Abandoned Soviet architecture photographed
by Rebecca Litchfield


Photo essay: photographer Rebecca Litchfield has toured former Soviet countries to document the once-monumental structures around the Eastern Bloc that have fallen into decay.

Litchfield took a road trip through east Germany, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Croatia and Russia to capture the crumbling architecture, built throughout the 20th century and abandoned following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

She visited hospitals, military barracks, prisons, spy stations, sports halls and more – dodging security and military personnel, and risking radiation exposure to gain access to the derelict structures and find "beauty in the decay".

The series is collated into a book titled Soviet Ghosts – The Soviet Union Abandoned: A Communist Empire in Decay.

Only the most intrepid urban explorers cross the tattered ruins of the old Iron Curtain to endure the excessive bureaucracy, military paranoia and freezing winds of the East to hunt for the ghosts of an empire. Rebecca Litchfield is one who couldn't resist the haunting allure of the ruins of the Soviet Union.

Soviet Friendship Monument, Bulgaria

Time and again she risked radiation exposure, experienced arrest and interrogation, and was accused of espionage while collecting the stunning photography contained in Soviet Ghosts. "Not many explorers travel to Russia," she explains, "where the rules are very different, locations are heavily guarded and a strong military presence exists everywhere.

There are serious consequences for getting caught. We managed to stay hidden for all of the trip, we maximised our stealthiness, ducking and diving into bushes and sneaking past sleeping security. But on day three our good fortune ran out as we visited a top secret radar installation. After walking through the forest, mosquitos attacking us from all directions, we saw the radar and made our way towards it, but just metres away suddenly we were joined by military and they weren't happy."

Soviet Ghosts by Rebecca Litchfield
Buzludzha, Bulgaria

Luckily, after some drawn out conversations between her guides and the military, followed by an unexpected trip to a military base and a long wait, Rebecca was allowed to continue on her adventure through the ruins of Soviet bloc, and witness many sights rarely seen by western eyes.

Litchfield, Estonia

"I refrain from having personal opinions about the era and try to remain relatively neutral," Rebecca goes on. "Whilst the period had bad times, the people living in the communities still got on with life and also had good times, it was not a period of pure black and white and so my aim of the book was to just capture it as it was now. Some places would have been thriving and others horrible places to be and you can see this reflected in my book and some of the accompanying text. But that is life, time moves on and things like this disappear."

"Some people may see the ruins of this time as destructive, but I see the beauty in the decay, like a memory hanging on that will soon be lost in a breeze, a museum that no one gets to see."

  • Raymond Review

    Love getting off to a bit of ruin porn. Detroit’s dirty sister.

  • Trent

    These buildings/spaces look and work best the way they are. Abandoned. Hopefully they stay that way and never come back to their destructive purpose.

    • JC

      Destructive purpose? When? Why?

    • Some of these are actually good buildings built by good and positive people. They have a great potential for repurposing. Do we have to demonise everything from the Soviet era?

      • jack martin

        No we don’t, the soviets (in my opinion) were the good guys (after Stalin and before Gorbachev).

    • jack martin

      How is a train station in any way destructive?

  • sheogorath

    Awesome pictures but the writing is so over the top. No, you don’t need to be James Bond to take pictures of these sites.

    The main reason you might get stopped are the same as anywhere else when you are doing some Urban Exploration: you are tresspassing someone else’s property.

    The tone of the writing would make more sense if she was trying to enter one of Russia’s many military closed cities still functioning…

  • Desmond Wu

    Nice shots!

  • sotsdesign

    “Only the most intrepid urban explorers cross the tattered ruins of the old Iron Curtain to endure the excessive bureaucracy, military paranoia and freezing winds of the East to hunt for the ghosts of an empire. ”

    All of these photographs were taken within the EU (and of these, only Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were in fact Soviet). Within the EU, travel to these sites is not particularly difficult (in fact the absence of private security firms makes this type of project much easier in Eastern and Central Europe). In my experience in Russia, the ability to bribe security guards means you can get into pretty much any abandoned building you like.

    There are big urban exploration communities over there (with some great photo blogs on the Russian live journal). So why are these buildings continually presented as Western photographers’ photo projects? This was the case with Frederic Chaubin’s Taschen book Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed where Soviet postmodernism was simply presented as evidence of communism’s wackiness. Instead of portraying an innovative and interesting architecture and design community, lumping all socialist states together and fetishising the decay of these constructions is quite classically and directly orientalist. Much better photographs have been taken by people who understand the communities that surrounded these installations and the nature of decay. But as capitalism won and communism lost, such projects only serve to reaffirm the neoliberal historical narrative.

  • trennschaerfe

    Well said. Interestingly, Litchfield also included a Teufelsberg listening station in Berlin in her book, which was in West-Berlin and run by the Americans.

    Good photos though.

    • thecaffeinist

      Also, both the steam engine and the building itself in the first picture are much older than the Soviet Union. That place was my first urban exploration experience. It’s filled with old trains, amazing.