Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Rare Look At The Abandoned Military Bases Of The USSR

Photographer Eric Lusito was only 12 when he witnessed the destruction of the Berlin Wall on television in his native Italy. At that point, he had little understanding of the impact the Iron Curtain had on Europe and Asia, but the looks relief on the faces he saw on TV left an indelible mark on him.

After working for a few years, Lusito left his industrial job and hit the roads of Europe in his van with a camera and little to no plan. He had a chance meeting with a geography professor in the Czech Republic who invited him on a trek to discover an abandoned Soviet military base.

It was a life-changing experience.

"I started to understand the power that the Red Army represented and the fear that it provoked ... I decided to seek out these military remains throughout the former Soviet territories, relics of the ambition and power of the USSR," Lusito says.

Much like an archaeologist, Lusito traveled the former Soviet and communist world from East Germany to Mongolia, from Poland to Kazakhstan, searching for vacated military bases. He found and documented many of them, including this one in Choibalsan, Mongolia, where many Soviet military personnel, support staff, and their families were stationed. Under communism, the area's population was more than 300,000. Now, only around 39,000 people live there.

Built in the 1970s, this air base in Mongolia had a 2-mile-long runway and was seen as a frontline for any possible conflict with China.

The aircraft shelters alongside the runway were constructed with reinforced concrete and designed to protect fighter jets. They now lie vacant.

Lusito told Business Insider he purposefully sought out bases "that embodied the ambition and the might of the USSR ... with their symbols of the all-powerful Soviet Empire once seemingly inviolable" now lying in ruins. At the base of this statue is an inscription reading "All that was built by the people, must be imperatively defended."

The inscription on the building below says "Glory to the Communist Party of Soviet Union." Soviet architecture was known for being geometrical and plain. Military buildings were built as economically as possible using standard designs.

These were residential areas that housed officers and their families. "Soviet military bases abroad tended to be isolated settlements, in restricted areas and at a distance from any town, mirroring of the Soviet state and its culture of secrecy," Lusito says.

This base is located close to the northern edge of the Gobi desert in Mongolia, and is now disappearing into the sand.

Built in 1956, this base was created to track Sputnik. It became one of the most sophisticated Soviet bases for space observation.

Many relics of the past are still left inside the buildings. Starting in 1970, standard gas masks were issued to all Soviet citizens.

The Soviets made a strong effort to utilize Russia's immense artistic talent, commissioning its citizens to create new works celebrating the might of its leaders. Here, next to the portrait of Lenin, is a mural depicting a battle scene from the Soviet's war in Afghanistan, as well as a profile portrait of a soldier from the Russian Civil War.

This base in Latvia, which once housed much of the USSR's Baltic Fleet, now stands dormant. Lusito tell us that some of the bases "were under surveillance while others were poorly guarded." Some have been looted.

This base, near the German and Czech borders, had an airstrip that was more than 1.5 miles long, which could accommodate all types of aircraft.

When troops left this base in Latvia, they took all materials of value but left 60 buildings standing, including barracks, apartments, a school, an officers club, and this gym.

The Soviet's defeat of the Nazis in the second World War lent legitimacy to the Soviet revolution. The USSR created allegorical paintings and artwork related to "The Great Patriotic War."

Lusito had difficulty accessing this missile base deep in the steppes of Kazakhstan. With four high-security prisons still on the grounds, Lusito says it was a intense struggle to enter. But he thinks it was all worth it to document these once-hidden complexes, which he describes as "testimonies left by a modern civilization which is no longer familiar to us, ruins that invite us to construct our own stories."

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