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Rebecca Litchfield

41 Eerie Photos of Abandoned Soviet Buildings

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Rebecca Litchfield

Rebecca Bathory stepped into her first abandoned building, a Victorian asylum, in 2005. Today she travels the world, taking pictures of broken and forgotten places. For her latest project, she explored the remains of the crumbled Soviet Union and satellite states. The result was the breathtaking collection found in her new book, Soviet Ghosts.

“My aim with the book was to capture the crumbling empire of the former Soviet Union, before it is gone completely. The former USSR was once a thriving place, but with the fall of Communism, buildings now lay derelict, uninhabited, broken shells of a forgotten time. The collapse of the Soviet Union left haunting memories of ordinary people who once lived and worked there.“

"Princess and the Pea" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

Bathory’s photographs certainly feel like they are inhabited by ghosts. The deteriorating landscape creates an eerie stillness you can feel through the pages.

"Ball Room"- Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Unsung"- Russia © Rebecca Bathory

Many pictures capture the feeling that everyone disappeared at once. Balls are scattered across a gym floor, lockers and shelves are fully stocked, a jacket and hat hang on a chair. Everywhere, there is evidence of a life long forgotten. These visions provide a stark reminder how abruptly things can end.

Bathory works with a small team of four people, including her husband. She also found locals to help research and locate different areas. The small groups allowed for slipping in and out of buildings quietly and undetected. “The urban explorer motto is 'Leave only footprints, take only photos,'" Bathory explained. "It’s all about respect; respect the building, its history and others who want to take photos of it."

"Waiting Games" - Urkaine© Rebecca Bathory

During one expedition, Russian soldiers apprehended Bathory and her companions. They were taken to a military base nearby where they were questioned and contained for 10 hours.

"Cyrillic" -Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"Freeze" - Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"The Mist" - Bulgaria© Rebecca Bathory

The Buzludzha ideological monument was built in celebration of the Bulgarian Socialist Movement. It took seven years to construct and was finally completed in 1981. It was abandoned after the fall of the USSR. Bathory visited the monument in March 2013. 

“This for me was the most poignant location in the whole journey of Soviet Ghosts. Not only does this photo encapsulate a part of history literally frozen in time, where a Communist empire once thrived. But this photo captures a feeling of desolation and the forgotten, like a memory on a breeze. The mist is ghostly and surreal, which is why I chose it for the cover.”

"Bath House" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Beautiful Dream" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Blue Corridor" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Chemical Reaction" © Rebecca Bathory

"Depart" - Russia© Rebecca Bathory

"DNA" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Dome" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Live and Learn" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Meeting of Ghosts" - Germany© Rebecca Bathory

"Melancholy Lapse" - Poland © Rebecca Bathory

"Misery" - Czech Republic © Rebecca Bathory

"Operate" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Out of Tune" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Peace in Pain" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Realm of Dystopia" © Rebecca Bathory

"Red Army" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Room of Ice" - Bulgaria © Rebecca Bathory

"Satellite Centre" - Russia© Rebecca Bathory

"Serenity" - Estonia © Rebecca Bathory

"Skrunda" - Latvia © Rebecca Bathory

"Stained" -Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Stairway to Heaven" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"Steam" - Hungary © Rebecca Bathory

"Take a Seat" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"Teplitz" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Dentist" - Russia © Rebecca Bathory

"The Fall" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Light at the End" - Latvia © Rebecca Bathory

"The Secret" - Germany © Rebecca Bathory

"The Workout" © Rebecca Bathory

© Rebecca Bathory

"Torpedo" - UK © Rebecca Bathory

"Dissection" - Poland © Rebecca Bathory

Rebecca Bathory is currently working on several new works. Her ongoing project, Underworld, focuses on ethereal models posing in abandoned buildings. It implements mythological and mystic themes with titles like “Semele,” and “Cronus.” She has also recently been awarded a scholarship for a PhD at Roehampton University that will take her around the world to focus on dark tourist spots and the human fascination with the dark and unpleasant. Like her Facebook page here and pre-order her book here. 

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all-time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.


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