- See also: European history
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) (Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (СССР)), or Soviet Union, emerged as the successor state to the Russian Empire in 1917, and was dissolved in 1991. Many of the former Soviet republics are now part of a looser union called the Commonwealth of Independent States. It was by far the largest state on Earth during its existence, covering more than one sixth of the planet's land area. Many traces of this former superpower can be seen today.
|Russia historical travel topics:|
Russian Empire → Soviet Union
|“||Whoever does not miss the Soviet Union has no heart. Whoever wants it back has no brain.||”|
From the end of World War II in 1945 to its collapse in 1991, the Soviet Union was a global superpower, and the main geopolitical rival to the United States. See Cold War for sites related to that competition.
The Russian revolutions of 1917 ended the rule of the czars and brought the Bolshevik (Communist) Party to power, led by Vladimir Lenin. Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany on 3 March 1918, pulling Russia out of World War I, and forcing Russia to grant independence of the Baltic States. Lenin died in 1924; his eventual successor, Joseph Stalin, enforced five-year plans for industrialization and collectivization of farms which were followed by famine, especially in Ukraine, where it's known as the Holodomor. Stalin also was responsible for reversing previously tolerant linguistic and cultural policies that Lenin had implemented in order to implement a large-scale effort of Russification throughout the Union, mostly done by state-sanctioned mass deportations of minorities deemed "anti-Russian" (like Crimean Tatars or Karelians) to Siberia and Central Asia, resulting in cultural pockets existing throughout the former Soviet Union out of their traditional homeland up to this day. Stalin also put in place the infamous gulag concentration camps to jail dissidents, prisoners of war and intellectuals, which would come to define his legacy.
World War II
World War II in Europe began with an invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany on 1 September 1939. Only a few days earlier, the Soviet Union and Germany had signed a secret non-aggression pact, and the Soviet Union invaded Poland on 17 September 1939, effectively partitioning the country with the Nazis. Many of World War II's most infamous war crimes were committed on Polish territory, with the Nazis committing the majority of them. For their part, the Soviets rounded up and executed much of the Polish leadership in the Katyń Massacre of 1940; about 22,000 Polish military and political leaders, business owners, and intelligentsia were murdered. The Soviets also murdered about 150,000 ordinary Poles and deported another 1,700,000 to Siberia between 1939 and 1941.
In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland, starting the Winter War, which should have been an easy Soviet victory but instead became a humiliating struggle, with Soviet military ineptitude put on full display. In the summer of 1940, the Soviet Union invaded and annexed several other countries in Eastern Europe- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia (Moldova). That fall, the Soviets tried to join the Axis Powers, but the Nazis didn't allow this to happen, for reasons that would become clear the next year.
In June 1941, Nazi Germany and the other European Axis powers launched Operation Barbarossa, a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union, and carried out the Holocaust, a campaign to exterminate Jews, Slavs and other perceived inferior races and enemies of the Nazi regime. The people of the Soviet Union were decimated, and Soviet losses of more than 25 million exceeded the deaths of all other European and American nations combined. The Nazis fought a war of extermination on the Eastern Front in order to make way for Lebensraum (living space) for the "Aryan race" (i.e. ethnic Germans). When forced to retreat, as they often were at first, the Soviets used a "scorched earth" policy, burning crops in the fields and destroying everything else that might be useful to the enemy. Although the Germans made quick territorial gains in the initial stages of the war, the German soldiers were not prepared for the brutality of the Russian winters, and the Soviets were able to use this to their advantage and counterattack. POWs of both sides were mistreated horribly on the Eastern Front, and sometimes the surviving Soviet POWs were regarded as "traitors", as having survived the inhumane conditions without "treason" was deemed impossible. A large number of Soviet prisoners, especially those from Ukraine, the Baltic States and Belarus, did collaborate with the Nazis for several reasons, including as a way of avoiding the high probability of death as Soviet POWs, hostility towards the Soviet Union or towards Russians, and virulent hatred of Jews. Some of the SS "volunteers" among the Soviet POWs were used to shoot Jews and serve as guards in extermination camps.
The Red Army held back the invasion at Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Moscow and Stalingrad (now Volgograd) before counterattacking. This turned the tide of the war, and the Soviets managed to "liberate" much of Central Europe and the Balkans from the Nazis. The Soviet Union did not declare war on Japan until the war in Europe was won, but then managed to reconquer the southern half of Sakhalin from Japan, also conquering the Kuril Islands in the process. Over the course of World War II, the Soviet Union was largely able to reclaim the territory that had been lost by the Russian Empire in its final years, which was Stalin's main motivation for signing the Nazi-Soviet pact.
As the war ended in 1945, the Soviet Union became a superpower, controlling most of Eastern Europe: East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Mongolia in Asia, were Soviet satellite states. North Korea and North Vietnam came under Soviet influence, and socialist revolutions following in the wake of the Soviets occurred around parts of the developing world, such as in China, Cuba, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Angola and Mozambique. These states were generally aligned with the Soviet Union in international politics. China split from the Soviet sphere of influence in 1961 and followed its own foreign policy path.
The following decades were called the Cold War, where the Soviet Union competed against the United States and its allies for influence on the rest of the world, in a nuclear arms race and in the Space Race. The Soviets launched the world's first satellite into orbit in 1957, and the first man in space in 1961. Later the United States and its Western allies got the upper hand in the race, sending a manned expedition to the Moon in 1969.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union became a superpower of spectator sports, competing to score more Olympic Games medals than the United States. Moscow hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which was boycotted by many Western countries due to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, with a retaliatory Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. As the Olympics and other tournaments excluded professional athletes, the Soviet Union circumvented the rules by employing athletes in the military or other government agencies. Chess was also popularized in the Soviet Union, producing most of the era's world champions.
|“||The key to our borders has been broken in two |
And Our Father Lenin has completely died—
He's decayed into mold and wild honey.
And the Perestroika is still going and going according to plan.
And the mud has turned into bare ice,
and everything is going according to plan.
Everything is going according to plan
—Yegor Letov, Everything is going according to plan
The Soviet Union stagnated during the 1970s, and became unstable during the 1980s. The failed war in Afghanistan, the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika reform programs, the dwindling prices of oil and other raw materials exported by the Soviet Union, and the increasing penetration of information, culture and propaganda from the West brought a wave of revolutions across the Eastern Bloc from 1989. The USSR was dissolved on December 26, 1991.
While the former satellite states in Europe broke away from the Russian sphere of influence and planted their flags firmly in the Western camp following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Mongolia remains a close ally of Russia to this day.
Although the dismantling of the Soviet Union was widely hailed as a triumph for freedom, democracy and human rights among the Western Allies, the reality is far more complex. While standards of living in the Baltic states rose rapidly to Western European standards after independence, the opposite happened in most of the other former Soviet republics, leading to many people being nostalgic for the Soviet era. The fall of the Soviet Union brought many simmering ethnic and religious conflicts to the surface, resulting in civil wars, ethnic cleansings, genocides, terrorism and disputed borders that have never been resolved — Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh are some of these examples. Similarly, some of the progress made in women's rights and gay rights have been rolled back in some of the former Soviet republics.
Many of the former Soviet countries continue to be home to large ethnic Russian minorities. These communities generally maintain close ties with Russia, resulting in tensions between them and the governments in the more Western-aligned countries.
After the Soviet Union fell, the newly-independent former Soviet republics, except the Baltic states, formed a looser union called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Georgia left the CIS after the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, while Ukraine left after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Countries and territories
The Soviet Union consisted of fifteen Soviet republics, which are now independent countries. More than two decades since the Soviet Union broke up, many conflicts in the region remain unresolved, and there are four, largely unrecognized, de facto independent states, shown in italics below. The Soviet Union also inherited the Russian concessions in China from the former Russian Empire; the concessions in Hankou and Tianjin were returned to China in 1920, while the concession in Harbin was returned to China in 1952. The Liaodong Peninsula (including the city of Dalian), which had been lost to Japan by the Russian Empire in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War, was re-occupied by the Soviet Union following the defeat of Japan in 1945, before being returned to China in 1950.
Russia was the dominant republic of the Soviet Union, and its natural successor, with half of its population, and most of its land area, and the country still has some political and cultural influence on most other ex-Soviet countries. Russia is a federation of sub-national republics and oblasts (counties/provinces), many of them with mother tongues other than Russian. However, power continues to be centralized to Moscow. The Russian language serves as a lingua franca between the different ethnic groups, and nearly everyone is able to speak at least some Russian, regardless of their mother tongue. There are secessionist movements within Russia, especially in Chechnya in the North Caucasus. Ethnic Russians tend to be very proud of the military achievements of the Soviet Union and view that era with some degree of nostalgia, and Vladimir Putin got quite some popular support as he has pledged to restore the glory days of the former Soviet Union. The melody of the national anthem of the Soviet Union continues to be used for the modern Russian national anthem, albeit with different lyrics.
- Crimea (including Sevastopol) is disputed between Russia and Ukraine, but since 2014 de facto controlled by Russia. Since Soviet times, the majority population has been ethnically Russian, and the Russian Black Sea Fleet is based here. The Russian annexation, while condemned by the West, is largely supported by the Crimeans. The peninsula was among the most popular holiday resorts, where any hard-working Soviet citizen would dream of spending time by a voucher paid for by the trade union. In the outskirts of Gurzuf, Artek, the earliest and the most prestigious Young Pioneer camp, is alive and well, although the focus is now on guiding the youth towards self-actualization rather than communist indoctrination.
- Kaliningrad Oblast is a Russian exclave between Central Europe and the Baltics. This formerly Prussian/German area (known back then as East Prussia, with Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, as its main city) became part of the Soviet Union after World War II. The Baltic Germans were deported en masse, and German culture erased in a state policy of Russification. After the Soviet Union was dissolved, Kaliningrad became isolated from the rest of Russia, bordering Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. The city is one of the most cosmopolitan in Russia, but the border situation complicates travel from neighboring countries, and from the main part of Russia.
With close cultural ties to Russia, Minsk has mostly been Moscow's closest ally. It is led today by Alexander Lukashenko, a man considered to be Europe's last dictator. Many of the aesthetics and values of the Soviet Union still remain alive here. It is the only former Soviet republic whose main intelligence agency retains the "KGB" name from the Soviet era.
Ukraine was tried hard during the Soviet era; devastated by two World Wars and the Holodomor famine during the 1930s, followed by the Holocaust during the German occupation. Perhaps the most far-reaching Soviet legacy can be observed in the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, infamous for the 1986 meltdown. Despite vast natural resources and being home to Europe's most fertile farmland, Ukraine remains one of Europe's poorest countries. Since the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014, relations with Russia have nosedived as the post-Euromaidan government has put the country firmly in the Western camp and tried to join the European Union and NATO. Following the Euromaidan Revolution, Russia occupied and then annexed Crimea, and supported armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine. In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The three Baltic states became independent in the last year of World War I. The area that today constitutes the Baltic states had been divided into governorates of the Russian Empire, and the 1917 Russian Revolution had an immense influence on the independence process of the Baltic states. The Baltic states enjoyed independence until World War II, when they were invaded three times; by the Soviet Union in 1940, by Nazi Germany in 1941, and again by the Soviet Union in 1944-45. They maintained strong national identities throughout the Soviet era, with a resistance movement against the Soviet occupation called the Forest Brothers going on for decades. They were the first Soviet republics to break away, and swiftly turned away from Moscow towards the West, staying outside the CIS.
Today they are European Union and NATO members. Relationships with Russia and with their domestic Russian-speaking minorities are tense, especially since the 2014 Ukrainian crisis. All three Baltic states consider their independence to be de jure continuous with the proclamation of independence in 1918. They are also the only former Soviet republics whose standards of living have risen to Western European standards, and are often known as the "Baltic tigers" in reference to their rapid economic growth since the turn of the 21st century. They are now classified as "advanced economies" (i.e. developed countries) by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the only former Soviet republics to achieve this status.
- Estonia. Due to its strategic location on the Gulf of Finland, parts of the country, e.g. Paldiski and East Estonia, are littered with various abandoned Soviet military and industrial installations. There is still a large concentration of Russian speakers in East Estonia near the Russian border.
- Latvia. The destination of most of the Russian immigration to the Baltics during the Soviet period, almost half of the population of some of the largest Latvian cities, including the capital, Riga, is Russian-speaking.
- Lithuania. The most religious of the trio, where the Soviets couldn't manage to destroy the Hill of Crosses despite several attempts, Catholic Lithuania was the first Soviet republic to regain its independence from the Union. Lithuania received comparatively fewer Russian immigrants than the other two Baltic states, and the town of Visaginas near the now-decomissioned Igalina Nuclear Power Plant is the only one in the country with an ethnic Russian majority. However, some of Lithuania's larger cities like Vilnius and Klaipėda are home to significant ethnic Russian minorities.
This region was taken by Imperial Russia in the 19th century, despite fierce resistance. There was considerable immigration of ethnic Russians (some of whom left after independence) and the Russian language is widespread, but the local languages, culture and Islamic religion are alive and vibrant. As a result of the history of atheist Soviet rule, Muslims in Central Asia tend to be more secular and relaxed in their religious observances than those in the Middle East, though the Islamic tradition of hospitality is still very much alive. These countries maintain close ties with Russia, some more so than others. With the exception of Tajikistan, these countries are mainly populated by Turkic peoples who speak Turkic languages.
- Kazakhstan: The largest Central Asian country in terms of land area. Home of the Soviet projects that led to much alteration of the environment such as the "virgin lands campaign" (which had the natural steppe landscapes ploughed into cereal fields, resulting in enormous dust storms), the draining of the Aral Sea, the cosmodrome in Baikonur which launched Gagarin into orbit and is still used as Russia's space launchpad, and a site the size of Wales where many of the tests of the Soviet nuclear programme were carried out, this is the most prosperous nation in post-Soviet Central Asia, thanks to its large hydrocarbon reserves.
- Kyrgyzstan has a volatile political climate in which the national government changes hands between fiercely contesting pro-Russian and pro-Western European factions every now and then.
- Tajikistan: The least developed Soviet republic is now one of the world's poorest nations. Nonetheless, visitors are greeted with characteristic Tajik warmth, and miles of some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. Unlike the other former Soviet Central Asian peoples, the Tajiks are not Turkic, and are instead an Iranian people.
- Turkmenistan: The bizarre cult of personality around president for life and "father of all Turkmens" Turkmenbashi (d. 2006) may remind you of Stalinism, the book 1984 or the portrayal of some fictitious banana republic. The current regime has eased up slightly on tourism, but human rights abuses and political repression are still widespread.
- Uzbekistan: The largest Central Asian country in terms of population, once featured in Soviet tourism posters for its "exotic" Silk Road appeal, Uzbekistan is ruled by an authoritarian government (although in a less peculiar way than neighbouring Turkmenistan) wary of western tourists with a Soviet-style bureaucracy still in place. However, as of 2019, travel restrictions are easing and more of the country is opening up to curious tourists.
Due in part to its difficult geography, the Caucasus has always been ethnically diverse and the Soviet policy of relocating big groups of people (sometimes forced, sometimes voluntarily) has exacerbated some of the ethnic conflicts some of the countries deal with to this day. The Caucasus is involved in a three-way geopolitical contest between Russia, Turkey and the United States, the former two of which are mistrusted for past events (notably the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and the Russian atrocities under Stalin) in the region.
- Armenia: The genocide of 1915 and the Armenian diaspora that resulted from it still dictate foreign policy (e.g. strained relations with Turkey) as does the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Had been a close ally of Russia until the Armenian Revolution of 2018, and Russian remains widely spoken as a second language. However, since the 2018 Armenian Revolution, it has pivoted its political and military alignment away from Russia towards the United States, with a view to eventually join the European Union and NATO.
- Azerbaijan: Relations with Armenia are tense, and closely-aligned with Turkey, though relations with Russia remain cordial. Anti-Armenian sentiment is so high that entry is banned not only for Armenian citizens, but also for anyone of Armenian ethnicity regardless of country of birth or citizenship.
- Nagorno-Karabakh: Until 2023 predominantly ethnically Armenian, only accessible via Armenia, de facto independent, and supported by Armenia but internationally considered a part of Azerbaijan. Since the Azerbaijani victory in the 2023 war, the ethnic Armenian population has fled to Armenia, and the area will be incorporated into Azerbaijan.
- Georgia: The birthplace of Stalin has been one of the more anti-Russian and pro-American/Western European countries in the region since the Rose Revolution of 2003, and has attempted to join the European Union and NATO, though it is also home to one of the largest populations of Russian political dissidents. Russia has supported the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, including by military intervention in 2008.
- Abkhazia: Although Russian tourists have started to return to this "Soviet Riviera" in numbers, many towns and resorts in this self-proclaimed republic feature empty and derelict parts due to the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of the local ethnic Georgians carried out during the early 1990s, within the wider context of the Soviet break-up.
- South Ossetia: One of the least populated and least accessible "countries" of the former Soviet Union, with strong ethnic, cultural and linguistic ties to the Russian republic of North Ossetia.
- Moldova: the majority population is culturally and linguistically similar to Romania, but it has important Russophone and Turkic minorities, and Russian is still widely spoken as a second language. It is one of the poorest countries in Europe.
- Transnistria is a nation-state with limited recognition, where much of the Soviet aesthetics still survive. The independence movement and continued de facto existence are mostly due to Russian support and the markedly different ethnic makeup from Moldova (large Russian and Ukrainian minorities).
Russian was the lingua franca of the Soviet Union. Most people born before 1980 have studied Russian in school, and many countries have a large Russian-speaking minority. However, some ex-Soviet countries have a complicated relationship with Russia, and their domestic Russian-speaking minority. While Ukrainian and Belarusian are mutually intelligible with Russian to some extent, most Soviet republics are becoming more linguistically isolated from Russia. In some cases it might be necessary to ask in the local language whether someone speaks Russian to try and avoid the tricky relationship many people have to the Russian language and the things it signifies. In areas where anti-Russia sentiment is high such as the Baltic States and Georgia, English has largely supplanted Russian as the main foreign language among the younger generation. In the more Russia-aligned countries such as the Central Asian countries, Armenia and Belarus, Russian remains a compulsory second language in schools, and the most widely-spoken foreign language.
Even in Russia itself, many ethnic groups have a mother tongue other than Russian. Historically speaking, many countries in the region also had German speaking minorities as well as people who spoke it as a second language, but after the Cold War ended almost all ethnic Germans who weren't expelled in the 1940s left the area and language policy has shifted towards English to a large degree with German now hardly taught in schools any more.
Buildings built during the Soviet era often have a distinct style, and many are still standing today. Spectacular Stalinist architecture can be seen in buildings especially in Moscow, such as Moscow State University, and can also be found the other former Eastern Bloc countries in Europe (e.g. the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, Poland). Monolithic concrete apartment blocks are common in smaller cities established or developed during the Soviet era, and were largely built after Stalin's death under the rule of Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Metro stations in larger cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg are also known for their grand architectural styles.
- Most Soviet towns and cities had a Palace of Culture, sometimes called a club in smaller towns and villages, often built in a Stalinist architectural style, for the local people to partake in leisure activities. These often had a theatre, a cinema, and various other amenities like dance halls, swimming pools and libraries. Similar buildings can also be found in the other Eastern bloc countries of Europe. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, most of these have become abandoned and derelict, but a handful remain in good working condition and open to visitors.
- 1 VDNKh. A huge trade show/amusement park in Moscow's outskirts, is a remarkable collection of Soviet architectural heritage.
There are countless statues and monuments of Lenin and Stalin around the former USSR. Monuments in Eastern bloc countries that were not actually part of the Soviet Union tend to be less positive, often memorialising victims of Stalinism, famine or simply displaying Soviet monuments in a more historical context. In the Baltic States, Ukraine and Georgia, de-communization laws have resulted in most communist monuments, including the status of Lenin and Stalin, being dismantled; the removal of the Stalin statue in the main square of his hometown Gori was particularly controversial among local residents.
- 2 Lenin's Head (Ulan Ude). World's largest Lenin head, 7.7m tall, weighing 42 tons. It was unveiled in 1970 in honor of Lenin's 100th birthday.
- 3 Memorial to the Victims of Communism (Prague).
- 4 Memento Park (Budapest).
- 5 Museum of Industrial Culture (Музей индустриальной культуры) (Moscow/Outskirts). Wide collection of 1960-1990s Soviet things: houseware, toys, badges, phone booth, phones, and so on.
- 6 USSR Museum (Музей СССР), 1st Mochishchenskoye Highway, 1/6 (Novosibirsk). Portraits of USSR leaders and photographs of film actors, cameras and radios, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners, everyday things, postcards, medals, badges and stamps.
- 7 Bunker-42, Tagansky Protected Command Point (“БУНКЕР-42”), 5th Kotelnichesky lane. (5-й Котельнический пер.), 11 (Moscow/Central-East). Decommissioned Cold War-era Soviet underground military nuclear bunker. The bunker has an actual underground connection to metro Taganskaya station, though it is unusable as a means to get into it) / Marxistkaya. - Its a once-secret military complex, bunker, and Spare Long-Range Aviation Command Post (ET-42). It has an area of 7,000 m² and is situated at a depth of 65 m below ground. Up to 3,000 people could live and work there for 90 days without assistance from the outside world, thanks to stores of food and medicine, an air recycling system and diesel generators.
- 8 Museum of soviet arcade machines (Музей советских игровых автоматов), Baumanskaya ulitsa 11 (Moscow/Outskirts). Great new space full of old Soviet fun. Go hunting, shoot torpedoes, drive cars, check your strength. Price includes 10 15-kopek coins to enjoy the games. It also features a cozy cafe.
- 9 The Lenin Museum (Lenin-museo), Hämeenpuisto 28 (Tampere, Finland). Small and quirky museum revolving around one of the founding fathers of Soviet communism in a building owned by the Workers Association of Tampere that surprisingly also links to the October Revolution in Russia. Contains a lot of texts, maps and pictures as well as some "artifacts". The museum shop is also worth visiting.
Moscow, the union's capital, is an important stop on any Soviet tour.
- Stroll through Red Square in Moscow/Central, where tanks rumbled and soldiers paraded in May Day and October Revolution Day parades broadcast around the world.
- 10 Lenin Mausoleum (Мавзоле́й Ле́нина), Kreml (Moscow/Central). Walk past the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin (who actually did not want any monuments to be built for him, and wanted to be cremated) and join the debate if it is still him. Free admission.
- Tour the beautiful Soviet-era metro stations.
- 11 Garden of Fallen Monuments (Moscow/Central-South). Admire Soviet monuments that are now preserved
- 12 Lubyanka (Moscow/Central-North). KGB prison
- 13 Moscow State University (Moscow/Outskirts). The premier university in the Soviet Union, and today still the most prestigious university in Russia. The campus is home to some of the finest examples of Stalinist architecture.
- 14 Shukhov Tower. This broadcasting tower made of steel was one of the earliest Constructivist (the official architecture style of the Soviet Union in its early, intellectually optimist, years before Stalinist Architecture took over) constructions built under the Soviet Union, starting to be built even as the Russian Civil War was still going on. It was built by the inventor of hyperboloid structures, Russian Vladimir Shukhov, as an expression of a new era, embracing an historical technology in its structure and to broadcast a new Communist utopia to become. It inspired the soviet sci-fi novel "The Garin Death Ray" by Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy.
The Soviet Union had many closed cities, which were often the sites of sensitive military facilities, such as uranium mines and enrichment facilities for its nuclear programme. Outsiders were generally forbidden from entering these cities without prior permission (which was only granted with a good reason), and likewise, residents of these cities were forbidden from leaving. Because they housed exceptionally high concentrations of the Soviet Union's brightest minds, amenities in these cities tended to be better than those in other Soviet cities of comparable sizes in order to compensate for their lack of freedom to travel out of the city. After the fall of the Soviet Union, most of the closed cities outside the Russian Federation were opened to the public, but many have since fallen into disrepair and urban blight with the discontinuation of funding for their maintenance from Moscow. Many of these former closed cities outside Russia continue to have ethnic Russian majorities.
- 1 Baikonur (Kazakhstan). One of the few former Soviet closed cities outside the Russian Federation that remain closed as it is home to Russia's main rocket launch pad to Space, though unlike during the Soviet era, tourists can join a guided tour to visit.
- 2 Mayluu-Suu (Kyrgyzstan). A former closed city that used to house the miners and engineers at the nearby uranium mines. It has become economically depressed since the fall of the Soviet Union and the consequent discontinuation of uranium mining. Today, the town is still home to numerous Stalinist buildings, mostly in a ruined state, though the Palace of Culture is still maintained in working condition.
- 3 Pripyat (Ukraine). A former closed city built to house the workers and engineers at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. It was evacuated and abandoned in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. The ruins of the former closed city can be visited today, but only as part of a guided tour of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
- 4 Karosta (Latvia). The Baltic twin of Chernobyl is a former closed Soviet military town with a semi-abandoned part comprising of commie blocks.
- 5 Sillamäe (Estonia). A former closed city that was once a centre of uranium enrichment. Following Estonian independence, it was opened up to the public, and is today known for being a treasure trove of beautiful Stalinist architecture. The population remains majority ethnic Russian, and the Russian language is still widely spoken here.
- 6 Star City (Russia). The main training base for Soviet cosmonauts, located just outside Moscow, and Russia's main cosmonaut training base since the fall of the Soviet Union. It remains a closed city to this day, but unlike during the Soviet era, it can be visited today on guided tours from Moscow.
- 7 Mykolaiv (Ukraine). Formerly a major military shipbuilding base for the Russian Empire and later, the Soviet Union, it was a closed city during Soviet times, and opened up to outsiders after Ukrainian independence. Today, the city is home to a museum and several monuments dedicated to its shipbuilding past.
- 8 Samara (Russia). Hub of the Soviet — today Russian — oil industry, this city was closed to outsiders during the Soviet era. It was designated as an alternative capital for the Soviet Union during World War II just in case Moscow fell to the Germans.
- 9 Ulyanovsk. Hometown of Vladimir Lenin, who was born here as Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in 1870. Named Simbirsk at the time of Lenin's birth, it was re-named to its current name in honour of Lenin after his death in 1924. Today, the city is home to several museums and memorials to its most famous son.
- 10 Gori. Joseph Stalin's hometown, contains a museum dedicated to him, and a few other notable sights relating to the infamous Georgian leader.
- 11 Odessa Stairs (Potemkin Stairs). Stairs in the Ukrainian city of Odessa, where the Soviet movie director Sergey Eisenstein shot a famous scene for his historical movie, Battleship Potemkin, that became emblematic of Soviet cinema and is today considered one of the best movies of all times by critics.
- Gulags: These Stalin-era forced labor camps were common across the USSR, but most closed in the 1950s onwards. Dneprovsky Mine in the far east of Russia is a well preserved gulag open to visitors as a museum.
- 15 State Gulag Museum (Moscow/Central-North).
- 12 Transnistria. This tiny unrecognized republic has an ethnic Russian plurality, and never really gave up its Soviet roots. Cold War-era propaganda posters, images of Stalin and Lenin and pro-Russian sentiment are all more common here than other post-Soviet states.
- 13 Chernobyl. A nuclear power plant that had a meltdown in 1986 due to mismanagement and a systemic lack of transparency in the Soviet Union. Today, the radioactive ruins (along those of Pripyat that are closer to the plant itself) are a time capsule of the Soviet era as they haven't changed since that day happened.
- 14 Nukus Museum of Arts (State Museum of Arts of the Republic of Karapalkstan named after I.V. Savitsky). This remote desert city in western Uzbekistan, due to its isolation, was a safe haven for artistic resistance to the Soviet's mandatory art style (Socialist Realism) by avant-garde painter Igor Savitsky. Its art museum is an interesting sight for those wishing to see how dissent was expressed during Soviet days through paintings by avant-garde artists like Savitsky among others.
- Soviet chic: Many bars, cafes and hotels either never changed, or have adopted Soviet-style decorations to appeal to communist nostalgia and tourists.
- To go by rail from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway would be an obvious proposition. The Baikal Amur Mainline — built in Soviet times as a "backup" of the Transsiberian, which lies uncomfortably close to China from the point of view of Moscow is a less obvious activity, with a lot of Soviet flair. Truly hardy adventurous travellers may consider quests like Kolyma Highway and Sakhalin Island.