Not a Normal Tourist Location – Provideniya Russia

In far eastern Siberia in Russia a natural harbor located off the northern Bering Sea lies the City of Provideniya. During the Soviet Union era, this city and the area across the bay was home to a large military base, accessible only by water and air. The deep water port was established in 1938 and is only 200 air miles from Nome, Alaska. The Soviets were concerned with the possible threat posed to their northern territory by the United States and constructed a large number of block military-style buildings, a landing strip and harbor facilities all with supporting infrastructure to house almost 50,000 people. With the demise of the Soviet Union, the base was essentially abandoned, with now only a few thousand hearty people struggling to make a living in the City of Provideniya. In 2007, my wife and I were very fortunate to visit the city and surrounding area, as part of a two-week cruise of Alaska and the Bering Sea, aboard the 100-passenger cruise ship the Spirit of Oceanus.

As we cruised into bay, we saw the city in the far distance with a Russian maritime tug boat headed in our direction with a pilot on board. As we neared the city, we noted that a large painting of our ship had been located on the side of a  building, as welcome to the ONLY visiting annual cruise ship landing there at the time. We were told that the year prior to our visit in July, the bay was ice jammed making entry impossible. These visits ceased a few years after ours, as the cruise line stopped operating due to economic challenges. Thus, we were one of the last to visit this extremely remote location. Most of the remaining buildings were in disrepair and abandoned, especially in the military base portion across the bay from the city.

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There were indications in the harbor where we docked signifying the seafaring history of the area, and early one morning we were hailed by a passing Russian boat loaded with fishermen off to destinations unknown. I was interested in several “unique” sights we saw such as the Bus Stop sign along a very rugged, rocky unpaved city road, a “Fine Art Studio” sign on a multistory, freshly painted building used to house residents, with numerous electrical device antennas on the roof. Also interesting was the city cemetery on the outskirts of the residential area. We were told that Stalin had forbidden the use of any sort of religious crosses on grave sites, so what you see here was typical. Many graves had discarded household items around their perimeter. Bed frames for example.

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The people we saw and met were exceptionally friendly and we were treated to an hour-long cultural musical and dancing presentation with traditional Russian and native songs. In summary, we saw and photographed sights that only a few outsiders have experienced. We were indeed fortunate. I wonder what the city looks like today seven years after our visit.

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