24 Mysterious And Chilling Pictures Of Abandoned Buildings From The Soviet Union

British photographer Rebecca Litchfield travelled across the former USSR to capture these remarkable images of decaying public buildings in deserted towns. Taken from the book Soviet Ghosts.

1. Pripyat in Ukraine, near the Chernobyl power plant, was abandoned after the disaster in 1986.

When the Chernobyl was built in 1970, many of the facility’s staff were housed in the nearby city of Pripyat. Around 50,000 people once lived here, spread across 160 buildings that had contained a total of 13,400 apartments.

Trees and shrubs are the only things left living there, as structures continue to decay and crumble.

2. Pripyat’s Hospital No. 126 consists of five large buildings, each of them six storeys high.

3. After the town was abandoned, doctors left medical equipment, beds, bottles, babies’ cribs and other equipment to rust.

4. The town had three indoor swimming pools, two sports stadiums, 35 playgrounds, 15 primary schools, five secondary schools and a technical college.

5. There are several kindergartens in Pripyat, still full of toys and with beds still made, among the gas masks that were designed to protect the children in the case of a chemical attack or disaster.

6. Pripyat’s Luna Park, with its Ferris wheel and bumper cars, was scheduled to open as a part of the May Day celebrations in 1986.

But the Chernobyl disaster happened days before its opening. However, people did make use of it in the hours before an official evacuation was ordered.

7. A tuberculosis hospital in Russia lies empty.

In the captions in her book, photgrapher Rebecca Litchfield says of these hospitals throughout the USSR: “Even in the realm of health, the state would seek to control and monitor its citizens, and use surgeries, clinics and hospitals to further their political aims, even to the extent of deploying spies alongside medical staff.”

8. The trip to Russia to take these photographs wasn’t a simple affair.

“Not many explorers travel to Russia,” says Litchfield in the publicity material for the book. “Where the rules are very different, locations are heavily guarded and a strong military presence exists everywhere. There are serious consequences for getting caught.

“We managed to stay hidden for all of the trip, we maximised our stealthiness, ducking and diving into bushes and sneaking past sleeping security. But on day three our good fortune ran out as we visited a top secret radar installation. After walking through the forest, mosquitos attacking us from all directions, we saw the radar and made our way towards it, but just metres away suddenly we were joined by military and they weren’t happy..”

9. But she says she’s not trying to make any political points about the Communist era.

“I refrain from having personal opinions about the era and try to remain relatively neutral,” she says. “Whilst the period had bad times, the people living in the communities still got on with life and also had good times, it was not a period of pure black and white and so my aim of the book was to just capture it as it was now.”

10. Many Soviet-era cinemas lie abandoned throughout Russia.

Litchfield says: “Cinema was quickly seized upon under Communism and nowhere more so than in the Soviet Union as an important tool for political education and indoctrination.

“Soviet filmmakers, such as Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, remain amongst the most influential directors of all time; largely by virtue of their pioneering use of ‘montage’ techniques.”

11. Poland is also full of abandoned buildings from the Communist era – such as this hospital.

12. Skrunda was a secret town in Latvia, housing a Soviet radar station designed to monitor all of Western Europe.

13. Although its location was kept secret, eventually it became a residential town with 60 buildings, including a gym, a school and a theatre.

As Litchfield explains in the book, however: “Once Latvia had gained back its independence, the Soviets were given four years to dismantle the radars. The entire town was sold at auction for just 17,000 Lats (around £20,000) but as of 2013 nothing has yet been done with the site.”

15. Latvia has several abandoned radio telescopes, such the two left at Irbene, Cold War relics from a time when intercepting Western satellite signals was a top priority.

There were originally six telescopes but four were dismantled and the remaining two incapacitated.

16. The entire area was once forbidden – people needed to seek special permission to visit Irbene and its surrounding towns.

“Irbene was so secretive in fact, that the public only found out about it when the site was officially revealed in 1993; long after the Soviets had left,” says Litchfield.

17. This is the swimming pool at the Soviet Union’s headquarters in Germany. Trains ran daily from here and Moscow.

18. It was built by the Germans but took over by Russia on 20 April 1945, with fighting leaving some 120 dead.

19. There were 800 people living here by 1953 and as many as 30,000 soliders and 75,000 civilians in the surrounding area.

The Russians left behind weapons, ammunition, bomb parts and chemical waste when they left.

20. This mural still stares out from the wall of a Soviet pilot school in what was the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany.

21. Milovice in the Czech Republic has been a military site since the early 1990s, in the hands of Czechoslovakia, Germany and then the Soviets, who took control in 1968.

Hundreds of families lived here but its buildings have been stripped to their core. After the Velvet Revolution of the 1980s, Russian forces started to leave. So quickly did they leave in 1991 that live ammunition was buried across the site, making the deserted town now potentially very dangerous.

22. The Soviet monument at Mount Buzludzha is the largest of its kind in Bulgaria.

This is where Bulgarian Socialists first began meeting in secret in 1891 and where Bulgarian forces battled Turkish forces. It was funded by voluntary donations and features marble and glass. Pictured is the huge amphitheatre, with its mural depicting Soviet and Bulgarian history.

23. The structure was abandoned in 1989 and then gifted to the state in 1991. It’s been stripped of its valuable materials.

24. There was once a tower 70 metres tall, topped with a huge star made of red glass, designed to be three times bigger than the star at the Kremlin.

Like all these structures, it now lies gathering ice, rust and dust.

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