December 01, 2019

Soviet Disneyland: Exploring VDNKh


Soviet Disneyland: Exploring VDNKh
We're not sure if VDNKh's main boulevard is grandiose enough. More golden statues might add to the atmosphere. Government of Moscow Press centre, Wikimedia Commons

We've been stuck stateside for a while now, what with the global coronavirus pandemic and all. When we do get out, though, we're looking forward to heading to Moscow and stopping by one of our favorite gems in the city for an afternoon walk: VDNKh.

Nestled in a northern neighborhood of the city, the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy (In Russian, Выставка достижений народного хозяйства, hence the uncomfortable acronym VDNKh, pronounced Vey-Dey-En-Kha) is a strange Soviet relic that isn't usually on the tour map. But it's a popular hangout for locals and well worth the stop.

A view from the park's ferris wheel
A view from VDNKh's Ferris wheel, because of course it has one. | Victorgrigas, Wikimedia Commons

Built in the late 1930s to show off the agricultural and industrial products from the various Soviet republics, VDNKh's opening was delayed due to the Second World War. It finally opened in 1954, and became a major tourist attraction, sticking around through the end of the USSR.

Visiting VDNKh today is easy. It has a bespoke stop on the Moscow Metro, served by the Orange Line. Unfortunately, if you were looking to take Russia's only monorail to the site (which served as the terminal station), you're late, as it closed in 2017.

At the entrance to the park, you'll see a massive archway topped with a golden statue. Nice and subtle.

The entracce arch for VDNKh
If you look up "Stalinist Architecture" in the dictionary, this is the picture next to it. | Griffin Edwards

Before you enter, though, you should stop by two nearby sites: the Monument to the Conquerors of Space and the original Worker and Kolkhoz Woman statue, the latter made famous as the Mosfilm logo. Having pilgrimaged to these sights, you're free to enter, literally: there's no charge.

A word of caution, though: VDNKh covers a massive area: nearly 2.5 million square meters. There are sovereign countries smaller than this park. Bring comfy shoes.

Inside is where the wonders start. Lining the entrance boulevard are carnival rides and games (including a roller coaster and Ferris wheel), and behind the main pavilion (which houses a massive statue of Lenin) is VDNKh's centerpiece.

The "Friendship of Nations" fountain encapsulates what VDNKh is all about: Russia and its attendant Soviet Republics. Each figure represents one of the 15 republics in traditional garb, all reveling in communist glory. In the winter, the area around the statue and into the boulevard is converted into the world's largest synthetic-ice skating rink.

We challenge you to decide which figure represents which republic. | Izi.travel

This theme is carried through the rest of the park: as was the original intention, each of the republics has its own pavilion, where, originally, it could showcase its wares. Often, these reflect the architectural styles of the region, fused with late-20th-century modernism. It's one of the only places on Earth you'll see Uzbek geometric tiles next to Karelian log architecture.

The Karelia pavilion
More is more. | Griffin Edwards

Unfortunately, the each-republic-has-its-own-pavilion scheme has broken down these days; after all, Ukraine, Belarus, and all the other Central Eurasian countries are no longer under Moscow's umbrella. But many of the pavilions are still open and house exhibits that visitors can pay to check out.

At the end of another long boulevard, flanked with eclectic architecture and sprawling pavilions, is the capstone of the park: a rocket and Tupolev jet in front of a glass pavilion housing artifacts from the Space Race.

The end of VDNKh's long boulevard of pavilions
Gotta appreciate the symmetry. | Alex Zelenko, Wikimedia Commons

That's it for the Soviet part of the park, but there's much more if you keep going. With acres of ponds, botanical gardens, walking paths, greenhouses, and a brand-new aquarium, there's plenty to do at VDNKh (Want to swim with dolphins in Moscow? Now you can). There's even an indoor history museum, funded in conjunction with Gazprom and the Russian state, which is, of course, absolutely impartial.

Many parts of VDNKh seem a little worn-out. Some of the republics' pavilions have begun to fall apart due to lack of maintenance and use, and, as you can see in the picture of the rocket, some things are starting to get a little dated, even as new additions bring some life to the park.

However, VDNKh should still make your list of must-see Moscow destinations. It's perfect for a long walk, no matter the weather, and is usually pretty quiet. As a park, recreation area, and historical site, it's well worth exploring.

See Also

Vera Mukhina

Vera Mukhina

A look at the familiar, and not so familiar, work of a famous Soviet-era sculptor.
Cinema in the Round

Cinema in the Round

Before IMAX, before 3-D movies, there was Cinema in the Round. Come with us on a visit to the world’s longest functioning cinema of its type, where films are shown simultaneously on 11 massive screens.
Soviet Redux

Soviet Redux

It seems the more removed in time the USSR becomes, the more nostalgia grows for its symbols and traditions. Increasingly, these elements are worming their way back into Russian life. If they ever left.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
The Moscow Eccentric

The Moscow Eccentric

Advance reviewers are calling this new translation "a coup" and "a remarkable achievement." This rediscovered gem of a novel by one of Russia's finest writers explores some of the thorniest issues of the early twentieth century.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
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...
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.
Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka

In this comprehensive, quixotic and addictive book, Edwin Trommelen explores all facets of the Russian obsession with vodka. Peering chiefly through the lenses of history and literature, Trommelen offers up an appropriately complex, rich and bittersweet portrait, based on great respect for Russian culture.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
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.
The Little Humpbacked Horse

The Little Humpbacked Horse

A beloved Russian classic about a resourceful Russian peasant, Vanya, and his miracle-working horse, who together undergo various trials, exploits and adventures at the whim of a laughable tsar, told in rich, narrative poetry.

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
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955