us. To make life simple, we used a visa service in Washington, D.C.

Once we arrived at our hotel and freshened up, our first "must-see" was Red Square. As children of the 1950s, we would see TV newsreels showing the armies on parade marching into this massive square with tanks and missiles. All around were imposing red brick buildings and at the far end was this colorful cathedral. Fast forward to the 21st century, and here we were. We walked through an archway that, during the Soviet era, had been destroyed to make room for the military equipment but now had been rebuilt. We emerged into Red Square and, instead of marching armies and tanks, there were families strolling with their children. We stood and just slowly turned in each direction to take it all in. The far end of the square is dominated by St. Basil's Cathedral, with its multi-colored, onion-like domes. Two other sides contain various buildings of the Kremlin and the State Museum. On another side is GUM, the large department store. During the days of the old U.S.S.R., newsreels would show lines of people lined up outside to get their bread or food allowance for that day/week. Today, the building houses stores like Prada, Louis Vuitton, an upscale food market and ice cream stands. It's a complete 180-degree turn from what it had been. But, more than just a building housing three floors of stores in which to spend your money, the building is very beautiful with a ceiling made of steel and glass. After meandering through this late 18th century architectural beauty, we walked back out sun into Red Square, still full of families strolling in the late afternoon.

Glass and steel ceiling in GUM.

Throughout our stay, we would walk the short 10 minutes from our hotel to Red Square – just to take in the historical relevance. A bit of background information: Red Square does not get its name from the pigment in the bricks of the buildings in the square, nor from a euphemism for communism, but rather from a Russian word that means both "red" and "beautiful" – in reference to a small area around St. Basil's and parts of the Kremlin.

The British have Parliament. The Unites States have Capitol Hill. The Russians have the Kremlin. The name "Kremlin" means fortress inside a city. The Kremlin is made of cathedrals, palaces, office buildings and the residence of the president of Russia. It is walled off from the city, but many of the palaces and cathedrals are open for touring. One can tour some of the buildings (not the governmental ones) on their own, but we wanted more in-depth knowledge of what we would be seeing, so we arranged through our hotel for a private guide. Our guide took us through cathedrals and museums that displayed masterpieces of Russian art, Russian icon paintings, gilt frescoes and all things connected to the Russian royal family. Of particular interest were the world-famous Faberge eggs. A series of Easter eggs were created by Fabergé for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1916. The Faberge egg is fashioned out of gold and other precious materials and decorated with jewels. The outer "shell" can be opened on many of them to reveal a surprise inside. The surprises range from a perfect miniature replica of the Coronation carriage - that took 15 months to make working 16-hour days - to a mechanical swan and an ivory elephant, to a heart-shaped frame on an easel with 11 miniature portraits of members of the imperial family.

Just outside, near the Kremlin Wall, is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Just like the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Arlington Cemetery, it is guarded with dignity by the Russian military.

Steps away from Red Square sits the famous Bolshoi Theatre, home to the world-famous ballet, theatre and opera companies – but, due to renovation during our visit to Moscow, the theatre was closed and we were unable to attend a performance there. Although we could not enter, we admired the grand sculptures of the four flying horses that sit atop the theatre and imagined the majesty of hearing a performance of Tchaikovsky.

Moscow is more than the red brick facade buildings, the onion-domed cathedrals and the block style of architecture from the Soviet era – it also has beautiful boulevards that are lined with 19th century mansions. Over the years, one boulevard, Ulitsa Arbat, fell out of favor and was neglected, but in the 1980s it became pedestrianized, and now it is home to trendy restaurants, art galleries, shops and street performers. The mansions are pastel colored – pale green next to pink next to sunny yellow, making this boulevard come to life and a perfect area to stroll.

Every major city of the world has its underground subway system and, of course, Moscow has one as well. But what makes the subway system in Moscow unique is that several of its underground stations are very ornate. The first metro stations were conceived as magnificent showcases of Soviet success. The Ploschad Revolyutsi station boasts 76 bronze statues, while Mayakovskaya station has beautiful mosaics, Komsomolskaya contains marble walls and chandeliers,Novoslobodskaya has amazing stained glass and is very ornate, and Novokuznetskaya contains historical themes. For the price of one metro ticket, you can take a tour of these stations simply by changing subway trains, all underground without surfacing.

Statues and sculptures in the cemetary

Not only are the metro stations works of art, but the Novodevichy Cemetery is like walking through a sculpture park. Don't think of this as a mournful place, but rather one that has a "park-like ambience." As you enter the cemetery, which is dotted with small chapels and large sculpted monuments, you are struck by the ornateness of the gravestones. Reading the names of those who are buried here is like reading a list of the who's who in Russian culture and politics. Anton Chekhov, Raisa Gorbachev, Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin are buried here, along with notable scientists, musicians, poets and playwrights.

Although English is spoken widely throughout Moscow, one thing we needed to do was decipher the Cyrillic alphabet. While it does resemble the English alphabet, many letters are "turned around." For us, especially while in the Metro, we would go letter by letter… regular A, backwards C, then backward R, followed by an O with an I in it – it was not only a cultural experience but a linguistic one as well.

Moscow amazed us – giving us reminders of the bleakness of the Cold War era and then surprising us with the colorful streets full of upscale shopping. Many times, we had surreal experiences with our personal flashbacks to the "duck and cover" days while we were walking Red Square. It was an experience, to say the least.

Looking back at a landmark year with Special Olympics

By Ryan Wilks, October 19, 2020

Earlier this summer, we shone a light on our flagship partnership with Special Olympics and our commitment to the Inclusion Revolution. In that same story, we introduced you to our four Special Olympics Service Ambassadors, Daniel, Kyle, Lauren and Zinyra (Z), who, this month, celebrate one year working at Chicago O'Hare International Airport as part of the United family.

This groundbreaking, inclusive employment program took off as a part of our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics, a community relationship that employees across the company hold close to heart. The original 'UA4' (as they call themselves) have become an integral part of the United team serving customers at O'Hare Airport. Even from behind their masks, their wide smiles and effervescent spirit exude and bring life to the service culture of excellence we strive towards every day.

"The UA4 are more than just customer service ambassadors. They are shining examples of how inclusion, accessibility and equity can have monumental impacts on the culture and service of a business and community," said Customer Service Managing Director Jonna McGrath. "They have forever changed who we are as a company. While they often talk about how United and this opportunity has changed their lives, they have changed ours in more ways than we can count."

In the two years of partnership with Special Olympics, United employees have volunteered over 10,500 hours of service at events around the world and donated over $1.2 million worth of travel to the organization.

"This inclusive employment program is what community partnerships, like ours with Special Olympics, are all about: collaborating to identify areas where the needs of the community intersect with the cultural and business opportunity, then creating the infrastructure and programming to bring the two together," said Global Community Engagement Managing Director Suzi Cabo. "Through this program, our goal is to show other companies that when you put a committed effort and focus towards inclusion and breaking down barriers, you transform lives. I challenge other business around the world to follow our lead in joining the Inclusion Revolution."

Check out the video below to hear from our Special Olympics Service Ambassadors firsthand.

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Spotlighting our own during Hispanic Heritage Month

By The Hub team, October 13, 2020

We celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 th through October 15th and take the time to recognize the important contributions of our colleagues of Hispanic descent in the United family.

This year, we hosted virtual events organized by our multicultural business resource group UNITE to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, covering topics ranging from immigration reform to Hispanic leadership. We're also taking a moment to highlight Latinx employees nominated by their peers for their contributions both at and outside of work.

These nominees have demonstrated leadership in their position and through their character. Take a moment to read their own words about how their background and heritage plays a role in the way they interact with customers, in how they support their colleagues and why it brings valuable perspective to their work.

Vania Wit – VP & Deputy Counsel

Photo of Vania Wit, VP & Deputy Counsel for United Airlines

"I am the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel in the legal department. I am an attorney and have worked in the legal department for over 21 years and am currently responsible for a number of different legal areas – such as litigation, international, commercial and government contracts, labor, employment and benefits, antitrust. I have the privilege of working with a tremendous team of attorneys who are directly leading and managing these areas. One of the things I like most about my job is simply getting to know the backgrounds and personal stories that everyone has about their paths to United or their passion for the industry. Being the daughter of immigrants from South America and growing up in a family who relies heavily on air travel to connect us to our close family and friends is an integral part of my story and what drew me to this industry and this company."

Kayra Martinez – International Flight Attendant, FRA

Photo of Kayra Martinez on board an aircraft

"I love that my work as a flight attendant brings me all over the world and allows me to connect with diverse people across the globe. Because of my Spanish heritage, I've been able to use my language as a way to connect with passengers, crew members and people from every nationality. In addition, my heritage gives me a very close connection to family, creating community and using inclusion as a way to bring people together. After transferring to Europe, I was able to study German, more Spanish, Italian and Arabic. Outside of work, I'm the director and founder of a nonprofit organization that empowers refugees through art. Hundreds of children and adults fleeing war-torn countries have found healing through my art workshops. These refugees are currently displaced in Greece. Their stunning paintings are then sold in art galleries and communities around the world, raising awareness and putting income directly into the hands of refugee artists."

Adriana Carmona – Program Manager, AO Regulatory Compliance

Photo of Adriana standing in front of a plane engine

"I've been incredibly lucky to have amazing leaders during my time at United who have challenged me from day one to think outside the box, step out of my comfort zone and trusted me to own and deliver on the tasks assigned. I think this sense of ownership is largely shaped by my Latino background, which values responsibility, respect and accountability and taking full charge of what's in your control to be able to deliver accordingly."

Harry Cabrera – Assistant Manager, AO Customer Service, IAH

Photo of Harry Cabrera

"My desire to help people is what drove me to start my career in Customer Service over two decades ago. Currently I provide support to our coworkers and customers at IAH , the gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. As a Colombian native celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, I'm proud to see the strength that my fellow Latinos forge every day at United Airlines. Family values are a cornerstone of the Latin community; I consider my coworkers to be part of my extended family. Mentor support throughout the years gave me the opportunity to grow professionally. The desire to do better and help others succeed is part of that heritage. I collaborate with our Latin American operations and create ways to improve performance. No matter what language you speak, the passion for what you do and being approachable makes the difference in any interaction."

Juciaria Meadows – Assistant Regional Manager, Cargo Sales

Photo of Juciaria Meadows in a Cargo hold

"During my 28-year career, I've worked across the system in various frontline and leadership roles in Reservations, Customer Service and Passenger Sales in Brazil. I moved to the U.S. in 2012 to work as an Account Executive for Cargo. It did not take too long for me to learn that boxes and containers have as much a voice as a passenger sitting in our aircraft. My job is to foster relationships with shippers, freight forwarders, cosignees, etc. and build strong partnerships in fair, trustworthy and caring ways where United Cargo will be their carrier of choice. That's where my background growing up in a Latino family plays an important role in my day-to-day interactions. I've done many wonderful sales trainings provided by United and my academic background , but none of them taught me more than watching my parents running their wholesale food warehouse. Developing exceptional relationships with their customers, they always treated them with trust and respect. They were successful business people with a big heart, creative, always adding a personal touch to their business relationships and I find myself doing the same. It's a lesson that is deep in my heart."

Shanell Arevalo – Customer Service Representative, DEN

Photo of Shanell Arevalo at work

"I am Belizean and Salvadoran. At a young age my family moved to California from Belize. Although I grew up in the United States , one thing my parents taught me was to never forget the culture, values and principles I was raised on. This includes showing love, compassion, and respect to all people. We learned to put our best foot forward for any situation and always put our heart and mind into everything we do. In my position as a customer service agent, it's the difference of showing the love, compassion and respect to our passengers to show that this is not just a job but rather a passion of genuinely caring for our people. Being Latina, we are raised to always take care of our family, and the way I take care of passengers is the way I would take care of my family. If there's one way I know I can make a difference with our Spanish speaking passengers, it's being able to speak the language. The glow that comes over a passenger's face when they realize there's someone who can speak Spanish is absolutely an indescribable feeling. With that glow comes comfort and joy. The small comfort they get from knowing someone can connect with them makes all the difference in their experience."

Around the web

United Cargo responds to COVID-19 challenges, prepares for what's next

By The Hub team, September 30, 2020

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Cargo has supported a variety of customers within the healthcare industry for over 10 years. Three key solutions – TempControl, LifeGuard and QuickPak – protect the integrity of vital shipments such as precision medicine, pharmaceuticals, biologics, medical equipment and vaccines. By utilizing processes like temperature monitoring, thermodynamic management, and priority boarding and handling, United Cargo gives customers the peace of mind that their shipments will be protected throughout their journey.

With the global demand for tailored pharmaceutical solutions at an all-time high, we've made investments to help ensure we provide the most reliable air cargo options for cold chain shipping. In April this year, we became the first U.S. carrier to lease temperature-controlled shipping containers manufactured by DoKaSch Temperature Solutions. We continue to partner with state-of-the-art container providers to ensure we have options that meet our customers' ever-changing needs.

"Providing safe air cargo transport for essential shipments has been a top priority since the pandemic began. While the entire air cargo industry has had its challenges, I'm proud of how United Cargo has adapted and thrived despite a significant reduction in network capacity and supply," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "We remain committed to helping our customers make it through the pandemic, as well as to doing everything we can to be prepared for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution when the time comes."

Our entire team continues to prioritize moving critical shipments as part of our commitment to supporting the global supply chain. We've assembled a COVID readiness task team to ensure we have the right people in place and are preparing our airports as we get ready for the industry-wide effort that comes next.

In cooperation with our partners all over the world, United Cargo has helped transport nearly 145 million pounds of medical supplies to aid in the fight against COVID-19, using a combination of cargo-only flights and passenger flig­hts. To date, United Cargo has operated more than 6,300 cargo-only flights and has transported more than 213 million pounds of cargo worldwide.

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