When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it left behind many remnants of its existence. The ex-Soviet states are dotted with abandoned villages, mines, factories, and sometimes even whole cities.
Here are 10 of the most interesting ghost cities the Soviet Union left behind.
Kadykchan, once a thriving coal mining town, is now a collection of burned-out houses. The city was founded by gulag inmates in the 1940s. The town was soon discovered to have coal, which made it a desirable site for a settlement. The town grew, and by the late 1970s, it had a population of over 10,000.
Unfortunately, the decline of the Soviet Union had a devastating effect on the coal industry, and the town’s population dwindled. At its peak, the town housed nearly 11,000 people. But after the 1990s, coal prices began to decline, forcing it to close its mines. In 1996, a mine explosion killed six people, decreasing the population to under 300. By the early 2000s, the town was only home to a handful of residents. Visiting Kadykchan in winter can feel like a visit to a lost world. The ruins of decayed Soviet apartments and abandoned children’s playgrounds still stand on the town square.
When a huge coal deposit was discovered in Far East Siberia, the Soviet government used gulag workers to build the town and a highway, which became known as the Road of Bones. Kadykchan is completely isolated from both eastern and western Russia, and it takes at least three days to reach the nearest city center. In addition, the Kolyma highway is impassable for most of the year.
The abandoned Skrunda-1 military complex was once a thriving community. Unfortunately, it has fallen into ruins over the years. Several attempts have been made to repurpose the site for tourism, such as developing an industrial park. However, the site is currently under military control, so it is not possible for civilians to visit.
Skrunda-1 was first built in 1963. As a secret military installation, it was a site with a vast array of buildings and underground bunker networks. At its height, the area was home to over 5,000 Soviet soldiers and a thousand civilians. It contained two massive radars that scanned the sky to detect enemy intrusions. The complex included many buildings, including schools, factories, and barracks.
Skrunda-1 has now slipped into complete isolation. After Latvia received its 7.5 billion euro bailout from the European Union in 2008, the government was forced to auction the property. The government paid €12,000 for the town, which was significantly less than the price at previous auctions. The local government unanimously approved the purchase.
The quake that ripped through Neftegorsk on May 28, 1995, was the worst earthquake in modern Russian history. The quake’s magnitude was 7.6 on the Richter scale, and according to official statistics, at least 2,040 people died—more than half of the town’s residents. The city was decimated, with nearly everything destroyed; only the chapel, a cemetery, and a memorial remained.
The city was once thriving. But as the tar sands were sucked out of the earth by the prospectors, it deteriorated. Thousands of people were displaced.
The relocation of the city of Mologa was a four-year project. Earlier, two nearby regions protested, imposing delays. As a result, the central government’s funding for the project dried up before the town could be relocated.
The historic town of Mologa was flooded by Stalin in 1935 to make way for a hydroelectric power station. The city’s history goes back to the 12th century, and it was an important trading post between the Baltic Sea and Asia. But the Soviet Union had other plans. They wanted to build the Rybinsk Reservoir, a hydroelectric power station. As a result, more than 130,000 residents were forced to relocate from the city, and there are reports that over 300 of them drowned.
Today, the town’s residents still gather in the nearby town of Rybinsk in mid-August to celebrate the Day of Mologa. The town’s ruins occasionally appear when the lake’s levels are low. Aerial photographs show streets emerging from the lakebed.
The Wunsdorf complex is located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) outside Berlin. Originally, the area was a Prussian shooting range. Later, it became the headquarters of the German armed forces. During World War II, the Nazis also used the complex as a military command center. The 60,000-acre 242-square-kilometer) complex became one of the largest military bases in Europe. When the Soviets took control of the town in 1945, Wunsdorf was closed. It then housed up to fifty thousand Soviets. Wunsdorf was the largest Soviet military camp outside of the Soviet Union. There were schools, shops, hospitals, and leisure facilities. Wunsdorf became known as “Little Moscow,” as there were daily trains to and from the Soviet capital.
By the time of the Berlin Wall collapse, the town’s population had fallen from 60,000 to just six thousand. The Soviet troops stationed in the town were called home after the fall of the Wall. The resulting chaos was exacerbated by the uncertainty of the soldiers, who had no idea where they were heading or whether they would be able to find housing. Some of them even bought buses to use as shelter.
While Wunsdorf-Waldstadt is now a thriving town, it’s still a strange post-apocalyptic landscape. Some buildings have been swallowed up by the forest, while others have been refurbished and used as homes. There is a real struggle to keep the structures that remain in the town usable. Now, a local government company is looking for investors who want to restore the buildings to reuse them for educational purposes.
The city of Veszprem was captured by Soviet troops during the Vienna Offensive during World War II. During the Cold War, Veszprem served as a major base for Soviet helicopters. The buildings at the airfield were built in the 1930s and were expanded by the Soviets during the 1980s. They have not been restored to their former glory, but you can still see the massive buildings that once filled the base.
Veszprem was home to several Soviet units, including a tank division and an armored training regiment. There was also a paratroop battalion, a chemical defense battalion, and an SGF NCO training school. In all, there were 10,400 Soviet troops stationed in Hungary at the time.
4 Irbene, Latvia
A Russian astronomer and his wife traveled 186 miles (300 kilometers) from Riga to Irbene, Latvia, to visit the largest radio telescope in Northern Europe. On their way, they discovered that the city was now a ghost town. Cafes and power plants stood abandoned. However, the buildings of the abandoned Soviet town were still in good shape when the Russian military left. There were still a few Soviet buildings, and the utilities and sewers were still functioning.
The Soviets abandoned the town in 1993. However, the radio telescope remains there, and you can even climb up near the huge dish, which is the largest in Northern Europe. But you can only visit the facility if you have a special permit.
The secret military base was more than 494 acres (200 hectares) and was used by the military unit 51429. The antennas were used to listen to phone calls in a wide area and even to communicate with enemies of the Soviet Union. The smallest antenna measured a diameter of 32.5 feet (10 meters) and was used to listen to incoming calls.
Klomino, Poland, is a former Soviet-era ghost town. Though the town is currently abandoned, it was once a Soviet prison camp. Today, the town has a population of only five and no rail or bus connections. There are also no shops and no place to eat. The town has mostly been looted.
The Soviet Union occupied the village in 1945 and renamed it Grodek. Though the village did not appear on Polish maps, it was home to over 6,000 Soviet soldiers. In 1993, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the Polish military took over and began the process of selling the village. However, the Polish military was forced to leave the town after just one year because nobody wanted to purchase it, and the local authorities lacked funds for its upkeep.
Today, the only numerous residents of Klomino are the local ghosts. It is possible to walk through the empty buildings of the former Soviet Army. There are no tourist shops and no buses in the town. While it may be hard to imagine living in such a place, the few human residents are very happy despite the isolation.
2 Vozrozhdeniya Island
In 1948, Vozrozhdeniya Island, once an unassuming island in the Soviet Union, was turned into a top-secret biological weapons research facility. The island’s former village of Kantubek was turned into the military town of Aralsk-7, and laboratories were built on the island’s southern side. In this facility, scientists tested out the most lethal pathogens ever created.
In the southern part of Vozrozhdeniya Island, the Soviets built an open-air test site to study the dissemination of bio-weapon agents and methods to detect them. The testing grounds were equipped with detectors spaced at 0.6-mile (one-kilometer) intervals. The tests included anthrax, brucellosis, the plague, and typhus.
The Vozrozhdeniya Island test site remained operational even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Eventually, the evacuation of the remaining Russian military personnel took place. In the years since, the site has fallen into disrepair and has been taken apart by scavengers. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. and Uzbek governments joined forces to thoroughly clean up the island and ensure no residual pathogens remained. As the Aral sea continues to dry up, Vozrozhdeniya Island has now become a peninsula shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Tskaltubo was once a fashionable Soviet destination that drew party elites, military personnel, and even Joseph Stalin himself. The decaying hotels, bath houses, and sanitoriums that dot the landscape now appeal to new, more adventurous visitors. The resort’s past is reflected in its ruins, with many buildings depicting Georgian motifs and patriotic symbols.
Tskaltubo has a radon spring that is believed to have healing powers. Stalin ordered the health resort to become the largest balneological center in the Soviet Union. In fact, the Soviet Union built 19 sanatoriums in the city between the 1930s and 1950s. These sanatoriums would become a symbol of the Stalinist style of architecture.