The Russian Far East is a place few people ever see…even for Russians. So it’s not surprising that it’s a bit neglected. Its history is one of exploration, doomed voyages, military positioning, and harsh conditions. It was either feast or famine in this area of the world. In the Cold War era from 1945 to 1991 the area was a hotbed of activity with the country building out a large military presence there. But then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the projects were abandoned. I heard over and over again about stories of military bases, or research bases that were built with gusto in the region, now deserted and left to crumble and rot away in the harsh conditions thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In this beautiful environment of high arctic tundra, wildlife sightings, and mountain ranges lives a dark, ugly derelict side too. As we stepped out of our zodiacs and onto the seldom seen shores of the Chukotka region I was in awe of the scenic landscapes and wildlife, but saddened by the remains of civilization dotting the landscape.
However, strangely the derelict places are the places I love to photograph the most. In that sense, the reminder of sad history and a region forgotten also excited and delighted me from a abandoned photography standpoint.
Derelict Places of the Russian Far East
This landing was full of old derelict looking hunting huts and decayed whale bones strewn along the beach. I walked around among the high grass finding old fishing boats with a few last remains of paint clinging to them.
Crumbling fishing boat
A walrus skeleton on the beach near a derelict little hunting shack
Cape Dezhnev is the most eastern point of the Eurasian continent and our landing there required us to climb up a steep incline to get to the beautiful views – and the derelict buildings. Old Military buildings dotted the landscape, and equipment and wires were strewn about like a booby traps. Crumbling buildings were falling off the eroded cliff side creating a dramatic feel. And in the middle of it all sat a pink lighthouse monument that looked good from a distance, but was crumbling when you got close. The lighthouse was dedicated to Semen Dezhnev who was the first European to sail to the Bering Strait in September 1648.
Right off the coast of Russia lies Kolyuchin Island, a former polar research station in the 1940’s. Now of course it’s crumbling in decay. I loved walked around these buildings, they had an eerie quality to them that made my mind run wild with stories of what must have happened here. It looked sort of like the place was abandoned in a hurry, with desks and papers lying about and a whole room of old film reels.
Doubtful Bay Wrangel Island
The only people who actually live on Wrangel Island live in Doubtful Bay. A handful of rangers live here in a few new–ish ranger buildings. However the new buildings are surrounded by old village buildings as there was a small community that lived here years ago. All the buildings are abandoned now and surrounded by a cemetery of rusted out iron drums. There was also an old military airstrip in the distance that used to be in operation during the Cold War. A ranger walked with me around the buildings checking them all first to make sure that no polar bears were sleeping inside!
The old air strip on Wrangel Island