Incredible Photos from the Decline of the USSR Look Decades out of Place

Incredible Photos from the Decline of the USSR Look Decades out of Place

These images of a collapsing Soviet Union look like something straight out of my Great Grandmother's photo album, not something from the late 80s or early 90s. In 1991 the UUSR was dissolved and the Cold War ended. These images were taken a months before that happened.

By the late 1980s The economic and human toll from waging war in Afghanistan had depleted Soviet resources and demoralized the population. Shortages of food and other consumer items fueled the fire of the dissent of the USSR and it satellite countries. The images were captured by American photojournalist Peter Turnley, who is best known for documenting the human condition. 

Taking a breather: Hospital nurse Ludmilla Subocheva smokes on her break in the dining room

A coal miner who lives in an industrial community in Siberia enduring widespread economic hardships in June 1991

Siberians line up outside a shop in Novokuznetsk, Russia, in a sign of the economic decline that had beset the country in the final years of communist rule

Two dirty children look out the window in a coal-mining and steel-manufacturing community in Siberia enduring widespread economic hardships

Siberian women sit outside houses in the coal-mining and steel-manufacturing community of Novokuznetsk

A woman stands near the back of a queue for a market in the Russian capital

Shoppers line up at the checkout stand of a store in Moscow in 1991 as the USSR neared collapse

Women patients sit at a table with food and fold their laundry in a rundown hospital ward in Moscow in July 1991

A woman plays her accordion along Arbat Street in Moscow, a popular pedestrian thoroughfare, as several men stand nearby watching her

Eighteen-year-old prostitute Katya scours the street for work as a police car drives past in Moscow in 1991 shortly before the collapse of the USSR

Siberian men relax outside a shack in the town of Novokuznetsk, which was hit hard by widespread economic problems in the early 90s

[Via DailyMail]

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Burt Johnson's picture

We visited Russia in 1992, when my father went there to volunteer with an orphanage. These photos are definitely from that period. Things were pretty grim back then. 10 years later (in the mid-90's) they had their version of Costco and there was a wide selection of goods again. Our Russian friends (that we met in 1992) have since immigrated and are now US citizens, so I don't really know how things are there anymore.

Julia Kuzmenko McKim's picture

I was in high school during those years, very strange times... Thank you for posting this Kyle!


Ha! Ditto...very nostalgic as we have photos that look strikingly similar in our family albums. Not sure if you were there during the the time when they introduced "coupons" to ration groceries, but I remember standing in those lines for hours to get a loaf of bread as a kid. I did have a camera at the time but got my hands on only a few rolls of film ever so it sat on the shelf for years and was nothing more than a prized possession. 20-some years later I now have all the gear I could ever want and shoot as much as I want, life is good :)

David Geffin's picture

I visited in 1988 - this brings back memories in deed. Although i also remember getting hammered on wine and eating a shed ton of caviar (thanks mum and dad) whicht was insanely cheap by Western standards. I also remember the Hermitage and Dom, the department store - was like a step back in time, couldn't believe it. Haven't been back since 92 but would love to see the changes of the last 20 years, especially in Moscow.

Kyle Ford's picture

I still need to get out of the country :/ That's pretty fantastic though mate.

David Geffin's picture

It's a big country dude, lots to see here :)

Anonymous's picture

It's a time warp. Still feels like stepping back 30-40 years when you goto any of the old USSR countries.

Mikhail Glabets's picture

So I was born in Kyiv and moved to USA in 1990, these photos are awesome by the way- reminds me of my dads old slides, In my mind i always remember everything looking 40 years older than it should- I think those slavic countries looked 80's up until early 2000's honestly.

Тetyana Dyachenko's picture

I hate the USSR however the prostitute on Red Square it to overstretch even for Russia

Alex T.'s picture

Speaking to some USSR hater around me, you may always imagine a worsest picture of that country... I was not in their shoes, so can't judge them and the places they lived.
As of me - I had a fabulous childhood there with the soviet government machine (even though it was an evil... :-D ) making kids happy till a momend the "perestroika" came in.
There was everything free for kids: 3 story "Pioneer's house" full of all the crafts you can imagine at that time. You want to stydy photograpy - welcome, you want to study electronics - just make a wish, etc. 3 story brand new Music school was built right prior to 90s. Education was free. Medicine was free. Appartments to live in - free (no homeless people at all, as I remember). Nobody knew what the tax word means.
May be it was crowded there, but with a yard full of good friends where we were hanging out till a late evening and parents won't be scared to let us being there that late.
90s was a true mess though... Tough time with limited everything and all the kids benefits shutted down...

Evgeniy EZPhoto's picture

Лихие 90-ые . А про авганистан вы зря тут написали, это не причем.

Great ALF's picture

I had to register, especially in order to write. Cute prostitute Katya - does she even know that she is a prostitute? :) In general, the Soviet era was the best. No one knew then about taxes and homeless people. The apartment was available for free. Children's recreation camps were free of charge. I had a chance to visit Artek and find a lot of interesting friends. In the end, of course, it was not so rosy when the bandits infiltrated the government and staged a war. But they did shoot. In general, there was a lot of interesting things, for example, school workings in the grape fields - 10 buckets to the state farm - one for yourself :) computer games, a lot of free beaches (now everything is sold out and captured - you can not pass). Well, what can I remember :) it was fun. Everyone was kind, money wasn't a priority - a lot of things were free. Now everyone is more embittered. Without money, you're nothing. Hi, everybody :) take care of yourself.