March 30, 2016

A Tour to Nowhere (in pictures)


A Tour to Nowhere (in pictures)

What happens when the death knell tolls for an entire town? What does it look like when the knell stops ringing, everyone jumps ship, and there’s nothing but a few worn buildings to prove anyone lived there at all?

It’s not pretty – or rather, it can be extremely pretty, in an eerie sort of way. Whether you find it dismal or delightful (photography-wise), take a tour of some of the most stunning images of disrepair you’ll ever see. Thanks, Russia.

First, churches. Here’s one now:

mirtesen.ru

In the wake of the Bolshevik Revolution, thousands of churches were obliterated. The most famous example is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow: razed, then projected as the site for the 316-meter Palace of Soviets (never built) and, when that fell through, turned into a swimming pool. The Cathedral was rebuilt (expensively and semi-accurately) during the return to Orthodox values that came in the 1990s.

Other churches, less central or extravagant, still exist in their original form, left slowly to decay over time.

mirtesen.ru

The enforced atheism that was part of Bolshevik ideology was responsible for the destruction or dilapidation of many of Russia’s churches. Many in rural landscapes, like this one, were simply forgotten.

As far as secular dwelling-places, issues such as urbanization (or forced resettlement, during Soviet times), war, or just plain money problems turned a number of thriving cities into ghost towns.

Tvarkcheli is a victim of war. Formerly the industrial center of Abkhazia, it faced siege and then extinction in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, when Georgia fought for independence from the USSR and Abkhazia fought for independence from Georgia.

mirtesen.ru

The result: Tkvarkcheli, along with its neighboring towns of Akarmare and Polyana, were abandoned, and former roads, apartment buildings, and theaters taken over by foliage. It looks like something out of Planet of the Apes, and shows the devastation that sweeps over not only a town’s population, but its architecture, too, in times of strife.

mirtesen.ru

In Russia’s current economic climate, many towns face a similar fate.

On the one hand, there are spots like Solikamsk, whose enormous, house-devouring sinkhole demonstrates the force of nature over human design.

themoscowtimes.com

Then there are Russia’s 319 single-industry (or single-company) towns, or monogoroda. In a July 2015 visit to Usolye-Sibirskoe, a town that relies on only one chemical plant, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that only 79 of such towns were economically stable, and added, “There is not enough money for all of the single-industry towns that are in crisis.”

russianlife.com/stories/online/everyday-russia/                                                Alexander Solo

As the vestiges of the USSR’s triumphal emphasis industrialism, such towns are often forgotten or even, from urban vantage points, unseen (as claimed in the monogoroda documentary project, Invisible Cities).

But their citizens are neither under siege (like those of Tvarkcheli) nor ready to up and leave, even in the worsening economic conditions facing Russia. Single-industry towns may not be a big deal for Russia’s economy, but they make up a significant enough chunk of the country’s territory – not to mention population, at an estimated 14 million – that they’re not going the way of the trees just yet.

Still, Russia’s shifting demographic landscape means that, a few years down the line, we may be observing more than church cupolas caving in. Until then, at least there’s photography.

russianlife.com/stories/online/everyday-russia/                                                Alexander Solo

Top image credit: mirtesen.ru

You Might Also Like

Leningrad Region
  • March 15, 2016

Leningrad Region

Alexander Solo is documenting "monotowns" in Russia. He shows us a couple in Leningrad Region, where he lives.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
Survival Russian

Survival Russian

Survival Russian is an intensely practical guide to conversational, colloquial and culture-rich Russian. It uses humor, current events and thematically-driven essays to deepen readers’ understanding of Russian language and culture. This enlarged Second Edition of Survival Russian includes over 90 essays and illuminates over 2000 invaluable Russian phrases and words.
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
The Latchkey Murders

The Latchkey Murders

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin is back on the case in this prequel to the popular mystery Murder at the Dacha, in which a serial killer is on the loose in Khrushchev’s Moscow...
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
PO Box 567
Montpelier VT 05601-0567

802-223-4955