Russian veterans of World War II attend a Victory Day event in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, May 8, 2010. The site of one of the bloodiest and most important battles of World War II, Volgograd and its residents are struggling to find their way in post-Soviet Russia. Mikhail Mordasov/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mikhail Mordasov/AFP/Getty Images

While Russia's president, Vladimir Putin visits a farm in the Volga region, outside Saratov, in September 2004. Since then, Putin has helped bail out farmers in the area, but many observers worry about his party's seemingly pervasive power. Alexey Panov/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alexey Panov/AFP/Getty Images

A day after leaving Moscow, travelers can see colorful churches along the forested banks of the Volga. They share the banks with mansions of Russia's nouveau riche. Anne Garrels/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anne Garrels/NPR

Russia's Volga River travels 2,300 miles through the country's heartland. It is the source of Russia's power, spanning from imperial times to the present. Here, a cruise ship travels down the Moscow-Volga canal, heading into the river. Anne Garrels/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Anne Garrels/NPR