Kadykchan – Abandoned City in Far East Russia

Kadykchan, – Abandoned City in Far East Russia

July 12, 2012

            Today is the big moment of our trip, the reason we came on this particular tour, to see Kadykchan, an abandoned city way out the back of nowhere in Far East Russia, a former Soviet mining town where people lived and thrived and raised families and grew vegetables, went to movies, did sporty things, had parties, decorated their apartments, kids went to school,  and then it all went away when communism fell and there wasn’t any money coming in to support a community this far from anywhere.

I’m going to drop in the advertisement for the tour from Koyro tours with their link because it’s a good tour and this is the easiest way to explain it.  www.koryogroup.com

“”””ABANDONED RUSSIA – If this is somehow not enough for you yet

We are also offering a tour that no other company has ever

even considered running – we call it ABANDONED RUSSIA. This is

a trip deep into Magadan province to the abandoned city

of Kadykchan. Meaning ‘death valley’ in Russian this was once a

fairly populous mining town, with (at the time) modern facilities

and buildings, schools, apartment complexes, workplaces and so

on. From the establishment of the city in the early 1970’s up until

the mid 80’s life was lived as normal in remote parts of Russia but

as the economy began the downward spiral that would end in

the dissolution of the Soviet Union and exodus of the

population began. In 1996 a winter even harsher than normal hit

and pipes froze while relief vehicles failed to arrive and the danger

of starvation reared its head for the remaining population.

Finally evacuated by the Russian military they left behind one of

the largest and most well preserved ghost towns in the world. Still

all standing, albeit in various states of disrepair, the city bears

some similarities to Pripyat in the Ukraine (the abandoned town

next to the Chernobyl reactor).

A chilling and life-changing experience for any visitor this

is somewhere exceptionally difficult to reach but the rewards;

in memories, and some of the most remarkable photos you will

ever take, make it utterly worthwhile. For aficionados of Dark

Tourism there are few places like it. We’ll take you there via a

650km road trip from Magadan to the town of Susuman (the

airport there was converted into an orthodox church some time

ago) which we will use as a base for exploring Kadykchan. We

will explore the city on foot, seeing where people lived, worked,

and played; see abandoned apartments, restaurants, and offices.

See a place which once bustled with life but is now being reclaimed

by nature.  In this city you can go inside apartment buildings,

the hospitals, schools, technological institutes, the city

government, Olympic centre, and much much more. See the bust

of Lenin which is now full of holes since being shot at by

evacuating local residents, a truly life-changing trip; you’ve

never been anywhere like it.

After this singular and amazing experience we will return to

Magadan and visit with a local family, see and hear about their life

in this remote area before returning to Vladivostok by plane. But

the experience of abandonment is not yet over. We will spend a

long morning visiting the ruins of the Voroshilov Battery on the

nearby Russki Island, one of a number of military facilities

built around the outskirts of the city in the early 20th Century to

guard against Chinese and Japanese designs on the area.  A

free afternoon for shopping and sightseeing rounds off the tour

with one last night in Vladivostok before we fly back to Beijing or

you journey on to places beyond, freshly equipped with

‘memories, photographs, and souvenirs of places your friends

have never even heard of!

This ABANDONED RUSSIA extension is not offered by any other

tour company. Be one of the very few people to have ever laid

eyes on the city of Kadykchan. You may not have heard of it

before, but it will be forever etched in memory before long.

This extension is fully guided and will run as planned assuming 6

or more people sign up. We will again operate with a maximum of

20 participants.”””

OK, there’s a plug for Koyro Tours. I’ve done 5 tours with them and each tour has been unique and interesting.  For the strange places that they go, DPRK, Far East Russia, and Turkmenistan, I don’t think you can find a better tour company.

Now, on with our day.  It’s about another hour and ½ drive from Susuman to Kadykchan but we did have a bit of time this morning to wander around Susuman after breakfast and before we left for the drive.  We’re taking sack lunches and it took Simon and Julia a bit of time to arrange that.  This is another place where we are going to need our mosquito hats and lots of repellant so we’re armed with the appropriate gear.

Another dry and dusty drive.  It’s easier to nap though in the cars than it was in the truck so both my hubby and I doze a bit.  We are passing some deserted towns as we go but none of them are as big as Kadykchan.  There doesn’t seem to be any sign of life out here.  Then we come to a crossroads and there is a large sign with a hammer and sickle on top.  Also at the crossroads is a ramp so you could pull your car up the ramp and work underneath it if you needed to do so.  We stop here for a break, stretching legs, call of nature, etc.  then back in the car for the final bit to Kadykchan.  A few cars have passed us as we are at the crossroads but nobody much seems to be out this way.  It is somewhat surprising then when we pass a hitchhiker a few miles further up the road.  We don’t stop for him.  I think we were all so surprised to see him that we were miles away from him before it registered that he was out in the middle of nowhere, the back of beyond, and trying to hitch a ride.  How amazing is that?

My hubby and I are in the car with Simon so he announces that we are coming into Kadykchan.  The town is quite large with building after building of apartment blocks.  We pull around to the far side of the city and drive past a river/stream with abandoned mining equipment on the far side of the river.  Julia has repeatedly told us already NOT to wander into the mine as it is not safe to do so.  We don’t really see a way to cross the river anyway, at least not an obvious way so it’s pretty safe that we’re not going over there.  I’m not wading.

We drive up to the front of the town and we can see the Lenin bust and the town square down a short path in front of us.  Between us and the path is a large pond which is still enough to give good reflections of the buildings surrounding it.  We are warned that we need to be careful traipsing around the town as there are hidden ponds and marshes where nature is slowly reclaiming the area.

Everyone gets out of the cars and gets ready to walk over to the town square where Julia will give us some basic information about the place when suddenly a man on a bicycle rides by the group.  Everyone has this delayed reaction as we all swivel our heads to watch him ride down the lane away from us.  Not only are we very surprised to see this man riding a bike in this deserted place in Russia but he has on no shirt and is wearing a sailor hat!  We kind of look at each other and ask, “did we really just see that?”.  We check again, and he is still riding away from us so yep, we did see that.  How totally odd!  The town is obviously deserted but maybe not quite totally???  Or is he the resident spook?

Mosquito hats on we set off down the street where we turn the corner and walk around a building so we can avoid the large pond and swampy land and get to the Lenin bust.  We are walking on the Twenty-Fifth of October Street.  Many of the main streets have been named after important dates in Russian revolutions, usually when communism won over the tsars or some such similar event.  Simon has suggested that good souvenirs would be license plates off cars or street signs.   We’re not seeing any street signs though.  Most of the streets seemed to be labeled by stenciling on the buildings.  We’ll keep looking.

We get to the square and stop so Julia can give us the information she has managed to find on this town which is pretty much what is in the  Koryo tour information above.  Simon puts her to work often with digging out more information as people think of questions to ask or he does or something comes up, etc. etc.  She warns us again that we should be very careful as many of the buildings now are not safe especially in basements and climbing stairs onto roofs.  I’d like to get onto a roof but it seems that you have to usually climb up a ladder at the end so I’ll skip it.  Everyone agrees to meet back at the vans at a certain time just to check in, to make sure everyone is ok, and to share what buildings might be more interesting or have cool stuff.

As we are standing there, here comes the unshirted sailor-hatted bike riding mystery man again.  He pulls up and stops to look at us and we are all looking at him and taking photos.  An enigma!  One, how does he ride around on his bicycle without a shirt and isn’t covered in mosquito bites.  Two, what is he doing here and why riding around on a bicycle.  Julia questions him and at first he says he lives about 18 km away but later someone said he did live in the town.  So not really sure.  One of the things Julia has talked about is how hard it was for people to leave Kadykchan.  They didn’t want to go because for many years, it was a good place to live.  The men earned more money than other towns because it was hard work in the mines and it was a difficult place to live.  The town had many amenities though including a cinema, a sports complex, several restaurants, good schools, a hospital and everyone had their dachas.  One side of the street was the main part of the town.  The other side of the street were the gardens and dachas.  Across the river was the mining part of the town.  So clearing everyone out of the town was hard and a few people held on as long as they could.  Maybe this man was one of the last out or maybe he never really did leave.  Now he rides around on his bicycle all day.

Everyone is ready to start wandering the small city and see what we can find.  We walk behind Simon for a while and he disappears into one of the apartment blocks.  We go on for a bit and finally go into an apartment block as well.  Some of them are easy to enter while others have already had stairs cave in and floors disappear.  The one we chose still had stairs all the way to the top and we climbed several floors and looked in several apartment.  There was a variety of junk in most of them.  Sometimes it was just wiring and insulation and doors left but some of the places had furniture which wasn’t in good shape because the windows were gone so it’s getting wet from snow and rain.  Some of the places had electronics, usually pulled all to pieces.

I forgot.  On our way to an apartment block, we passed a glass insulator in the grass.  It was a really big one but I have looked in envy on glass and ceramic insulators at many an antique store and not really been willing to pay the price.  This one was all in one piece too with only a small nick on the corner.  Of course, it weighs about 8 pounds!  I pulled it up to check it and set it on top of a big piece of concrete.  I didn’t want to carry it with me until I was ready to return to the vehicle and we will be coming back this way.  Then I got all worried that someone else would come upon it and decide it was a good souvenir so I pulled out a piece of paper from my camera bag and wrote my name on it and put it under the insulator.  We went on to the apartment block.

We are still looking for street signs and license plates but not having much luck finding any.  I did find a bottle in one of the apartments that was whole and nice.  Antique bottles are another thing that I like to pick up whenever possible so I wrapped it up carefully.  Not really jazzed about carrying this stuff around so I found a bag with a shoulder strap and commandeered it just to carry any other “loot” I might find.

Whenever we walked into an apartment we would always go to the windows to look out and see the view.  Most apartments just looked onto other apartments but I can imagine that at one point, there would have been flower boxes and/or laundry hanging out of windows plus nice drapes to see across the way and people going in and out of the buildings.  Now it is just deserted wherever we look.  Nothing to see but empty buildings with broken windows, broken doors, crumbling concrete.  We don’t even see any of the other tour members.  It is if we are totally alone in a communist ghost town.  We don’t even hear any sounds, no birds, no animals, and no voices.  Spooky.    We continue our exploration.  The next room we enter was clearly a teenager’s room but can’t tell if it was a boy or a girl.  There are posters covering most of the wall, all rock bands popular about 5-10 years ago.  At some point, these posters were vitally important to the teen that lived here.  Makes you wonder why they didn’t take the posters with them.

Several years ago we were in Florida to buy a house and were looking at foreclosed homes.  It was very sad in some cases to walk into a home where obviously the owners had been given just a few hours to leave their home.  We were looking at homes where all the furniture, computers, televisions, guitars, entertainment centers, clothes, kitchen appliances and more had been left behind.  It wasn’t stuff that was falling apart and decaying in the elements as the apartments were in Kadykchan but it was eerie there and eerie here to imagine the people leaving behind their belongings as they are forced to leave their homes, for whatever reason.

We climb up the stairs to another floor and see very different things left behind.  This family was able to clean out most of the apartment and only trash is sitting around but then I notice a moose antler sitting on the floor.  Score!  What a find.  I have always wanted a moose antler.  Doesn’t everyone?  But I certainly didn’t want to have to go kill a moose to get one.  This is perfect.  I am fairly sure it is real.  There is one point that has been sawed off.  I put it in my shoulder bag along with a bottle I have found and also a small ceramic insulator.  Oh we are finding some good stuff.

We walk back down the stairs and start to head back to the car.  We haven’t gone very far but the antler is heavy and then I pick up the big glass insulator as well and I am weighed down with my “loot”.  My hips are still complaining from walking up and down the hills at Dneprovsky Gulag so after about ¼ mile, I am stumping pretty badly.  The weight of my bag from the glass insulator and the moose antler is throwing me off balance.  My wonderful husband comes to my rescue.  He has a walking stick as well but he’s just using it to climb over rocks and things so he’s not dependent upon it like I am on mine sometimes.  He puts my bag over the end of his walking stick and throws the entire mess of about 20 pounds over his shoulder and we make it back to the car in that fashion.

As we approach the car, only one is there.  Our van has gone to get gas or fix a tire or something because I don’t believe anything is near enough to get service but as we don’t speak Russian, we don’t know where he is.  The other driver pops out of his van and lets us into the van where he and Julia are watching a movie.  We settle into the van with the A/C running and watch the movie too.  We’re going to take a break and wait for the rest to return and then we will head out again.

Julia sees my moose antler and immediately tells me that I will not be allowed to take it out of Russia but she doesn’t really give me a good reason and it’s not an endangered species so we decide to hold onto it for now and maybe look up some regulations later.

Our van returns but no one is back yet from explorations so we stay in the other van and continue to watch the movie until other tour members start returning to the cars.  Then we hop out to see what people have found and where they have gone.  Not too many people have brought back goodies with them yet but they are all interested in the various things that have been collected which include some 33 rpm records in good condition and some books and some hockey cards of the Soviet team.

As we are standing there, a truck passes us and drives further into the town.  Then another car pulls up and a man gets out who comes over and introduces himself.  It is Clem from Italy and he is the hitchhiker we passed on the highway before we arrived here.  He has found a ride with a couple of Russian men.  Clem is backpacking across the back of beyond and hitchhiking to different places he has heard about from one ride or another.  Not sure how he is communicating with the two men he is now riding with but he convinced them to bring him here to Kadykchan because he heard of the deserted town.  They talk to our drivers and to Julia.  Clem talks to us and tells us he has been traveling for several months now and is heading towards Yakutsk.  Somebody gives him a bottle of water and then he leaves, carrying all of his gear, to go look around the city.  The two Russians who brought him here are busy chatting with our drivers and filling up their radiator with water from the pond.  My husband and I eat some of our lunch so we don’t have to carry it around with us much longer.  One of the Australians comes back with an umbrella.  It seems to be in perfect shape and he is under it shading himself from the sun.  what a funny thing to be in the middle of nowhere and find a perfect umbrella and walk around with it.  Later though he abandons it and we all see it on the sidewalk and recognize it as “his” umbrella.

We’re not in a hurry to wander off again as the ole arthritis is kicking in and my hips and knees are giving me grief so it is going to be a lot shorter walking time around the deserted city than I had hoped and no way will I get up to a roof even if there are good stairs all the way up but I am enjoying the experience because it is just so bizarre being here.  We are about ready to head out again and think we will go to the dacha side and see some of those ruins.  We look towards the Lenin square and see Clem coming back.  He has had a quick look around and now needs to move on with the two Russians who have been waiting for him.  Everyone in our group that is still around the cars wishes him luck and we load him up with some fruit and juice and water and away he goes.  Wow, one of the most deserted places around and so far from occupied habitation and we’ve had a regular parade of people coming and going.  Three groups of people and cars in one day cannot be a typical day for this abandoned Russian ghost town.

Julia had seen some chipmunks when she’d walked back from the town square so she convinced one of the drivers to give up some of his sunflower seeds and she was going back to feed them.  Naturally we went with her as I always do when animals are involved and naturally when we got there, absolutely no chipmunks to be seen however we did see something small and furry run across the street at a distance.  Simon also ran into a fox while he was exploring and it was in front of him so quickly and then gone that he had no time to get his camera.  Except for some few birds about, that is the extent of wildlife in Kadykchan that we experienced.

Off we go now and walk down the street to the dachas.  Most of them were made from wood so they are in worse shape than the apartment blocks.  There were quite a lot of greenhouses in and among the dachas but none we saw had any whole pieces of glass left in them.  A lot of them have swampy bits around them too so we are unable to get inside those even though there were board bridges across the water.  Just didn’t look that safe and I didn’t want to end up in mosquito laden water.  Some dachas  have children’s swings and playgrounds long abandoned and looking forlorn.  We did miss a dacha with two twin beds totally made up with blankets and covers and pillows with half a loaf of bread on the nightstand.  That must be where this lone truck driver lives that we heard rumors about.

Moving out of the dachas and heading back towards the large buildings we walk past a tower in the distance that looks like a fire training tower.  That’s actually what it was and Simon had climbed to the top and was yelling at us but it was too far away to hear him.  He did get a couple of nice photos of us walking down the road.

Much to my dismay, we have not found a single street sign yet nor a license plate.  What vehicles we have passed have no plates and they apparently do not put street signs on poles at intersections.  So we turned to walk down a street towards an apartment block and I suddenly realized that there was a street sign attached to the building!  I was so excited.  Of course, it was about a foot higher than either of us could reach.  There was nothing around to stand on to try to get it but there were some broken down poles close by, the kind that look like they might have been used for handrails on metal balconies.  We dragged one over but it was too big and unwieldy to get any part of it under the sign and try and pry it off.  Dang it.  Simon had tools but we had no idea where he was.  I went and got a different pipe to try.  I was finally able to get the pipe under the sign and work it down to the end where I was able to pry off one side of the sign.  My hubby was then able to pry off the rest of the sign and we got our street sign.  It was all rusted on the back but I didn’t care.  It was a lot bigger than we thought too when we got it down.  In fact, it was too long to fit into my suitcase but rather than leave it behind after all this work, I folded it in half to get it in my suitcase and get it home.

Ok, one goal reached.  We continued down this street and saw three of our tour members ahead of us.  We thought we’d walk with them but they turned a corner and disappeared and we weren’t sure where they went.  So we continued the way we were going.  We climbed up the stairs of a building that might have been an administrative building of some sort.  It wasn’t an apartment building.  We were surprised and flabbergasted and incredibly amused to find that the door was locked; padlocked and chained shut!  How ironically funny because all the windows in the building were broken out and we could have easily climbed over the window sill and into the building through ½ dozen windows.  There was a broken down sofa on the front porch but it was full of glass.  We tipped it over and carefully cleaned off the glass and had a sit down and rest in front of the locked door and honored their desire to stay out of the building.  Of course we did look inside and snap photos.

We sat for a while and watched the three tour members appear and disappear into buildings including what was a hospital building close to this admin building where we were sitting.  One of the men climbed up the hospital building and out onto the roof.  He looked very small up there.  They finally come out of the hospital building and move onto other places and we decide to move on to other places as well.  We leave our secret locked building with the broken windows and walk past the community heating plant.  In many towns and villages in Russia, everyone’s heat and hot water is controlled by a single energy plant.  When someone decides that winter is over, that’s it, no more heat for your home until someone decides winter is back.  We had that problem years ago when we visited Ulan Ude in Siberia.  Even though it was late June, the heat was off and the temperature was around 40 degrees but no heat.  I had to heat water on the stove to take a bath.  This energy plant reminded me of that trip.

We are running out of time but I think we have enough souvenirs and we certainly have a ton of photos.  It would have been good to explore further and more buildings but I did what I could within the constraints of my hips being buggered.   Probably I’ll not come this way again but I did get to visit it and see it and experience how strange it all is.  I do like going odd places.

It is finally time to leave Kadykchan and head back to Susuman.  Everyone has had a very full day of exploring and I think everyone had something they found to take away with them.  Most everyone did find a street sign or apartment block sign.  They are flat and easy to pack unless you have to fold it like mine.

The drive back to Susuman was quiet and I am pretty sure I slept a good deal of the way.  I do remember passing an active gold mining operation on the river.  Did not look very ecofriendly.

We arrive back and head over for dinner.  It’s amazing that we are going to dinner and shopping at the local grocery store past 10 p.m. at night and everyone is awake and wondering about and doing business.  Guess their clock rhythms are really in sync with the sun to be this awake so very late at night.  Cannot image what it would be like in the winter.  After dinner we all pile into the van to drive by the engineering school which has ½ of a plane sticking out of the building.  The sun is just starting to set.  We ride back to the guesthouse while the other tour members walk over.  I’m done walking for today.

We don’t have to pack up much since we came with a small bag.  I’ve brought in my goodies from the abandoned city and we decide which ones we want to try and get into our suitcase in Magadan.  One of the Aussies likes vinyl records so I give him one of the two that I found.  The rest of it, we think we’ll just haul to Magadan and see what fits in the suitcase.  Doesn’t take us long to fall asleep tonight.

This entry was posted in Far East Russia, gulags, History, Magadan, mining, Russia, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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