Prising open the largely unknown world of Russia’s ‘closed cities’

Norilsk, another 'closed city'

Norilsk, another ‘closed city’

“Closed cities” remain a largely unknown world even though the Soviet state dissolved more than two decades ago. These urban conurbations in the former Soviet Union were literally closed off to the world because they housed sensitive strategic assets. Travel and residency restrictions were in place and if you had a friend who lived in a “closed city” it wasn’t possible to hop on a train headed there on impulse, in the hopes of seeing Sacha.

As a photo feature on “closed cities” run by Guardian Cities via The Calvert Journal, puts it, “Visitors to closed cities had to be invited by residents, and even then it wasn’t guaranteed they would be allowed a permit to enter.”

The feature focuses on Zarechny, which it calls “one of Russia’s last closed cities.” Photographer Ksenia Yurkova tries to give a sense of place by capturing the people and their pastimes – dancing, sunbathing, swimming, shopping. From what one can see of the city’s infrastructure, it looks dreary and socialist. Click here to see for yourself.

Russians only learnt that “closed cities” existed in 1986. And many, like Zarechny, remain. Less closed than before, but hardly an advert for the socialist dream.

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac