After landing in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in Kamchatka, I had a couple of days to relax before exploring the Commander Islands and Kuril Islands off the coast of Russia.
This is the part of Russia beyond Siberia. The eastern edge of the largest country in the world. In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, or PK as they say, everything seemed stuck in time. Old concrete block buildings everywhere. Nothing new, bright or exciting. As drab as it was, I loved it, and didn’t care that many Russians call PK the ugliest city in Russia.
This was just a temporary stop. I had islands to explore, and one that I was looking forward to most was Simushir Island in the Kurils. The island was mostly uninhabited over the years, but a size-able settlement was functioning here for nearly 20 years, with a top secret submarine base operating at Broutona Bay from about 1987 to 1994.
It was abruptly abandoned one day, leaving behind relics and buildings that tantalize your imagination. Plenty of Soviet Era artwork still adorns the walls in the empty buildings too.
Once home to thousands of people, the settlement had a hospital, large apartment blocks, school, livestock pens – now all lying in ruins. Books are scattered on the floor. Gun turrets rust outdoors, having never fired a shot. A shoe repair shop has half-finished repairs lying about and trucks now sit idle in fields being recaptured by nature.
It’s a spooky place in some ways, but fascinating at the same time.
The setting is beautiful. A large volcano in the background, a sheltered bay and beach out front. Wild foxes and birds all about. You can really envision families living here and having a good life. But then it all ended.
Where did they all go? Why did they abandon the settlement? Did they move to another top secret submarine base we don’t know about, or was it just time to close up shop and send everyone back to more populous cities?
Today, very few people visit this island. Perhaps some Russian fishing boats stop by now and then. Only a handful of tourist boats ever make it out here in any given year. It feels more like an outdoor museum than anything else.
Definitely a place unlike any other that I have visited. It made me wonder though, how many of these abandoned settlements exist throughout Russia?