Archive for July, 2012

Object 221, Crimea, Ukraine

Posted: July 26, 2012 in Ukraine

I have to admit it: before coming to Sevastopol and staying with Nick I had never heard about this place. Even if I did my homework and pinpointed locations with potential for urbex.

The same day I arrived in Sevastopol Nick brought us (me and a Russian traveler) to visit Balaclava former submarine facility and a couple of other locations including Object 221. Actually Nick didn’t know the actual way to get here, but he follow the directions some friends had provided and we succeeded reaching the place. In a given moment we almost quit. The road was blocked and we had no clue we were going in the right direction. Then we saw three persons coming in our direction and they confirmed: all the way uphill and we would find what we want.

Meanwhile, it started to rain. Great. So it was a wet stroll, all the way up, about 2-3 km. But eventually we got there. The complex is all underground, not counting with some buildings by the entrance, close to the spot where we left the car. And, of course, the bunkers concealing the entry points to the underground maze.

A bit of background:  I heard/read two versions about the purpose of this place. Nick told me it was designed to host the Soviet government in case of a sudden Summer crisis, when all top notch Party members were spending vacations in Crimea. But I read in several written sources that Object 221 was supposed to be the Black Sea Fleet headquarters in case of war or serious crisis. But then, perhaps both possibilities are truth and can be combined.

An interesting detail: in order to keep the secrecy, fake windows were painted on the flat surface of the concrete bunkers. This way, a casual observer could easily being tricked into thinking those are just common buildings.

Apparently the base was never finished, and the works came to a halt in 1989. Shortly after, all the grounds and whatever was on them was sold by a ridiculous low price.

Some coordinates now:

1) As far as you can bring a common vehicle:  44° 31.240’N  33° 42.450’E

2) Entrance to the complex:  44° 31.071’N  33° 42.091’E

Status: no troubles whatsoever. Just get to the place and explore. Not specially dangerous. Although huge, it’s not like you can get lost inside never to be seen again. Of course, it wouldn’t be comfortable to find yourself in the middle of the tunnels without light, so that’s important: whatever you do, make sure you don’t run out of batteries, and, if a headlight gets damaged, be sure you have a backup light and so on.

I came to this fort, which is part of a larger complex of fortifications – the Fortress of Przemysl – during my wide trip in Eastern Europe, which led me from Lithuania to Romania, through Poland, Ukraine and Moldova. I spent a couple of nights in the little border town of Przemysl, hosted by my friend Darek, who was already familiar with these premises and made my visit possible.

To get to the fort you will need to take a local bus (or walk, but it’s around 16 km each way) which will not be an easy task for a foreigner. Fortunately I could count with the help of Darek who promptly found the right bus for us.

It was a wonderful Spring day, and the Polish countryside was at its best. All blue and green around. So, we left the bus and walked to the fort, which was about a 1,5 km far from the bus stop. I was surprised by the complexity of the fort and by how much of it you can actually freely explore. There are three levels, plus the roof. Lots of rooms, tunnels, storage spaces. The greenery around is amazing. It’s like a jungle struggling to recover what was taken away from it more than a century ago.  Talking of it, here is bit of history, taken from Wikipedia:

Przemyśl fortress (Polish: Twierdza Przemyśl) was a series of fortifications constructed at Przemyśl by the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the mid 19th century until the First World War. It was constructed in sections, depending on the diplomatic relations between Austria and the Russian Empire, and saw extensive combat during World War I.[1] Originally captured by the Russian Army, it was recaptured by the German Army in mid 1915. Afterwards the ruined fortifications lost their military significance.

The initial construction plans for 41 entrenchments were drawn up at the beginning of the 19th century; however, good relations between Austria and the Russian Empire meant that construction did not go ahead until 1854 with the outbreak of the Crimean War.[1] 19 of the 41 entrenchments were completed, with nine more under construction when relations again improved in 1855 and construction was halted. Until 1878, no work was undertaken on the fortress.[1]

In 1878, the barracks, magazines and inter-connecting roads were completed, as well as nine earth forts in light of the Bosnian Crisis. Three years later, in 1881, these temporary earth works were converted into permanent solid fortifications, and by 1910 infantry fortifications had been added.[1] When war broke out in 1914, the fortress was further reinforced with trenches, more barracks and artillery emplacements. After the war, with much of its defences destroyed, the fortress fell into disrepair, and no longer had any military significance.[1] The area was fortified again in 1940 with modern bunkers built as part of the Soviet Molotov Line, but these new fortifications had little to do with the original Austro-Hungarian fortress

On the outbreak of World War I, the fortress was only garrisoned by a small force of five infantry battalions, artillery and sappers.[1] Defence preparations began on August 2, 1914, the civilians were evacuated on September 4, and the Austro-Hungarian Army’s HQ followed on September 15. Two days later, on September 17, 1914 the Russian army laid siege to the fortress, sealing it off totally by September 26.[1]

The siege continued into October, with a truce being offered and subsequently refused on October 5. Bombardment intensified in the next few days, and on October 7 the Russians assaulted the fortress at 3.00am. The Russians lost 10,000 personnel, 3—4,000 of them killed, and by October 9 a relief force had pushed them back to the San river. The fortress was later abandoned by all but a small defensive force on November 4 as it was in danger of being outflanked. The remaining troops were left to tie down the Russian forces for as long as possible, and when they were surrounded for a second time they sortied continuously through late November and December.[1]

Food shortages through the spring of 1915 led to the butchering of 13,000 horses to feed the garrison, and by March 14, 1915 the outer fortification had been captured or destroyed by the Russian army.[1] At this point, in the face of low food and morale, the fortress commander, General Hermann Kusmanek von Burgneustädten decided to break out. His forces, however, were bogged down and repulsed by the Russians. Documents were burned on March 19 and the artillery was destroyed on March 22, and later that same day 119,000 troops surrendered to the Russian forces.[1]

Tsar Nicholas II visited the fortress on April 25, 1915 as the Russians adapted it for their purposes. By May 16, however, German forces had reached the fortress, and after laying siege, they captured in on June 5, 1915, led by General von Kneussl.[1] Afterwards slight repairs were made, however the mostly ruined fortifications no longer had serious military significance. They may have been used briefly during the fighting in the course of the Polish-Ukrainian War in the 1920s and very briefly during the Second World War.

If you wanna read more about the place I recommend this link: The History of the Construction of the Fortress of Przemysl.


Why did I chose Fort Salis Soglio and not any of the other forts of the Fortress? Well, because Darek told me it was the most interesting and I had no troubles agreeing with him based on the pictures I saw of the others. And actually we did visit a second fort in this day, the XV, named Borek. But it kind of boring. Walking distance, but I wouldn’t recommend you. We just strolled there because we had free time until the next bus (which we almost missed, by the way) but in normal circumstances, just forget the Borek and stick to Salis Soglio.

I found many similirarities with Vrmac Fort, also built by the Austrian-Hungarians, but far far from here, in Kotor, Montenegro. I loved the pateos, the latrines, and the roof. Ah… yes… coordinates:

N 49° 45.345 E 022° 53.745

The place is under management of the National Defensive Architecture Protection and Conservation Program, but it doesn’t matter that much. For all effects, it’s abandoned. You can enter (don’t worry with the warnings in Polish – I was told the reason for placing this warnings is to charge full rates for medical assistance if anyone has an accident in the area) and explore the place. Wide open.

Ok, this is not really URBEX, but it smells like it. And it’s so big, so important, that I really didn’t want it to miss my blog. People have been writing about this location in hundreds, if not thousands, of blogs and forums threads.

So, what is this about? Well, the whole area of Sevastopol, in Crimea, was not accessible to the normal Soviet (and then Ukrainian) citizen until 1993 (I think); in short, it was a militarized area, a huge base formed by dozens of facilities. And from the whole lot, Balaklava was the most well protected, the most secret. There, the Soviets built an underground base for submarines. It took five years to build and it became finally operational in 1961. It was designed to host up to seven class 613 or class 633 submarines.

With the collapse of Soviet Union the site was later abandoned, in 1995. For a while it became just a strange ruin, where people could enter and freely explore. A dangerous situation, with at least three deaths recorded due to accidents with explorers there.

Finally, in 2005, due to the efforts of the city of Sevastopol, a museum was open in this former military facility. Nowadays the visitor will have to pay a ticket and wait until a group is ready to start the tour, which is available in Russian and English. The cots of the ticket is approximately 7 Euros. Tours take about 90 min and include a walk of about 3 km underground. At least I was told so. So, as I said, this article is not really about Urbex! Geez! A tour! Yeah, I know. I would give everything for the privilege of visiting the place as it was, let’s say, in 2000. But well, not possible.

Good webpage with great pictures and further information about the base: http://smithjan.com/blog/2011/07/18/balaklava-submarine-base/

I guess for this one you really don’t need coordinates, but here they are anyway:  44° 30.122’N  33° 35.808’E