Once one of the major players on the scene of world politics, technology and culture, it is hardly surprising that the Soviet Union still draws in a great deal of interest. However, much of what identified the Soviet Union has now gone, particularly in the countries that have since been independent since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Statues of Lenin have been taken down, communist era murals have been painted over and streets have been renamed after local heroes in local languages. In a lot of countries, there is little evidence remaining of those decades of communism. However, for those with a fascination in the USSR, there are still a few places scattered across Eastern Europe.
1. Minsk, Belarus
Minsk, the capital of Belarus, was almost completely destroyed after the Second World War. While other cities devastated by the destruction of those dark times had their historic centres rebuilt, Minsk was instead redesigned almost entirely to make way for proud and imposing Stalinist architecture. Characterized by its huge parks, wide tree-lined avenues and tall, linear structures, Minsk represents the epitome of the worker’s Utopia. There is even an enormous statue of Lenin right in front of the parliament building and the hammer and sickle emblem is to be seen everywhere.
Belarus in itself is an odd country, particularly with regards to the fact that it is also by far the most closed country in Europe. It is one of the relatively few places where almost everyone needs an expensive visa to enter and it has next to no tourist infrastructure. Often referred to in the Western media as Europe’s last dictatorship, the country remains somewhat hidden away and relatively difficult to get to. However, a trip to White Russia will certainly be a rewarding and memorable one.
2. Tiraspol, Moldova
Moldova, a small landlocked country sandwiched between Ukraine and Romania is often cited as being Europe’s poorest country and in spite of its tiny size, it actually has a breakaway republic known as Transnistria of which the small city of Tiraspol is the capital. Transnistria’s independence is not recognized by any other country in the world and is instead considered internationally to be part of Moldova. However, in reality, Moldova has no influence over the region which has its own currency, police force, army, education system and pretty much everything else.
Tiraspol boasts a very Soviet style with plenty of propaganda to be found around the city. The Russian alphabet is also used, even when writing Romanian, also one of the official languages of the republic. Here you will see statues of Lenin and hammer and sickle emblems in abundance. Outside the presidential building is the proverbial Lenin statue standing by a road lined with enormous posters proudly displaying the national colours and communist era emblem of Transnistria.
3. Pripyat, Ukraine
The site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster might not be one which you may think of visiting on your next holiday but no one can deny the fact that it certainly is a fascinating place. The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986, when reactor number four exploded, sending vast amounts of highly radioactive materials into the surrounding area. Although radiation levels are now, for the most part, within safe bounds for a short visit, the soil itself will remain contaminated for centuries and the vast area that now comprises the Zone of Alienation will remain largely uninhabited forever.
Pripyat, built to house the workers of the power station and their families, was built in the seventies. It once had a population of over 50,000 and now it lies eerily empty. Aside from the fact that the concrete blocks of the city are now crumbling under the forces of nature, Pripyat is also stuck in time. Everything here is exactly how it was when it was evacuated in 1986 save for the effects of natural wear and tear. Taking a day-long guided tour from the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, you will be able to walk around the abandoned city and visit Soviet era apartments, kindergartens, schools, restaurants, shops and of course, the Palace of Culture.