The Missile Base

Odessa (Ukraine), 04.11.2013

As if the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl hadn’t been enough, I went to see one more Soviet legacy today: a missile base half the way from Kiev to Odessa, at Pervomaysk, that had been ready to launch an atomic warhead until not too long ago. In the morning I packed my stuff and left Kiev in bright sunshine with 15 degrees. Driving slowly through the city center I could admire once more the surprisingly beautiful city.

DSC_0001For two hours I speeded over a relatively good motorway. Yes, a proper motorway, almost like in Europe! I had to make up time, since the vehicle with the other people from my group had taken off 45 mins earlier then me, so I drove fast. Shortly before leaving the motorway I ran into one of these randomly set up police control posts, when the speed is spontaneously reduced to 50km, on a straight stretch of motorway with no need to slow down, but with a grimly smiling officer with a speed control pistol right behind the 50 sign. They stopped me on the left (!!) lane of the highway, while I had two other vehicles on my right. I overtook the vehicles and stopped the car on the right border as soon as I could, I had almost driven over the police officer. After a while one of them in a police car arrived, parked behind me and came to me asking for my documents, that I handed over. He asked me to get into his car, I declined as I always use to do. You never know what happens to you once you are in these cars. He kept speaking Russian, and me English. Then he signalled me to follow him, since I refused to enter his car and couldn’t stay on the motorway. He speeded off, with my documents, and it had a hard time following him as he drove back to the police station where they had stopped me initially. As I got out of the car I started to shout at him, I wanted my documents back. He shouted back in Russian, and his pal showed me the picture on his speedometer where I drove 140. We went into the police station and spent some time shouting at each other. He showed me a booklet from 2013, a design of the road with the limitations, and I wanted my documents back. There was just no way of communicating. He handed my documents back as I got louder, but then opened a drawer and got a black case out. He made a strange sign, clapping his fingers against his throat. I first thought he was alluding to drugs, then he got a alcohol test equipment out of the case. Great, I hadn’t had a sip of beer or wine since Moscow: he was very disappointed to see no result on his tool! He then made me understand he wanted money (these guys all want the same in the end), and I told him to write a protocol and give me a receipt. At that point, although he made believe he didn’t understand, he let me go. Again a confirmation that the police is what it is around here. Roadside terrorists and bandits.

DSC_0004 DSC_0006I reached the missile base late and joined the group that was still in the museum building of the complex surrounded by two layers of barbed wire. The base had been destroyed after the Russians had left and rebuilt as a museum some years later, thanks to a former commander that wanted his legacy passed. Here in the middle of peaceful fields in the hills of central Ukraine, until little more then a decade stood a super secret and heavily guarded missile silo, armed with nuclear warheads. Soldiers moved only underground on what was called a “combat zone”, over them the surface was sealed off by electrified barbed wire and covered with mine fields. We were shown the different missiles of the Soviet Union, the silo for the last missile and the one for the control center that was 45m deep, power station, air condition building, and transport and positioning trucks for the rockets and the fuel. It was an absurd experience. There had been people here 24/7, for decades, in constant alert to launch nuclear warheads on targets in the US, Europe and Asia. As part of a network of bases and mobile stations on trains and trucks spanning the entire Soviet Union, these soldiers were constantly on high alert. Many of them didn’t survive more then 15-20 years after entering service since they had to handle highly dangerous missile fuel. Of the 15 people on duty form the group stationed at this base only 2 were still alive today. And then one day, after having wasted enormous amounts of money, time and resources, all this network had to be dismantled and destroyed, leaving a dangerous legacy behind in many sites where the dismantling had been done improperly. Absolute madness.

DSC_0015 DSC_0020 DSC_0027 DSC_0033 DSC_0037I left the base, driving over the hilly landscape around the base, through several villages. Roads were pretty bad, the villages very poor. After reaching the motorway again I speeded south towards Odessa. I reached the city just after sundown, driving through more neoclassic buildings, although not as well renovated as in Kiev. I tried to find a restaurant I seen online, and succeeded only after an odyssey through dark streets and an even darker park. Street lights were not too popular apparently. But I  sat at a table in a white wooden winter garden finally, and had some delicious fish dishes from the Black Sea to close this last day in Ukraine.

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Trip data

– Km driven: 572

– Hrs on the road: 8,5h

– Diesel l/100km: 10,4

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