Unveiling the Secrets and Abandoned Places of Russia and the Former Soviet Union

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Ever wonder what happens when an empire collapses?  You have a lot of strange abandoned places.  That is what happened with the former USSR – Soviet Union collapsed.  The vast expanse of Russia and the territories of the former Soviet Union are strewn with remnants of a bygone era, each with its tale of glory, despair, and abandonment. From desolate military bases to ghost towns, from enigmatic monuments to forsaken mansions, these places offer a fascinating glimpse into a world that once was. Let’s embark on an exploratory journey through some of the most intriguing secret, strange, and abandoned places of this region.

Scary Abandoned Military Bases and Installations

In the vast and enigmatic landscapes of Russia lie the silent remnants of its powerful military past. These abandoned military bases and installations, once brimming with activity and purpose during the height of the Soviet era, now stand as eerie monuments to a bygone age of global superpowers and cold war tensions.

Chukotka Abandoned Sites

In the remote Far East, Chukotka’s tundra holds secrets of abandoned military installations and desolate cities, vestiges of a time when this region was a strategic defense point.  Going to the edge of Russia, I imagined something of that kind. Life here is really difficult, and in Chukotka you start believing that the climate prevents from building roads and normal existence of the cities: no stone or wood, no main building materials.In the 1990s and 2000s, people began to leave that small region, leaving behind abandoned towns and villages.

Chukotka Autonomous District has long been completely closed: even now there is the border area, and upon arrival the officers even check passports. The area is very close to Alaska, 600-700 kilometres long, but walking or transport ride is impossible. Militaries in Chukotka left a notable legacies: nearly all abandoned places still belonged to the Ministry of Defence. The barrels are former warehouse of the combustive and lubricating materials in the vicinity of Anadyr Airport.

Graham Bell Island

Part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, this island harbors remnants of a Soviet military base, now succumbing to the harsh Arctic conditions. There had been an independant radar control company on Graham Bell Island of Franz Josef Land until 1993, it used to be the northernmost subdivision of the Soviet army. They had an air command post there and an airfield as well.

Old Kharkov Armor Repair Facility in the Ukraine

Need a tank to fend off the coming zombie apocalypse that everyone else is freaking out about? Make your way to the Kharkov armor repair facility in Ukraine where you can have your pick of hundreds of Soviet-built T-64s, T-72s and T-80 tanks that look like they’ve been abandoned since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kotlin Island Military Base

In February 2012, for the first time since it was closed 5 people were allowed to enter inside this abandoned Cold War era Russian military base on Kotlin island.  What they discovered inside was a secret military Cold War base – abandoned, but with old unwanted soviet equipment remaining.  Inside the base, which was a coastline anti-ship complex, there are many vehicles in good condition. The base was abandoned more than 2 dozen years ago.

Rusting Naval Fleets

The coasts and waterways of Russia hide decaying ships, once proud vessels of the Soviet Navy, now forgotten and corroding in silence.  There are even Ice-bound Russian ships wrecked off Kamchatka.  Kamchatka is a Russian peninsula in the far North, home to seals, volcanoes, and a large industrial-era ship graveyard, where rusting hulks of tankers, trawlers, and tugs lie embedded in icy permafrost, slowly sinking into harbors they once stood tall and upright within.

Amazing Abandoned Cities

In the vast and diverse expanse of the former Soviet Union, a series of enigmatic abandoned cities stand as silent witnesses to the turbulent history and abrupt transformations of the 20th century. These cities, once thriving hubs of life, industry, and culture, now lay dormant, their streets and structures frozen in time. From the desolate nuclear wastelands of Chernobyl to the forsaken military bases in remote Siberia, each abandoned city holds its own tale of rise, fall, and eerie abandonment, reflecting the profound changes that swept through the Soviet empire and left behind these amazing relics of a world that once was.

Verhnaia Gubakha

Verkhnaia Gubakha (also spelled Verkhnyaya Gubakha), a town in the Perm Krai of Russia, provides a poignant example of the socio-economic transformations that have occurred in post-Soviet Russia. While I don’t have specific, up-to-date information about Verkhnaia Gubakha as of 2023, I can provide a general overview based on its known history and typical trends observed in similar towns across Russia.

Gudym

Gudym lies in the valley between the hills. Locals knew that some military units were built here but the territory was closed.  The place is overgrown with various legends, it’s hard to tell the truth from fiction today. The city started its combat alert duty in 1961 though it didn’t exist on maps then.

Officially it was called Anadyr-1, but people called it Gudym in honor of Colonel Gudymov who was at the head of city construction and committed suicide under strange circumstances right after the work was done.  One legend is connected with his death – some people say he received an anonymous telegram from the U.S.A. by which he was cordially congratulated with the successful construction of the secret military base.

Chernobyl nuclear power plant Ukrine Aerial view

The Vanishing Village of Kopachi

Near the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant lies the village of Kopachi, buried under the radioactive fallout, with only the kindergarten building eerily protruding above the ground.  Kopachi is just south-west of the Pripyat River Basin. After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 the village was contaminated by fallout and subsequently evacuated and is now within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone; and thus has been abandoned since 1986.

After Kopachi village was evacuated by the authorities, as an experiment, had all the houses torn down and buried. This village was the only village suffering this fate as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.  The only traces left of the village today is a series of mounds and a small number of surviving trees which are not part of the local native flora. Each mound contains the remains of one house and is topped by a sign with the international radiation symbol.

 

Abandoned white brick multistorey houses and water tower at sunset Forgotten abandoned ghost town Skrunda Latvia Former Soviet army radar station

Skrunda-1: Latvia’s Secret City

Skrunda-1 was once a Soviet secret city located in Latvia, which housed two powerful early warning radars. Following the breakup of the USSR however, the radar installations were shut down and dismantled, and by 1999 Skrunda-1 became a ghost town… and a popular tourist attraction.

Following the breakup of the USSR however, the radar installations were shut down and dismantled, and by 1999 Skrunda-1 became a ghost town… and a popular tourist attraction.

Skrunda-1, also known as Skrunda-2, is a ghost town and former Soviet radar station located 5 km (3 mi) to the north of Skrunda, in Raņķi parish, Latvia. It was the site of two Dnepr radar (NATO “Hen House”) radar installations constructed in the 1960s. A Daryal radar was being built there before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Skrunda was strategically important to the Soviet Union as its radars covered Western Europe. The two barn-like radars were one of the most important Soviet early warning radar stations for listening to objects in space and for tracking possible incoming ICBMs.

Tkvarcheli aerial view

Tkvarcheli, Georgia: A Coal Town’s Descent

This Soviet ghost town is technically located within a country called The Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia, which is only officially recognized by five other countries. To the rest of the world, these are just the remains of another Georgian town that supplied the Soviet industrial machine.

The town was constructed back in the 1940s to supply coal to the Soviets. As such, it was built to last long into the future. However, during the war of independence in the early 1990s, the town fell to Georgian forces. Tkvarcheli was occupied by the Georgians for more than a year, until Abkhaz forces reclaimed the town with the help of the Russians.

Sadly for the town, it was too late, as the Soviet era was already in decline. The population of the town steadily dwindled until it was eventually abandoned for good. Nowadays, it serves as a creepy reminder of life at the height of the Soviet Union.

Russian Ghost Town – Cherepovetz City (city of skulls)

Cherepovetz City (the name loosely translates as “City of Skulls”), the center of the Russian North-West SeveroStal industrial zone.  Here’s why it’s a ghost town!

  • Minus 10 degrees Celsius is considered “warm weather”
  • This city is built on permafrost, so buildings deteriorate quickly and most are in crumbling conditions
  • The city was originally built by prisoners (untold numbers of them died), so it is very probably haunted… (no, of course not, just kidding)
  • The industrial pollution is on par with the worst towns in China – it’s officially one of the ten most polluted cities in the world
  • There are no homeless people, because nobody can survive minus 56 degrees Celsius.
  • They have literally 45 days of night – the depressing, miserable Arctic night
  • The city often endures severe punishing winds, up to 25 meters per second

The ecology around Norilsk is so atrocious that trees can spontaneously ignite from industrial chemicals in the ground – and so only burned sticks are left.

Chiatura: Half Dead City of Georgia

A small city hidden in the mountaneous region of Georgia impressed photographer and traveller Pavel Morozov very much, so he spent several days there, mostly on its numerous ropeways. Chiatura is a city of miners that has dozens of functioning and broken funiculars built in the 1950s. There is an atmosphere of the Soviet epoch in this place, it’s clearly felt in half-ruined houses and almost empty streets.

Nevertheless, Chiatura was promised a wonderful future back in the Soviet time, because the city had huge reserves of ore and managnese.

Wondrous Abandoned Buildings

Like the military collapse the impact on the economy devastated may buildings through out the former Soviet Union.

The abandoned lighthouse Aniva in the Sakhalin IslandRussia Aerial View

The Haunting Beauty of Aniva Rock Lighthouse

Perched on a rocky outcrop at Sakhalin Island’s southern tip, this lighthouse, now abandoned, stands as a lonely sentinel facing the relentless Sea of Okhotsk.  Originally built for use in the 1930’s by Japan, it was later seized by Russians and used during World War II, powered by nuclear power. During the 1990’s and the fall of communism, the lighthouse became vacant and has since been abandoned.

The Aniva lighthouse was built by the Japanese on a chunk of rock off the southern coast of Sakhalin, a thin 950 km long island situated just east of Russia, between the sea of Japan and Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. The island was largely uninhabited until the 1800’s, when both Japan and Russia became interested in annexing it; the Russians for use as a penal colony.

That led to years of conflict, retrenchment, and buildup of military forces, with both nations agreeing to split the island across the 50th parallel. A ring of light-houses were built on Sakhalin’s rocky coast to signal incoming troop carriers and merchant ships.

After around 50 years of sharing the island, the Russians annexed it all in the Second World War, causing some half a million Japanese to be evacuated back to Hokkaido. In 1951 the Treaty of San Francisco was signed, officially handing tenure of the island over to the Russians, though plenty of territorial issues remaining smaller islands.

Now the Aniva lighthouse is abandoned. Its seven stories of diesel engines, accumulator rooms, keeper’s living spaces, radio facilities, storerooms, large clockwork pendulum (for regulating optical system), and 300kg pool of mercury (as a low friction rotation surface for the lens) are still, and echo only with the crash of waves against the surrounding crags.

Muromtzevo Mansion’s Lost Splendor

In the Vladimir region, the Muromtzevo Mansion, an opulent castle-like estate, stands in neglect, its grandeur fading away amidst overgrown vegetation.  Russian architect P.S. Boitzov built many French-style medieval castle in the 19th century–but Muromtzevo Mansion is by far the most spectacular of them.

The legend of this odd castle begins in the 19th century, when a Russian nobleman traveling through France made aquaintance with a French lord. The two began to squabble over the superiority of each country, and after tiring of the lord extolling the ornate architecture of France, the Russian declared that he could erect a castle of equal magnificence in his own country. The Frenchman scoffed, and replied if he could build a castle as grandiose as the ones in France, he would come to Russia himself to see it.

The Towering Sutyagin House

The Sutyagin House was a wooden house in Arkhangelsk, Russia.  Built by a local entrepreneur, this wooden structure, once the world’s tallest wooden house, represented the aspirations and eventual downfall of its creator, now dismantled for safety reasons.  The 13-story, 144-foot-tall (44 m) residence of the local entrepreneur Nikolai Petrovich Sutyagin was reported to be the world’s, or at least Russia’s, tallest wooden house.

Constructed by Mr. Sutyagin and his family over 15 years (starting in 1992), without formal plans or a building permit, the structure deteriorated while Mr. Sutyagin spent a number of years in prison for racketeering.  In 2008, it was condemned by the city as a fire hazard, and the courts ordered it to be fully demolished by February 1, 2009.

On December 26, 2008, the tower was pulled down, and the remainder was dismantled manually over the course of the next several months. The remaining four-storey structure burned to the ground on May 6, 2012.

Forgotten Water Parks and Leisure Sites

Across Russia, several water parks and recreational facilities, built during the Soviet era’s later years, now stand abandoned, echoing the laughter and splendor of a time past.

Akvadroma Water Park

The construction of the Akvadroma water park was approved in 1997, in preparation for the 1998 World Youth Games in Moscow. The 43,500 square-meter (468,000 sq. feet) building was 9 floors tall (with 3 more floors below ground) and included 5 swimming pools, water slides, track and field, guest rooms for athletes, offices, cafes, and a physiotherapy and medical center.

Akvandroma wasn’t ready for the Games but its consruction went on until February 2002 when the site was abandoned. In July 2007, the building was purchased with plans to be converted into a shopping mall.

The Lost Circuses of the Soviet Era

The Soviet Union was known for its grand circuses, but many of these magnificent structures, from Moscow to the far-flung regions, have been left to decay, symbolizing a lost era of entertainment.

One abandoned circus is situated in the heart of Chisinau, the capital and and largest city of the Republic of Moldova. It was originally constructed back in 1981 when the country was known as the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and it was a part of the USSR. In the Soviet era, circus was very popular and this is why this large and impressive building was built. In its auditorium there is space for 2,000 spectators.

Times changed though and today Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. The circus closed in 2004 for repairs but it never opened again. The inside however remains almost intact, perhaps waiting for better days to come.

The Enigmatic Buzludzha Monument

It often called Bulgaria’s UFO and resembles ing a flying saucer, this monument on Buzludzha Peak was built to commemorate the Bulgarian Communist Party, now a derelict symbol of a collapsed ideology.

The Buzludzha Monument was built by the Bulgarian communist regime to commemorate the events in 1891 when the socialists led by Dimitar Blagoev assembled secretly in the area to form an organised socialist movement with the founding of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Party, a fore-runner of the Bulgarian Communist Party. The Monument was opened in 1981.  No longer maintained by the Bulgarian government, it has fallen into disuse.

Soviet-Era Buildings and Subways

Numerous buildings, from grand theaters to everyday apartment blocks, and the ornate, palatial subway stations, particularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg, stand as witnesses to the Soviet architectural ambition, some in decay, others preserved.

Moscow subway was formerly named in honor of Lazar Kaganovich, and then received the name of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, in addition to the military, defense and related national security secrets and secrets that need to be discussed separately, since the design it is associated with a number of mystical secrets…

One of the biggest mysteries of the Moscow subway is a so-called “Subway 2” or as it is indicated in the official government documents object “D-6”.  A Government underground communication system that connects all strategic assets not only in the city but also far away.

Tunnels reach the underground city in Ramenki, Pushkin, Fryazino, Odintsovo, Krasnoznamensk, Vnukovo, Barvikha. All are now in standby mode, Subway – 2 at any time is ready to accept all Russian leaders and provide them with a decent route in solving global issues.

Other Amazing Abandoned Places

  • The architecture facility at the Polytechnic Institute of Minsk
  • The Druzhba sanatorium
  • The Ukrainian Institute of Scientific and Technological Research and Development
  • The Soviet embassy in Cuba
  • The Gosprom Building, in Kharkov, Ukraine
  • Krasny Treugolnik an Abandoned Industrial Complex in St. Petersburg was one of the oldest industrial complexes of Russia’s second largest city.

Grazing cows along the Chuysky tract in Altai Russia

Chuysky Trakt: A Road Through Time

Then there is Siberia’s ancient pathway.  This ancient trade route, now a modern highway, passes through areas dotted with abandoned settlements and relics of past travelers, a journey through Russia’s heartland.

Chuysky Trakt is Over 621 mile long and it is included in the National Geographic’s top 10 most wonderful road trips in the world list. Taking this outstanding journey leaves even “I’ve seen it all” kind of traveler amazed. From small villages to mountains and hills filled with vegetation, everything catches the attention of those, who enjoy spending time on the road.

The Russian Altay Mountains are well known for their beauty. The Chuysky Trakt crosses them, all the way from one end of the country to the other. In fact, the road, which requires at least 4 days of driving to be crossed, is the main connection between Russia and Mongolia. Furthermore, this is among the few large roads worldwide that have an impressive history behind.

It is said that in 3,000 B.C. the southern Siberian travelers would travel all the way to Asia. They were crossing the Altay Mountains to reach Asia and returned home with goods, creating what is today the northern branch of the road.
The Tatar-Mongolian armies led by the legendary Chingishan, crossed the road to reach out to other countries and conquer new land.

The traces left by old civilizations and armies, including camp sites and ancient carvings, can be visited along the way. Also, the Aktru glacier, is visible right from the road. As travelers go further on their trip, the shops and hotels become fewer and more distant from each other.

Gradually, as the altitude grows, so does the beauty of the surrounding natural spots. Visitors can relax at the sound of springs and rivers flowing between the mountain rocks, while enjoying the view of the clear skies, vegetation and a seemingly endless road.

What is Lenin, Stalin and Dzerzhinsky doing at the bottom of the Black Sea?

At Cape Tarhankut in Crimea, a hundred meters from the shore, there is an unusual museum – an underwater analogue of Moscow “Muzeon”. In 1992, a diver Vladimir Borumensky found at a depth of 12-15 meters the first sculptures of the Soviet leaders, that had already been dismantled in the Crimean cities and towns. Then busts of Lenin, Marx and Voroshilov settled here. Borumensky planed his venture in a big way and wanted to bring Mao, Mussolini, and Napoleon to the Soviet pantheon.

The Emperor has not appeared on the original Walk of Fame, but divers from all over Ukraine started to complement the collection of Soviet leaders. Today in the underwater Museum there are several dozens of exhibits, from Stalin and Dzerzhinsky to Gorky and Gagarin. There is a department of writers, there is Lenin leading the boy by the hand, and the other rare sculptures that do not fit in the traditional Soviet canon.

Abandoned Space Shuttles

The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan are two crumbling, dust-covered craft that were built for the Buran orbital vehicle programme back in the 1970s and 80s.  The reusable spacecraft project began in 1974 but was formally suspended in 1993 after it completed just one unmanned orbital spaceflight in 1988. They are generally considered as a Soviet equivalent of the United States’ Space Shuttle but in the Buran project, only the plane-shaped orbiter itself was theoretically reusable, and while Orbiter K1 was recovered successfully after its first orbital flight in 1988, it was never reused.

Now located in Kazakhstan, the Baikonur Cosmodrome was an integral part of the Soviet side of the space race. This is where Sputnik One, the first rocket to orbit the Earth, and Vostok One, the first rocket to carry a human into space, were launched. The installation was so large that an entire town was built around it to house the workers and their families.

Fast-forward 68 years, and most of the facility is a ghost town. The towering, steel scaffolding rigs are nothing more than silent sentinels, keeping watch over launchpads packed with dust and scattered leaves. Control rooms that once buzzed with activity now sit in shadow, empty and silent. There’s even a space shuttle, just sitting there, like an old truck on cinder blocks in a redneck’s front lawn. Russia has been non-committal over their plans for the facility—although the land now belongs to Kazakhstan, the Russian government has a lease on the property until 2050.

Conclusion

Each of these locations tells a story of ambition, power, and eventual decline, painting a picture of a world that once thrived under the Soviet regime. These sites, now silent and often eerie, are not just mere tourist attractions but are poignant reminders of history, culture, and the inevitable passage of time. As we explore these abandoned wonders, we not only witness the physical remnants of the Soviet era but also reflect on the lessons and legacies it left behind. After learning about these abandoned places in Russia, you might also want to learn about the culture and traditions of the Lipovans, or Russia’s old believers. Find out more about them in our article, What Secrets Does the Lipovans’ Fish Scale Embroidery Reveal About Russia’s Old Believers?

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