These scenes aren’t from Chernobyl, although they have the same air of haunted abandonment. And they’re not from Detroit, although the site makers are reminiscent of the urban ruins explorers of the Motor City. They’re from various abandoned and forgotten military bases in the former Soviet Far East.
Posters of Lenin, and placards celebrating the Warsaw Pact, that celebrated bond of Socialist fellowship that evaporated as soon as Soviet coercion was removed from the slave states of Eastern Europe. Rows of tanks, caught in the middle of repairs that didn’t come, stripped and vandalized.
The photos are from a site called KFSS.ru, and they’re why it’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week, even though it has other explorations on there (for example, of coastal forts). But for us, it was the post-Soviet ruins that were mesmerizing.
If you look at only one of KFSS.ru’s explorations, the 206th BTRZ — a tank-repair site strewn with the carcasses of armored vehicles — could be the most interesting.
The unit was originally established in 1936 as the V.G. Voroshilov Repair Base for the Far East No. 77. Over the years it had many other names, but basically kept overhauling tanks for the Red, then Soviet, then Russian, army, and its final identity was the 206th Broniytankoviy Remontniy Zavod — Armored Tank Repair Factory (or Facility). When it closed, a large amount of work-in-progress vehicles, from BRDM-1 and -2 light amphibious armored reconnaissance vehicles through T-64 tanks, were left behind.
In this photo essay, as in the others, the photos are always professionally, even artistically, composed. They speak of the fascinating beauty of ruins, a beauty which has captivated men for centuries.
Sometimes, men who did their national service on these bases comment on the pages, filling in details. It is jarring to see your old base, even your old barracks, workplace, or team room, reduced to ruins — we’ve been through that ourselves (the team room has since been torn down and no trace of it remains).
Every page of KFSS introduces military archaeology that is at once familiar and exotic, like the strange tubular bunkers that once held R-5s, the Soviet Union’s first nuclear-armed missiles, and the abandoned classrooms of a radio school.
You’ll need to read Russian to get the maximum knowledge and enjoyment from this site, although Google or some other online translator can probably help. But you don’t really need to read the words to appreciate the haunting beauty in some of these ruins.
Buildings 30 and 40 years old, probably never all that watertight to begin with, given Soviet construction standards.
A pack of cigarettes, forgotten on a shelf. A naval officer’s uniform, hanging up next to the ironing board that got it ready for a next meeting that didn’t happen.
Abandoned Vozdvizhenka Aerodrome, home to a fleet of Tu-223M carcasses, late of Russian Naval Aviation:
Some of the architecture is similar to any European or American base, and some is uniquely Soviet. A large open-span area in a maintenance hall is built with precast concrete rafters that have an arched truss cast into them, for example — an ingenious and elegant solution.
The routine junk of military living. Propaganda exhortations (Your unit — your community!) of the inoffensive kind. Key control boards. Ammo bunkers. NBC posters: what to do when the Americans nuke you.
We never did, but they tried to be ready. So did we, during the Cold War.
While most of the world’s Army, Navy and Air Force bases look much alike, only the USSR left this one signature item behind when a base closed: Lenin.
The soldiers, sailors and airmen who traipsed through these buildings, and unwittingly, through history, by and large did their duty: their homeland wasn’t attacked again after V-E Day. Perhaps the system they served did not deserve their loyalty, but their country, and their countrymen, probably did. And the artifacts they left behind exist in the strange limbo between abandonment and archaeology.