In 1922 Lenin founded the Young Pioneer Organisation – a kind of youth camp program which offered educational holidays for young children. For the most part the program was used as a way to fill young, impressionable heads with communist ideologies, and by the 1970s there were more than 40,000 Young Pioneer Camps scattered across the USSR. Over the Summer I managed to track down one of these abandoned camps, a few hours’ drive north of Moscow.
It took us hours to find the site, seeing as it isn’t marked on maps, and the coordinates I had pointed to a thick forest – miles away from any recorded road! As soon as we got to the twisted, bulbous archway that marked the entrance, a smart landrover with blacked out windows appeared, and some unfriendly chap in a suit told us (in Russian) that we had to leave immediately. He didn’t seem like the sort to mess with… and it was more than a little suspicious that he was hanging around in a forest, miles from anywhere, just waiting for us. He escorted us back to the main road, then waited for us to drive out of sight.
We were a little shaken up by this frosty encounter at first – so we stopped off at a nearby village shop, had a beer, and then headed back.
There were a number of old warehouse-style buildings further along the track, which I suspect our friend may have been guarding. We didn’t want to get caught returning, and so this had to be a quick explore…
This particular camp was abandoned in the 1980s. A series of brick buildings inside were covered in bizarre sculptures of deep sea creatures, and arranged around what I guess must have once been sports fields and playgrounds. The decorations were some of the strangest things I have ever seen – a giant octopus had its tentacles wrapped around the first building, while others featured flounders, eels, swordfish and jellyfish.
Perhaps most disturbing of all was the figure of a naked child, held in the grip of some kind of massive, deep sea nightmare. It was hard to tell whether these sculptures were intended to be fun, or rather to terrify children into obedience… either way, I imagine the latter would have been the more likely response!
As I ran around the camp eagerly snapping photos, I tried every door and window I passed – but they were all securely locked. None of us wanted to get caught on the site after our severe warning earlier… we all shared the same suspicion, that we may be dangerously close to stumbling across some kind of mafia interest. As much as I wanted to get inside, the idea of being caught trying to force an entry to one of the buildings didn’t bear thinking about! It’s possible that we were all just being paranoid, high on a mixture of adrenaline and imagination – still, it didn’t seem like a risk worth taking.
Still, it’s not like there wasn’t enough weird stuff to explore here already! We made our way around the outside of the area at first… and then, right in the centre of the camp, I found a shrine to the man himself – a bust of Lenin, set in a surround of stone flames.
So there you have it… certainly one of my weirdest explores. We managed to get away without any incident, and thankfully we didn’t see the guard again.
I have tried to keep this report short and sweet… but there’s a longer version on my blog, which goes into more detail about the history of the Young Pioneer Organisation, as well as sharing a few of the adventures we had while trying to find the site. You can check it out here: