Ukrainian Babushka’s are infamous for their hospitality. Once you get past the often frosty exterior (remember, the KGB was a very real thing in Ukraine not that long ago) they will feed you. No is not an option. When I boarded the train from Dnipro to Kharkiv, it was just me and one such Babushka sharing a second class carriage. Despite our obvious language barrier, she insisted on speaking to me (through a combination of shitty Russian, Google Translate, mime and one panicked phone call to a colleague: “She keeps saying sneg, what the hell is sneg!? [snow]) for our entire five and a half hour journey. Well, my five and a half hour journey, she was travelling for 23 hours to Moscow, to visit her son who had just had a baby (named Sophia, see I was listening). She also demanded I eat dinner with her, and produced a seemingly endless number of Tupperware containers filled with tomato, cucumber, and those mysterious cottage cheese puddings that only seem to exist in Ukraine. Bless her.
Once I arrived to my hostel in Kharkiv, I started looking some inspiration. A Google search of “Urban Exploration Kharkiv” produced a deluge of sites about an abandoned tank graveyard. Shit, son, I thought, that’s my three favourite words! After getting in touch with Bart from offbeattravelling I was able to use his Google Satelite images to work out the location. Fortunately, the 250e mashrutka stops right outside.
I started to walk around the perimeter of the complex. There’s a part at the front which is absolutely, clearly and plainly not abandoned, so naturally, I headed in the opposite direction. Quickly, holes in the fence started to appear. After peering through many of them, trying to force my camera lens into places slightly too small for it, I found a pile of cinder blocks at the south-eastern corner. I climbed up and was able to spy a person size hole not too far along the eastern wall.
Obviously, I climbed through it.
I hadn’t even managed to swing my camera around to take a photo, I’d probably only moved 15 metres from my burrow when a Ukrainian soldier with his fist clutched around the grip of his AK swooped over to me. My options seemed to be run or act like a complete fucking moron. Only one of those options comes naturally to me.
As he approached me, I smiled and waved. He barked something in Ukrainian/Russian (I was shitting myself too much to be able to tell the difference at this point). “Where can I buy a ticket for this museum?” I asked in English. I was trying my hardest to appear like a harmless pillock, and also to not get shot. I was very aware that his hand had not relaxed on his gun just yet. He looked at me like I was completely gormless (mission accomplished). In broken English, with a thick accent, he replied “This no museum. This army!”. “Oh, well can I use the toilet?”
He frog-marched me through the compound, and only seemed to relax when I assured him that I was not a journalist, I was just a tourist. Which is mostly true. I didn’t dare lift my camera, but to be honest I barely had a chance anyway, he seemed fairly keen to be rid of me.
As I sat at the bus stop waiting for my mashrutka back to central Kharkiv, I saw him walk past the gate. I smiled and waved like the cheerful tourist I was pretending to be. He shook his head and waved back somewhat reluctantly.
It was hard to tell how many tanks were there, partly because I’m bad at estimating quantities, partly because I was terrified of my impending death. Certainly less than you can see in older blog posts about the site, and less than what shows up in a Google Satelite view of the area.
There’s certainly some parts that are abandoned. If you have better luck than I did, I would definitely love to hear about it. If you want to see basically the same photos except covered in snow, check out Bart’s post.
So my abandoned tank graveyard is neither abandoned, nor much of a graveyard. It’s also sometimes reported as being Soviet, which also seems untrue. Ho hum.
Want more Ukraine?
Check out my guide to Soviet Mosaics in Kharkiv or any of my other posts about Ukraine.