The Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan

Deep in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan lies something extraordinary: a 230ft-wide hole with fire in it. Known to locals as “The Gates of Hell”, the crater (officially known as the Darvaza gas crater) was the result of a disputed accident:

[…] a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate.

To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. The Soviet drilling rig is believed to still be down there somewhere, on the other side of the “Gates of Hell.”

The hole has been on fire for 40 years. For more pictures and the story of a Canadian explorer who went down, check out this Guardian article.

(via Atlas Obscura)

African Americans in Soviet Russia

George Tynes, flanked by Soviet army cadets

Zakkiyah Job wrote an interesting piece on the great African American escape to Soviet Russia.

Under Stalin’s de facto policy of ethnic cleansing, it’s hard to picture the USSR as any kind of paradise for persecuted minorities, but in stark contrast to the trauma and systemic oppression that people of colour had long-faced in the many parts of the western world, Mother Russia poised itself as a beacon of equality, ahead of the historical curve.

The likes of Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Dorothy West found themselves in the USSR, much to the chagrin of the American federal government. But the history of Black people in Russia goes further back to include people such as Abram Petrovich Gannibal, a Cameroonian aristocrat who started an Afro-Russian dynasty in the 18th century.

After Ottoman forces kidnapped him as a boy from Cameroon, he was sold to a Russian diplomat and “gifted” to Peter the Great, who publicly adopted and freed him. Abram became a military engineer, a high-ranking general and a nobleman. He is also a maternal great-grandfather to the famed Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

For more on the subject, check out the following list of texts:

Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

Post-war Eastern Europe went through radical change at the hands of communism. Brutalism married up with the harshest sociopolitical conditions and defined many landscapes, particularly in countries like Yugoslavia.

Martino Stierli and Vladimir Kulić examined the nation’s architecture and how it shaped the state when they visited MoMA’s Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 exhibition in 2019.

It was really an important contribution to create some kind of a life space for citizens in Yugoslavia. The end of World War II, there was a moment of destruction and trauma but then was transformed into a great source of energy for the reconstruction of the country. Hundreds of thousands of young people contributed to the construction of new railway lines, highways, dams, factories. The war really had left deep scars that produced an enormous forward-looking utopian vision of a better world. And architecture played a fundamental role.

HOW TO SEE | Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980

Soviet modernism, brutalism, and post-modernism

soviet architecture

If you haven’t noticed already, I love modernism and brutalism. I’ve even got a Twitter account dedicated to the movements. So when I saw this short film, I had to share it.

Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-modernism. is a book that looks into the structures and buildings in Ukraine from 1955 to 1991, when the former Soviet nation declared independence. The short film is set in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, where the infrastructure is diverse and brutal as hell in all honesty.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the break up of the Soviet Union but so much of Ukraine’s architecture act as monumental reminders of a past era. The cold concrete, mottled in mildew and other environmental debris, are bittersweet in context and harsh flashbacks to others. But however people perceive them, they might not be here for much longer. Wanting to remove the Soviet stigma attached to the buildings, many are left to rot or even demolished.

Stream the short film below and grab a copy of Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-modernism. on Amazon.

Soviet Modernism. Brutalism. Post-modernism | Short Film

The Cultural Legacy of the Russian Revolution (BBC Audio Doc)

If you’re foolish enough to succumb to the whims of the media, you’d think Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to paint Downing Street a bright shade of Soviet red. He may want a revolution but not in the way Russia experienced in 1917. In this BBC World Service radio documentary, special guests depict the cultural influences of the Russian Revolution.

From Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago to the politics of Lenin and Trotsky, it all comes as part of the Hope, Tragedy, Myths exhibition at the British Library in London. What did it mean to be part of the early days of the Revolution?

And what about the subsequent decades of communism and the hostility that came with it? A range of voices from Uzbekistan, Syria, and Iceland tell their respective stories about the cultural legacy left behind.

You can listen to the documentary on the BBC Sounds website (sign-in required).