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Photographic travelogue through the USSR

7th August 2023

Abandoned USSR by Terence Abela, photographic travelogue through the USSR.


The author has brought together a large collection of photographs, recording images that underline the iconography of USSR culture. Sadly most are crumbling away and through his pictures, the author/photographer wants to “protect these mementos which are at risk of disappearing in the not too distant future”. He spent 9 years touring the sites, often gaining access by legitimate means and occasionally cunning and subterfuge were involved. At the Baikonur site, which contain the Soyuz and Proton launchers, he had to hide out over 2 nights from the patrolling guards.

Russia embraced other countries, subsumed them, and bought them  together under one USSR umbrella, with its influence stretching beyond the formal borders into countries such as the GDR, Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. At the height of its power the USSR covered one sixth of the earth’s landmass and had eleven different time zones. The USSR is synonymous with a militaristic time and celebration of the workers’ achievements and military might coloured so much of the art and architecture.


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The author visited Ukraine at points between 2013 and 2020 and devotes a tranche of photos to this country, now under attack from its former overlord, which makes a poignant inclusion. He has ventured into Pripyat (Chernobyl) and recorded all kinds of everyday places, still in parts beautifully preserved. Access these days to that part of the country is still difficult and a guide is required to enter – stained glass panels in the Pripyat cafe are still largely intact and the vibrancy and colour is eye catching. He has ventured to places familiar from the news and thus some of the incredible sites he depicts in the Ukraine section are unlikely to have survived the Russian onslaught.

Photographic travelogue through the USSRThere are old churches, left abandoned, because in the USSR religious worship was outlawed. Murals are still evident everywhere he travelled, mosaics too. I was curious to discover Riga’s former airport, built in the New Classical style in 1954, having just returned from there – at its peak, there were 50 flights a day. Curiously there is nothing featured for Lithuania (I mention that because it tied in with the Latvian visit).

There are some earlier buildings, from the 18th Century in a parlous state, but mostly the photos depict the austere styles, exemplified by brutalist architecture. There are to my eye appealing gems like the Dining Hall in the Fairytale Camp in Russia, but many of the featured images depict the didactic, boxy art and architecture which are typical of the era.

I very much enjoyed perusing the photos and reading the captions and I felt I came away with a greater understanding of the whole USSR construct through visual imagery and cogent text. And a great desire in my next life to be an urbexer, but maybe by then there will be nothing left to record.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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