Inside Russia's deep frozen ghost towns

Sun Online Desk

6th March, 2021 06:50:31 printer

Inside Russia's deep frozen ghost towns

Photographed from above, acres of snow engulf buildings as far as the eye can see.

Up close, the surreal details shine through; light fixtures adorned with intricate icicles, couches enveloped in snowdrift and sheets of ice spilling in from open doors, frozen in time.

These are the abandoned ghost towns towns that surround the coal-mining center of Vorkuta in Russia's Arctic north, swathed in snow and ice following recent brutally cold temperatures.


Moscow-based photographer Maria Passer traveled to the area to capture how the extreme weather has impacted abandoned buildings.

The town of Vorkuta was an infamous Gulag labor camp from the 1930s to 1960s, with prisoners forced to mine the region for coal.

In the later years of the Soviet Union, people moved from across the USSR to the area for mining jobs.
"To attract miners to live in hard climate conditions the salaries here were really good," Passer tells CNN Travel.

After the Soviet Union collapsed and coal mines started to close, the towns' fortunes changed again. Faced with no job opportunities, many left the isolated region.


This migration has led to an abundance of abandoned structures in the villages around Vorkuta, which Passer has been photographing for the past three weeks.

"It's really a tragedy that many people have to leave their houses and to go to live somewhere else," she says.

"But these locations, they have an abandoned beauty. I'm trying to see this, and to show this, in my pictures."

Passer is a photographer who hunts out abandoned places on her travels.

"I like to explore the world and take pictures of all the things which seemed beautiful to me," she says. "I'm deep into urbex -- urban exploration."

Passer was aware of Vorkuta and its history, but she was inspired to travel from Moscow to the area after seeing recent images taken by her photographer friend Lana Sator.

Within a week or so, Passer had arrived in Vorkuta and the two friends were exploring together.
Wandering these forgotten spaces is "really atmospheric, and really impressive," says Passer.

Some of the buildings she captured on camera were completely deserted, others semi-abandoned.
For Passer, her most striking shots were taken in the village of Severny, inside a green-hued building coated in snow.

Passer says some people still live in this apartment block, so the water is still on.

But in some of the complex's abandoned apartments, pipes broke, water poured into the rooms and icy temperatures prompted the liquid to immediately freeze into swathes of ice.

Some of the entrances were completely blocked by these cascades of frozen snow.
"I have never seen something like that anywhere," says Passer.