Sound was, once, at the heart of the new Soviet communist society. There was no time to be quiet. The progress was energetically hammered. Sound empowered: ‘dig and dream, dream and hammer, till your city comes!’ Soviet propaganda blazoned daily. Sound came out of factories, tractors, cars. Men and women, shoulder to shoulder, worked day and night.
Between the 1930s and 50s, several industrial towns were built deep in the heart of Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains: Min Kush, Balykchy, Ak Tyuz, Mailuu Suu, Kok Jangak, Inylchek, Jergalan. Once proud, busy industrial settlements, today they are places of rowdy characters, strangers in their own landscape; silence and nostalgia; a broken communist utopia.
Making a living on the ruins of an empire, Min Kush, Kyrgyzstan. This former uranium and coal mining town tucked deep in the Tian Shan mountains is one of the saddest places I have ever visited. Life for the few ‘survivors’ is a struggle. They have no future, just past. Yet they refuse to leave. They built this place with their bare hands.
Inylchek, once an industrial town of 15,000, now a town of 15. Tucked impossibly deep in the Tian Shan mountains, at an altitude of around 2600m.
An eery, abandoned factory for pens in Kyrgyzstan. I was so fascinated by the empty, hollow space, that I didn’t even think of taking some of the pens home. And yes, there were many, still boxed, scattered around.
The number of abandoned ferris wheels in Kyrgyzstan is bewildering. They come in all shapes, sizes and colours.
Happiness, the Post-Soviet way. An abandoned Soviet roundabout, a dumped statue of Lenin, and a wedding – all at the same spot.
2 kilometres and 300 metres down the old, 1932 Jergalan mine in far eastern Kyrgyzstan, close to the border with China. Slippery, steep, wet, dusty and dark: 70 people still dig coal by hand. Abandoned Soviet equipment lays scattered inside. Nothing works anymore.
A romantic shot from the wretched town of Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan. There is everything abandoned here – rails, boats, blocks of flats, amusement parks, factories. I don’t think there is a place in Kyrgyzstan as utterly fascinating and depressing as the old Soviet town of Balykchy, on the shores of lake Issyk. If anyone wants ideas for their next summer holiday – Balykchy has $3 rooms, $3 bottles of vodka, and $3 dried fish (to go with the vodka). What else does one need? It might not have much of an industry, tourism or agriculture, but it still has six statues of Lenin standing. All meticulously kept (editor’s note: Balykchy has become a bit nicer nowadays).
25 years ago this was an electro-technical plant that employed thousands. Kyrgyzstan.
Somewhere out in the Kyrgyz countryside, a large sickle and hammer ended up in a private garden plot.
More ruin porn
You can see more pictures and find out more about Yuri Boyanin’s work at his website yuriboyanin.com. If you want to go exploring yourself, have a look at our Ruin Map: destinations for disaster tourists, urban explorers and Soviet history lovers.
About the author
Yuri Boyanin, born in 1988, is a History PhD candidate at La Trobe University, Australia. His research on early Soviet Kyrgyzstan was funded by an Australian Postgraduate Bursary and a Royal Geographical Society ‘Frederick Soddy’ Award. Prior to commencing his doctoral candidature, he graduated with a First-class BA in History from Newcastle University and a MSc from Lund University, Sweden. Yuri has travelled to 104 countries (soon 105), including all former Soviet republics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.
Yuri has an insatiable love for photography, history, architecture, art, and everything countryside: be it in Northern Europe, Central and South Asia, the Balkans or Australia.
He is writing two books on the country: about its diverse people, Tatar, Uyghur, Dungan, Ukrainian, Chechen, Buddhist, living where you least expect them to live. And one about the ‘utopia in ruins’. About life in the shadow of a crumbling empire.
The photos here are based on several journeys he conducted across Kyrgyzstan between 2013 and 2016. He has been looking for a distinct Kyrgyz experience of communism and post-communism; a search for a troubled, ruined landscape of factories and industries people once built with their bare hands.