Explosion? What explosion?

On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station occurred due to a surge of power in their no. 4 reactor. The explosion caused radioactive dust to travel through the air, killing 38 people immediately and an estimated 100,000 later. Wind carried the radioactive dust throughout the air, stretching across the Soviet Union and parts of Europe. Despite the extreme danger of the situation, the Kremlin was silent. Soviet officials refused to elaborate on the extent of the accident- but they soon found that the accident would be hard to hide. Sweden approached the Soviet Atomic Power Inspection Board when they discovered the levels of radioactive discharge in their country- Moscow denied any accounts that the accident occurred. However, when Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway all began to report high levels of radioactivity in the air, Moscow was forced to announce the accident.

The populous demanded transparency about the accident, but the Soviet government refused to give out more than the television announcement they approved. The announcement downplayed the disaster, and ensured that “the danger had passed.” However, the West wasn’t convinced. Scientists from other countries used accounts from Sweden to piece together the gravity of the situation. The Soviet government still refused to give out details, while the media even blamed the West for spreading propaganda to “poison the international atmosphere.”

“A no less important sector of work, the Academician continued, is the decontamination and removal of the radiation debris. One must bear in mind that here we are talking only about radioactive emissions that took place at the very moment of the accident and during the first days afterward. Therefore, all talk about a possible transfer of radioactive fallout is groundless. Nevertheless, in some places in the West people are still taking a too emotional approach in assessing what happened, trying to invest the accident with their own interests.”

Ye. P. Velikhov, Vice President of the USSR Academy of Sciences 

It took a week for the Soviet Union to actually release a full account of the accident. Pravda confirmed the suspicions of experts around the world.


“Chernobyl Warns.” May 27, 1986. Accessed April 28, 2018. https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/19992670.

“Meltdown in Chernobyl.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. September 02, 2015. Accessed April 28, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/meltdown-in-chernobyl/.

Vitkovskaya, Julie. “How the Soviet Union Stayed Silent during the Chernobyl Disaster.” The Washington Post. April 25, 2016. Accessed April 28, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/04/25/how-the-soviet-union-stayed-silent-during-the-chernobyl-disaster/?utm_term=.85f4e390acd3.


Let the games begin!

On 31 July 1956, a sports festival celebrated the opening of the Central Lenin stadium, the national stadium of the Soviet Union. Gymnasts, acrobats, and other athletes came together after awaiting the 450-day construction.


Throughout the 1950s, the Soviet Union was transformed through the education and training of its people. Transportation allowed for the flow of ideas across the country, incorporating rural areas into the urban-based culture. Beginning in 1935, physical development and participation were required by state policy, while the Soviets began participation in the Olympic Games- the first time on the world stage post-Great Patriotic War. Work days were reduced, and thus, spectator sports were able to fill the people’s leisure time. The need for a national stadium was almost required for the people.

The Luzhniki Complex was built to include soccer fields, tracks, a swimming stadium, basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts. The artificial rink created (only the second artificial rink in Russia) served as the main arena for Moscow’s first-division teams. Besides watching their beloved ice-hockey, Lenin Stadium was created to hold 103,000 people to spectate on soccer games. In the fall of 1956, the Palace of Sport was build, capable of holding people in an indoor environment with 14,000 seats.

In years to come, the Luzhniki Complex hosted numerous well-attended games with outstanding attendance records. The 6th World Youth and Student Festival held 3,200 athletes and released tens of thousands doves into the sky. Lev Kassil, a Soviet writer, described the scene to include “songs of the five continents, languages of the five continents, music from all over the world, and well-wishing speeches in almost all languages of the world sounded over the Grand Sports Arena” (Moscow Mayor). 34,000 people from 131 countries marked the festival the largest festival in the history of this kind.


1980 Olympics: Pictured is the favored mascot, a bear, flying above the crowd

The record numbers of spectators to the complex allowed Moscow to hold the 1980 Summer Olympics. The event itself became significant with 61 Olympic records and 36 World records. The Soviet Union itself won 80 gold medals, 69 silver medals, and 46 bronze medals.

Watch the closing acrobatic performance of the 1980 Olympics here

The 2018 World Cup will be held at the Luzhniki Grand Sports Arena in Moscow- a peak in the stadium’s history.


“The First European Cup and the Olympic Bear: Luzhniki’s Major Events in Photos / News / Moscow City Web Site.” Moscow City Web Site. June 19, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. https://www.mos.ru/en/news/item/25137073/.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The Palace of Sport.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. May 21, 2017. Accessed April 09, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/the-palace-of-sport/.

The Worst Thing About Prison was… the Dementors

Following the death of Stalin, a set of reforms were made in “de-stalinizing” the Soviet Union. Among these key reforms was the release of prisoners from camps administered by the GULAG. Lavrentii Beria was named minister of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and State Security (MVD) in 1953 and on March 26, Beria sent the Presidium of the Central Committee a proposed decree calling for the release of about one million inmates from GULAG camps, colonies, and prisoners. The decree was made public in the central press, and within the next three months, over 1.5 million million prisoners were released (about 60% of the GULAG population.)

The release of prisoners included the following:

  • Persons sentenced up to five years
  • Persons convinced of economic and military crimes
  • Women with children under 10 years of age
  • Women who were pregnant
  • Juveniles under 18 years of age
  • Men over 55 and women over 50
  • Convicts suffering incurable diseases

Following the preceding release of the 1.5 million prisoners under Beria’s amnesty, Beria was arrested and executed; “according to Khrushchev, Beria deliberately released a large number of criminals to strengthen the MVD to make himself the new dictator” (Tikhonov, 68), and thus used this conspiracy theory to justify Beria’s execution. “Mutinies” followed Beria’s death and the purges of security apparatus, most prominently in camps located at Norilsk, Steplag, and Kolyma. In May of 1954, a special commission was created to inquire into the methods used to obtain confessions in the GULAGS. As a result, thousands of political prisoners were released. (Noted above: political prisoners were not released in the original amnesty.)

Song commemorating the lost and forgotten Soviets sent to the Siberian gulags 

Prisoners were not fully reincorporated into society after their release. Jobs were difficult to obtain, released prisoners were to report to the police every week and released prisoners were required to stay home between the hours of 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. Families from labor camps were also denied certain privileges, such as access to higher education. Although the released prisoners faced injustices, their shared experiences became incorporated into popular culture; survivors were seen as “living testaments to the injustices of the state” (Soviet History).

Check out Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s non-fiction trilogy- books based off his 11-year experience in labor camps and exile.

Excerpt from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich


Geldern, von James. “Prisoners Return.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/prisoners-return/

Tikhonov, Aleksei. The Economics of Forced Labor. Hoover Press, 2003.

Hays, Jeffrey. “GULAGS.” Facts and Details.http://factsanddetails.com/russia/History/sub9_1e/entry-4969.html


Religious Return

Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht was unstoppable. Their operational and tactical levels in war were resilient- “the finest army in the world” (Freeze, 276) at the time. The Soviet Union was going to be easy to take, right?


Joseph Stalin was able to mobilize his people in a remarkable way. The centralization under Stalin’s dictatorship unified the people across the vast state, the war being seen as a national struggle by the populous, the barbarity of the Nazis, and the returned liberties were crucial to the mobilization of the country and their success in the war. As I mentioned in my earlier post, “The ‘Opium of the People'”, the Orthodox church was greatly oppressed under the rule of the Bolsheviks; church property was confiscated, religion was ridiculed, atheist propaganda was spread, and bishops and priests were executed. With the majority of the country identifying themselves with the Orthodox Church and to intensify patriotic support for the war effort, Stalin reestablished the patriarch.


Patriarch Sergei                             Source

September 1943, Patriarchal Locum Tenens Metropolitan Sergii Stragorodskii was elected as Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Stalin also granted permission to open a certain number of churches and religious schools during a significant meeting with three leading Metropolitans in the Kremlin. The patriarch actively sought to form a good relationship between church and state and even declared Stalin as “the divinely anointed ruler” (Soviet History). The Church prayed for victory at state ceremonies, prayed for the health of Joseph Stalin, directed fundraisers for Russian tank units, and provided assistance in field hospitals. Acknowledging the Orthodox Church was an incredibly tactical move in unifying and gathering public support for both Stalin as a leader and in mobilizing the people to join the war effort.

Statement of the Council of the Most Reverend Hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church to the Soviet Government (September 8, 1943):

Deeply moved by the sympathetic attitude of our national Leader and Head of the Soviet Government, I. V. STALIN, toward the needs of the Russian Orthodox Church and toward our modest works, we, his humble servants, express to the Government our council’s sincere gratitude and joyful conviction that, encouraged by this sympathy, we will redouble our share of work in the nationwide struggle for the salvation of the motherland.

Let the Heavenly Head of the Church bless the works of the Government with the Creator’s blessing and let him crown our struggle in a just cause with the victory we long for and the liberation of suffering humanity from the dark bondage of fascism.

Signed by Sergei and 18 other metropolitans, archbishops, and bishops 


Von Geldern, James. “Orthodox Patriarch Appointed.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. June 18, 2017. Accessed March 25, 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1943-2/orthodox-patriarch-appointed/.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Power to the People

The New Economic Policy 

From 1919 up to 1921, War Communism (the Soviet state economic plan) had devastated the national economy as well as the people. Famine, lack of resources, and disease out of malnutrition shocked the Bolsheviks into comprehending how unequipped the state was in instantly adopting Communism. The people demanded change and Vladimir Lenin was going to give it to them. Lenin proposed the New Economic Policy (NEP),  in March of 1921 at the Tenth Party Congress, introducing a tax-in-kind to the populous. In contrast to War Communism, when the state had control over the distribution of food, the NEP taxed people at a lower level than the previous requisition quotas and then allowed the farmers to keep or sell the rest of the food produced on the open market. This tax was called prodnalog. This tax appealed to a large majority of the population, the peasants, and greatly incentivizing them to produce an abundance of food.


City market place 1921                                                                         Citation

The February Revolution of 1917 transpired from riots against food rationing, and therefore Lenin and the Bolshevik party realized they had to change this policy in order to appease the people and prevent another uprising. Congress recognized the drastic changes proposed by NEP but out of fear of peasants and workers rebelling and Lenin forcing to resign, they chose to adopt NEP. NEP introduced the country to capitalism while the Bolsheviks hoped that it would prepare the economy for Communism and not turn power over to the Capitalists; “Who will win, the Capitalist or the Soviet Power?” said Lenin (Inquires Journal). The plan put a lot of trust into the people as this fear by the Bolsheviks existed and the principle of personal incentive and responsibility began.


Poster displaying the success rate of the Soviet government from 1918 to 1921 in various financial areas                                                                                                                                         Citation

In addition to the tax, small-scale industries and services were denationalized, trusts were established to supply, finance, and market large-scale industry products, currency was stabilized, and other measures were granted (Soviet History). The implementation of NEP revived the distraught economy, while it also restored Lenin and his party into power.


Siegelbaum, Lewis. “The New Economic Policy.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Accessed February 25, 2018.

Trueman, C. N. “New Economic Policy.” The History Learning Site. May 25, 2015. Accessed February 25, 2018.

Glaza, Helene. “Lenin’s New Economic Policy: What it was and how it changed the Soviet Union.” Inquires Journal. 2009. Accessed February 25, 2018.

The Opium of the People

And then there were two…

“Any participation in the publication of this legislation, hostile to the Church, and in attempts to carry it out in life is incompatible with belonging to the Orthodox Church and draws upon the guilty a penance up to excommunication from the Church (following Canon 73 of the holy Apostles and Canon 13 of the 7th Ecumenical Council).”

-Orthodox Church in response to Bolshevik anti-religion law

February 1917: Bolshevik law separates church and state. Starting with the February Revolution, the contention between the Orthodox Church and the Bolsheviks escalated. The Bolsheviks who came into power after the 1917 October Revolution were atheists who considered religion to be “opium of the people,” working against the interests of the Church by transferring power from the Church to the state. Private schools run or owned by the Church were turned over to the Ministry of Education, church lands were confiscated, marriage switched from a religious to civil ordinance, and the Law on Freedom of Conscience was established, “the right to profess or not to profess any religion, and to conduct religious worship or atheistic propaganda” (Bucknell). The monopoly of the Orthodox Church was now dissolved and the offensive campaign against the Church had begun.


Propoganda poster: “Love Live the Socialist Revolution”                                        Source: American Orthodox Institute

The rise of the Communist party after the 1917 Revolutions led to disastrous persecutions of the Orthodox Church in years following. Bishops and priests were murdered and thus, the Church was highly repressed. Despite warnings from the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church and even the implementation of an anathema against the Bolsheviks, the conflict continued.

Interviews about the persecution: Watch here


“Conflict with the Church.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, 29 Dec. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/conflict-with-the-church/.

“1936 Constitution of the USSR, Part 1.” Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , Bucknell University, http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/77cons02.html.

Severance , Diana. “Bolsheviks Bore Down on Orthodox.” Christianity.com, http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/bolsheviks-bore-down-on-orthodox-11630717.html.

Jacobse, Johannes. “Russian Orthodox Church Urges Political and Legal Treatment of Crimes Committed by Bolsheviks.” The American Orthodox Institute , http://www.aoiusa.org/russian-orthodox-church-urges-political-and-legal-treatment-of-crimes-committed-by-bolsheviks/.

The Russian Orthodox Church. U.S. Library of Congress, countrystudies.us/russia/38.htm.

The Photographer to the Tsar

The Photographer 

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, photographer and chemist in the early 1900s, displayed the powerful Russian Empire pre-World War I and revolution with the use of colored photography, a new technique that he developed during the time. Supported by Tsar Nicholas II and with the aide of the Ministry of Transportation, Prokudin-Gorskii traveled in an equipped railroad car (that even included a darkroom), to photograph eleven regions including regions such as present day Poland and Finland. Although his subjects were diverse, such as railroads and medieval churches, his photographs of the ethnic diversity that remained intact despite Russian acquisition is a fascinating insight to the times.

Culture Remains Intact 


Prisoners in a Zindan with a Guard                                                                


1907- Prokudin-Gorskii photographed a Zindan, or prison, in Bukhara, then called Turkestan, and nowadays located in Uzbekistan. Five inmates peer out through the prison bars, accompanied by a visitor squatting outside. The Russian uniform of the prison guard greatly contrasts with the robes of the locals, displaying the traditional clothing of Bukhara. This photograph is a prime example of the predated forced “Russification” that had yet occurred in the Russian empire.

A Closer Look…


Traditional Zindan in Uzbekistan                                                           

Zindan today is referred to as Emir’s Prison- one of two prisons in Bukhara. The prison was made up of a multiple debt chambers, a solitary confinement cell, and an underground dungeon that was dug about 21 feet deep into the ground. Prisoners mainly included debtors or those who did not carry out their “citizen’s duty” in following religious instructions and authority, as religion had the highest authority in Bukhara at the time (another show of how culture was retained). The imprisonment was extreme and death for the prisoners was expected. The prison was also referred to as “Bithana”, or the “bug pit” due to the plethora of scorpions and other poisonous insects that found their way into the cells. Due to the treacherous bites, prisoners often died within two to three days of imprisonment.


“The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia Exhibition Home.” The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia | Exhibitions – Library of Congress. April 17, 2001. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/.

“The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia Ethnic Diversity.” Ethnic Diversity – The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia | Exhibitions – Library of Congress. April 17, 2001. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/empire/ethnic.html.

“Zindan (Prison), with Inmates Looking Out through the Bars and a Guard with Russian Rifle, Uniform, and Boots, Central Asia.” WDL RSS. January 01, 1970. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.wdl.org/en/item/6533/.

“Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii.” S. M. Prokudin-Gorskii – Photographer to the Tsar. Accessed May 01, 2018. http://www.gridenko.com/pg/.

“Zindan – Emir’s Prison in BukharaHistorical Monuments of Bukhara.” Zindan – Emir’s Prison in Bukhara :: Historical Monuments of Bukhara. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://orexca.com/monuments_bukhara_zindan.shtml.

“Zindan, Emir’s Prison.” VisitUzbekistan.travel. February 18, 2013. Accessed May 01, 2018. http://www.visituzbekistan.travel/sightseeing/bukhara/zindan-dungeon/.