Skrunda-1: The Hidden Ghost Town

 

Currently (June 2019), Skrunda-1 is used as a military base closed to public.       


Home is home. We know it won't go anywhere and the comfort it provides calms the rush to see new places and things around it. Instead, we dream about travelling the world.

We are not going to deny, we are the same, or at least were, until we moved to London. Now, being away from Latvia most of the time, we cannot help but miss it so when we do come back, we try to go to places we haven’t been before, find hidden treasures either in our history or nature. On one of our last trips back home, we visited one such place.


          Built in 1960’s, Skrunda-1 was a strategically important secret Soviet military town operating two radar stations, crucial for Soviet Union during Cold War. These radars were able to cover the whole of Western Europe, scanning the skies for any possible incoming danger such as nuclear missiles and bombers.

          As the radars were secret, built in the middle of the forest and relatively far from big cities, they needed to have other infrastructures nearby, for all the people working in the stations would have to live close. Therefore the decision was made to build a separate town for employees and their families. The territory includes not only apartment buildings but all the other facilities for a comfortable life such as convenience stores, school, hospital, canteen, gym, community centre and even a nightclub. People were not hard to please back in Soviet times because most of them were used to simple lives with limited resources, only few knew what fancy life was.

          The town was inhabited until the mid 90’s while the radars were still in operation. After 1998 Skrunda was abandoned, slowly creeping into decline and becoming the ghost town we can see now.

          Our trip to Skrunda happened in December 2016, on a beautiful wintery day. Apart from all the beauty, it was also very cold, about -15°C. One of us (no pointing fingers) seemed to have forgotten how cold Latvian winters can become. Not that weather would stop us but just an FYI – Vans is not appropriate footwear for Latvian winters.

We had the approximate location but nevertheless we spent quite some time looking for the mystery city. There are no big signs pointing you to the right direction so unknowingly we drove past the right turn a few times. It was only after a while that we decided to stop by a half-hidden narrow forest road and as it turned out, we had found it! Almost nothing, apart from a small A4 size sign pinned to a tree indicated that.

          We arrived early in the morning as we wanted to have time to explore the area before other possible tourists. We were actually the first visitors on site that day.


At first we didn't think much of it, it was only after getting into the site and seeing the cold stillness of the whole scene that we started to feel a little bit uncomfortable. There were all of these abandoned old buildings and not a soul except us and the person who let us in. It was a surreal feeling, being there, in a place stopped in time. Anything of value that was left behind, of course, has been taken away a long time ago, but there were still various items such as documents, notes, old boots and menu boards lying on the floor of the canteen. It felt almost as seeing the remains of the last supper that was had there.

Calendars and books scattered around in the apartment houses. Drawings, posters and wall paintings were a powerful reflection of time and individuals who lived there. We even managed to climb on the roof of one of the military buildings, which wasn't the best idea - it was covered with snow, there was no way to know whether it was safe to walk on it or not. We had a quick look from the top of these grim empty shells of buildings and headed to investigate the rest of the town.

There were times when we felt truly alarmed. We could hear weird noises from time to time and because we thought we were the only people on the site, the feeling wasn’t the most pleasant. The amount of empty bullet casings lying around didn’t make us feel a lot more comfortable either. Later we found out that the territory is now owned by Latvian military forces and they use the area as a training field. That would also explain the gunshots we heard.

          The whole experience was very peculiar, it felt like we were thrown back in time. Although the town is located in Latvia, nothing suggests that. It was because most, if not all, the employees and their families came from Russia and led their lives accordingly to their native culture. It was a great experience and a thought provoking trip. We were always fascinated by the idea of visiting a ghost town that leaves you with a tingling sense of nostalgia of a time we have never experienced.

P.S. This article first appeared in The Juice fanzine #05 , if you are into travel, music, art and cool things like that, check out Juicy Records and all of the great stuff they put out.