The Union is long-fallen (many of its once-members are marking 15 years of independence this year), but some Soviet-era relics still stand tall. Where to find them? From underwater Lenin statues to brutalist bus stops, these are the final Communist monuments of the Post-Soviet states.
1. Stalin World, Lithuania
Grutas Park – aka Stalin World – is the final resting place for the statues of Communist idols that used to adorn town squares all over Lithuania. Telegraph Travel’s Adrian Bridges visited the bizarre sculpture park near Druskininkai, on May 1 – International Workers’ Day: “Standing tall against a beautiful backdrop of birch trees, there was Uncle Joe himself.
“It was bizarre to watch as children stood and saluted at the statue of the man whose very name once struck fear into every household from Vilnius to Vladivostock. Proud fathers took snapshots, while others helped their offspring to piece together a giant Joseph Stalin jigsaw.”
The park’s founders originally planned to offer tours in the cattle trucks once used for deportation, but the idea was quietly dropped before its opening. You can still see the trucks at the park’s entrance, though.
2. The Motherland Calls, Russia
With her skirt billowing in the wind and sword raised to the sky, The Motherland Calls statue cuts a striking silhouette on the skyline of Mamayev Kurgan, Volgograd. When she was built in 1967 – to commemorate the Battle of Stalingrad – she was the world’s largest statue (she is now just the world’s largest statue of a woman). The construction is completely hollow, and has shifted substantially with ground movement in recent years.
But the majority of Russia’s statues of Soviet heroes met a rather different fate. Most were torn from their pedestals in 1991’s coup, and relocated to Muzeon (formerly known as Fallen Monument Park), on Moscow’s Krymskaya Naberezhnaya embankment. The 700-strong collection of Lenins, Brezhnevs and Stalins now stand sentry in lush gardens and flower boardwalks, surrounded by fountains and picnicking families.
3. Hotel Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan
Hotel Uzbekistan, in Taskent, is a living relic of Uzbekistan’s Soviet days. It has all the brutish charms you’d expect: ugly, imposing architecture, hundreds of identical rooms and labyrinthine corridors, and bird’s-eye views of the central square where a Lenin statue used to stand.
Today, it’s popular with raucous wedding parties and local yuppies who swig vodka in its smoky rooftop bar on weekends.
4. Bus stops in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Estonia
The Soviet penchant for outlandish architecture wasn’t limited to statues and monuments: even the republics’ bus stops were a show of force. Photographer Christopher Herwig travelled 30,000km of the former USSR to capture its best brutalist bus stops on film – they’re fascinating snippets of the Union’s former glory.
5. Mother Motherland monument, Ukraine
Armed with a 16-metre sword and a great slab of a shield, Mother Motherland clearly isn’t to be messed with. While Communist symbols and street names were outlawed from Ukraine in 2015, Second World War monuments – like this titanium statue in Kiev – were allowed to remain.
Mother Motherland, a suitably imposing 62-metres high, was built in the 1970s – and now forms part of the Museum of the History of Ukraine in World War II (catchy title). The monument’s fire pit is supposed to hold an eternal flame, but due to funding issues it now only burns on the biggest national holidays.
6. Mound of Glory, Belarus
This Second World War memorial complex, located 21km from Minsk, commemorates fallen Soviet soldiers and is still used for military parades. The actual mound of earth was created in in 1969, with scorched soil from the USSR’s ‘Hero Cities’ and battlegrounds. On its summit, four towering titanium bayonets pierce the sky.
7. Alley of Leaders, Ukraine
When Ukraine’s old Soviet statues were banished from the streets in 1991, they were rescued by keen diver Vladimir Broumenskyy – who submerged them off the coast of Cape Tarhankut in Crimea. The Alley of Leaders underwater museum now features Lenins, Stalins and Marxes from all over the former USSR – alongside statues of the Eiffel Tower and Tower of London.
The relics are now covered with seaweed and algae, and attract scuba divers from around the world.
8. Lenin statue in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
The Lenin statue in Bishkek used to point to the mountains of southern Kyrgyzstan, but now he stands in the Historical Museum, facing the American University. It’s a fall from grace, but he’s lucky – most Soviet iconography was destroyed in the 1990s.
In the centre of Ala-Too Square (formerly Lenin Square), where Lenin used to stand, you’ll now find the Manas monument – a huge statue commemorating Manas the Great, the hero of an 18th-century Kyrgyz poem.
9. Tiraspol, Moldova
The streets of Tiraspol in Moldova are peppered with Soviet-era hardware, including tanks and a MiG-19 fighter jet. Most Soviet architecture survives too – particularly imposing examples include the brutalist Parliament Building, Palace of the Soviets and Pobeda Park. There’s even a Lenin statue on the main street.
10. Lenin statue in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Compared with other Soviet-era statues, Ashgabat’s likeness of Lenin is teeny-tiny: just a couple of metres high, with a weedy arm outstretched. His plinth, however, is enormous – decorated with Central Asian-style tilework and surrounded by fountains.
He faces the former Archive of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan, your typical Communist concrete block, with modernist sculptures by Ernst Neizvestny, a Russian artist.
11. Paldiski, Estonia
Paldiski disappeared from the map for 30 years, after it became a Russian nuclear submarine base in the 1960s – all civilian inhabitants were relocated, and local goings-on were shielded carefully from foreign eyes. Today, it welcomes travellers ticking-off USSR relics, and still has lots of Soviet-style architecture, much of which has been restored.
12. Latvian Academy of Sciences, Latvia
The Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga was the first skyscraper of the USSR, with 23 storeys decorated with hammers and sickles, and originally topped with a five-pointed red star. It took a decade to build, and when it finally opened in 1961 it became a hub of scientific research, attracting great minds from all over the republic.
When Latvia regained independence in 1991, the star was removed. Today, its 17th floor is an observation deck, with panoramic views of the city.
What else to read about Ukraine
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