Inside Objekt 221: An Abandoned Soviet Stronghold in the Crimea

Give me all your batteries and half a kilo of cheese strings, I said. From the look on the woman’s face, it was the worst Russian she’d ever heard. Nevertheless, I got my cheese; and a clear plastic bag full of triple-AAA batteries – some brand I’d never heard of and didn’t dare pronounce – all wrapped up in an elastic band.

The storm was raging outside; a fierce gale that had descended from nowhere, whipping the harbour into a maelstrom and sending pedestrians scurrying for cover.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Just 30 minutes earlier we had been beneath the mountain, Mount Tavros, in the wet and winding halls of the Balaklava Naval Museum complex: aka Objekt 825. We had walked out into a dry, balmy Crimean afternoon… and though with hindsight the heavy feeling in the air might have indicated the brewing storm, when the first thunder cracked and the sky broke into a downpour it had caught us completely unawares.

I paid for the cheese and batteries, zipping my coat up all the way to my nose before stepping back out into the typhoon that howled around the shop. Our next target was to be something altogether different to the well-kept tunnels, the safety rails and polished museum exhibits back in the once-secret submarine base. We were heading now to another hollow mountain, further inland: to a colossal military installation built by the Soviet Army and long since left to ruin.

Its codename was Objekt 221, and according to the rumours I’d heard this unfinished complex featured more than 10 km of tunnels, spread across four levels that cut their way deep into the mountain. Hence my panic-buying of batteries – this wasn’t the sort of place I’d want to find myself without a torch.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Objekt 221 Crimea

I had come to Crimea for these two things – the military ‘Objekts’ 221 and 825 – but in just 36 hours I would need to be in Kiev, a good 900 km away; ready for my 32-hour tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. At such breakneck speeds, there was little room for manoeuvre on my fast-paced tour of Ukraine’s most extreme Soviet relics. This trip could not be left for another day. Storm or no storm, we were going under the mountain.

I say ‘we’; I’d picked up company back in Odessa, shortly after my expedition down into the labyrinthine Odessa Catacombs. Or perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that he had picked me up – I would have been headed straight north for Kiev, had a late night beer with the Finn not ended in a handshake, and a plan to team up in tackling the military monoliths of the Crimean Peninsula in a brutal, 36-hour whirlwind of trains, taxis, concrete and vodka.

From Balaklava, we flagged down a taxi. It was some time before we could get one to stop – we were soaked to the skin by this point, the kind of walking flotsam that most drivers would avoid introducing to their car seats at any cost. After the first 20 minutes of cold, wet failure, the notion of giving up had just begun to creep into my mind… but I squashed it, and in time a car swerved up to the curb beside us in a spray of rainwater thrown up from the tarmac.

The vehicle was a well-kept antique, ripe with the smells of grease and tobacco; the driver a broad-chested, moustachioed man who welcomed his foreign fares with a quizzical smile. I gave him a target, detailing one particular, unremarkable stretch of road that veered off from the highway somewhere between Balaklava and nearby Yalta. He thought about it a while, before suggesting a price that we all knew was a little on the high side. We agreed it though, the driver smiled again, and the three of us set off for the mountain.

Objekt 221 Crimea

As soon as we pulled off from the highway, we began passing the relics of former military enterprise. There was an old gravel crushing plant that marked our turn-off, now a rusted red skeleton rising alone and incongruous from the rolling Crimean hills. People say that the plant was built as a cover for the construction of the base itself; a backstory to explain the vast quantities of rock and stone that were being quarried out in the process of hollowing the mountain. Further along we passed what looked like military barracks – we stared straight ahead, to avoid making eye contact with the uniformed soldiers who stood outside on the road as our taxi passed.

A few twists and turns further and the driver pulled over to the side of the road. He was saying something about a monastery, and pointing to a series of blue roofs that rose up above the trees ahead of us. Presumably, it was the only viable tourist destination that he could think of in this vicinity. He seemed friendly enough, so I risked blowing our cover – leaning forward to say, “Objekt Dva-Dva-Adin.”

Our driver laughed, repeated the name of the colossal ruin, once a well kept military secret, and turned the car around.

A few minutes later we hit a roadblock. Dirt, rocks and gravel had been piled across the road, along with a heavy slab of concrete that bore a warning written in both German and English: Halt! Stop!

Objekt 221 Crimea

We got out of the car and – ignoring the warning, trying our hardest to ignore the ruthless, torrential storm – fastened our coats and began the long, wet trudge up the side of the mountain.

A Brief History of Objekt 221

Finding reliable sources concerning the construction of Objekt 221 is no easy task. At the time, all information regarding the project was subjected to the highest order of secrecy by the Soviet administration; while since the fall of the USSR, many such records have been lost for good. What remains is a patchwork of clues and suggestions, the bare bones of physical evidence fleshed out by rumour, speculation and logical assumptions. As such, I’ll do my best to provide an overview of the history – although some elements may be best served with a liberal pinch of salt.

It is generally accepted that construction began in 1977, at the site beneath Mount Mishen. Located close to Sevastopol, home of the Soviet Army’s Black Sea fleet, this complicated network of bunkers and tunnels was known as ‘Alsou-2’ or ‘Objekt 221,’ and was intended to serve as the region’s naval headquarters.

Objekt 221 Crimea

The site was selected after extensive geological surveying; Mount Mishen was found to be of flawless structure, without cracks, caves, fractures or cavities. An underground city built 180m deep within this perfect mountain was deemed the ultimate defensive position, a command centre capable of withstanding even direct nuclear assault. It would have its own small-scale nuclear reactor, too – built right at the heart of the mountain, and capable of sustaining operations independently of whatever might be happening on the surface.

mapMuch like the nuclear submarine base at Balaklava, Objekt 221 was very much a product of the Cold War. On the far shores of the Black Sea, US Nike-Hercules missiles had been positioned in Nato-allied Turkey; a nuclear-ready navy on the Crimean Peninsula equipped the USSR with a defensive countermeasure, as well as providing access to the Mediterranean for the potential of more offensive strategies.

The idea behind Objekt 221 was to provide a regional headquarters for the nuclear Black Sea Fleet… but another story suggests that it might also have served as an emergency back-up command centre for the entire Soviet military forces. The Crimea has long been a favourite holiday destination amongst Russia’s elite, and so a bomb-proof subterranean city close to the beach resorts might well have provided a convenient bolthole should nuclear war have broken out while dictators sunned themselves on golden Crimean sands. If Moscow were ever to go the same way as Hiroshima or Nagasaki, here was the ultimate, reinforced spectator gallery from which to wait out the mutually assured destruction of the world’s superpowers.

Well, it’s certainly a good story.

Rumours aside though, the scale of the operation speaks for itself. Objekt 221 was built right inside the mountain, with a 180m cap of solid rock protecting these tunnels from any kind of aerial assault. The complex beneath Mount Mishen is reckoned to be the second largest underground structure in all of Ukraine, ranking just behind the metro system in Kiev.

undergroundbunkeralsou001-7It was built across four distinct levels – the command level, residential level, hardware and communications levels – with two secure entrances, east and west, 650m apart, opening onto a road that curves around the mountainside. These vast tunnels were constructed large enough to allow military vehicles easy passage through the mountain; and they run for a distance of 500m into the rock.

The project was undertaken by a specialist battalion of subterranean construction workers – teams with experience at building the concrete wells for ballistic missile silos. Pipes and cables were installed, along with a shaft that connected the base to a radar platform at the very peak of the mountain above. The housing was prepared for a small nuclear reactor, positioned at the back of the complex. There is evidence that air ducts, ventilators, water and sewage pipes had been fitted, while empty shafts between levels had been prepared to house the bunker’s elevators.

With the end of the Cold War however – and the beginning of the end for the USSR as a whole – construction would eventually grind to a halt. Work on Objekt 221 was largely terminated in 1989, with the base somewhere between 80-90% complete. Then, in December 1991, Ukraine succeeded from the fast-dissolving Soviet Union to become an independent state. The once-secure site on Mount Mishen was left unguarded from 1992 onwards, and would soon be looted beyond recognition.

In those early post-Soviet years, there were a few creative suggestions for the repurposing of the ‘Alsou’ bunkers… most notably as a plant for bottling mineral water or wines. It’s ironic to note that former Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev had once advised a similar fate for Objekt 825; on touring the submarine base at Balaklava, he reportedly found the facility to be too primitive, too small for purpose, and remarked, “this should be handed over to the wine makers!”

Creative ideas aside, nothing would be done with the tunnels under Mount Mishen. Over the following decade machinery, pipes, cables and tiles were torn out, while some of the more adventurous opportunists even used explosives to gain access to previously sealed areas of the complex.

In the space of just a few short years, Objekt 221 would be subjected to a century’s worth of decay.

Objekt 221 Crimea

The First Assault

The approach to Objekt 221 is littered with the shells of unfinished building projects.

We didn’t have time to stop and look at them on the way up. I’d take photos later, on the way back down; but for now we were bent almost double against the powerful wind, rain soaking through every piece of clothing, as we pushed on towards the rumoured concrete tunnels emerging from somewhere higher up the mountain. My boots were already waterlogged and my rainproof coat felt about as effective as tissue paper against the persistent, howling, driving and seeping moisture that assaulted us from all angles.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Objekt 221 Crimea

Finally, just as I began to wonder whether I’d made some awful mistake with the map, the road twisted around another corner, looping back on itself then curving out around a jutting shoulder of rock, past which we stepped into the shadow of the beast; a great concrete lump that reared up above us, bursting out from the mountainside onto a gravelled plateau. It was the western portal of Objekt 221.

Usually on approaching an alien object such as this, there might be trepidation; a few minutes of anticipation, checking batteries, lacing up boots, before venturing blindly into the darkness. On this occasion however, we couldn’t get into those tunnels fast enough. With the storm whipping at our backs we ducked into the concrete shell that extended unnaturally from the rocky mountain slope.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Objekt 221 Crimea

A sign printed onto a concrete bulkhead advised that we would need gas masks, hard hats, boots and full protective suits; we ignored it as we moved through the gutted arches of what would once have been a guard station protecting the western entrance to the base. The first few chambers, those that stuck out from the rock face, were illuminated by holes in the roof through which rainwater poured.

We pushed beyond and into the mouth of the mountain; whereupon the tunnel disappeared ahead of us into darkness. One long, featureless concrete arch tailed off into the distance, and a mist rose up around us to reduce visibility further still.

Despite the rain it had been warm out on the mountainside – 30 degrees celsius, perhaps a little more – but here inside the mountain it was suddenly much cooler. The moisture in the air, in our breath, condensed to form a thick white mist that seemed to cling to us as we ventured deeper into the base.

Objekt 221 CrimeaThe previous week I’d spoken to a Ukrainian contact, who’d told me a little about Objekt 221. They told me to watch for the gaping holes in the floor; and how a friend of theirs, while playing paintball in these tunnels, had once fallen through a hole several floors deep and broken their spine.

The Finn and myself, we came across such gaping chasms soon enough – though in the mist and the darkness it would have been incredibly easy to miss them, or worse still, to find them quite by accident.

We explored this first level. From the entrance we followed the path – or rather, a subterranean road – deep into the mountain, before turning off into a series of vaulted rooms and chambers that would connect directly through to the eastern entrance. These spaces were largely bare and unremarkable. There was the odd scrap of graffiti on a wall, but for the most part we walked through nothing but grey concrete passages: a fascinatingly complex series of – taken alone – not particularly interesting spaces.

The moisture in the air played havoc with my camera, misting the lens and capturing a snowstorm of airborne particles with every shot – and so for now I simply walked, trying to get my head around the incredible labour that must have gone into crafting such an elaborate network of rooms inside the mountain.

It was over an hour later when we next saw daylight. Our corridor emerged into a vast, cylindrical tunnel – the main thoroughfare that led in from the eastern side of the base. We turned left, towards the north, and followed it to the exit on the mountainside.

Objekt 221 Crimea

By now the storm had shifted. It had blown over completely, to reveal the landscape that lay beneath us: the wide open, rolling green hills of the Crimea. At our feet lay the blue roofs of the monastery and, a little closer, the great white wrecks of buildings that we had passed on our way up the mountain.

The largest of these was a long structure, four storeys high and sat on a grassy level near the foot of the mountain. According to most accounts, this building had once housed the Soviet construction workers and security teams who were stationed at the uncompleted Objekt 221. In our eagerness to escape the storm, we’d raced past the building without a second look – but other visitors have reported some interesting observations on the apparent purpose of the structure.

Objekt 221 Crimea

For starters, the building is hollow. There are no rooms inside, no steps or stairwells, only small balconies that run along the inside of the closely-set windows. It is supported by a grid of criss-crossed beams, that seem far too closely set to leave any space for comfortable rooms or living quarters; in short, the building was most likely a dummy. A false target, intended to draw enemy fire away from the true location of the base.

The portals themselves would seem to confirm such a theory, at least inasmuch as they reveal the mindset of their architects; both these concrete entry points had been painted up with fake windows, to give the impression that they were no more than simple storehouses or barns built high up on the mountainside. Between these disguises, the dummy buildings in the valley below, even the gravel crushing plant that had provided a cover story for the many tons of rock dug out of the mountain – it was incredible to see the effort that had gone into keeping the existence of this colossal underground structure secret.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Speculation aside though, my clothes were soaked through and sticking to my skin. With the sun full out, I took off a few layers and draped them across the broken concrete plates that littered the space around the tunnel entrance.

I sat down on top of a blasted bulk, a little further down the slope – the remains of the Level-0 access point, the basement beneath the tunnels we’d just explored, the ‘Communications Level’ of the base. Presumably this floor had once been as tightly secured as it was filled with technical apparatus; as these bulkheads were largely demolished by explosives when looters attempted to get inside back in the 1990s. Now choked full of broken rubble, litter and tendrils of vegetation, there was simply no way of passing through.

But that was alright; we still had plenty more to see inside Objekt 221. I filled up on cheese strings and towel-dried my camera gear. The sunshine had given us a new lease of energy, and so we set off back into the tunnels. This time we were heading towards the furthest depths of the subterranean base, in search of its legendary heart: the reactor chamber.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Residential & Hardware Levels

For what seemed like a very long time, we simply followed that first big passage. It was huge, large enough for a train, and somewhat reminiscent of a metro tunnel. At several points there were junctions, side passages that started just as grand as the tunnel down which we walked; but that soon ended in abrupt dead-ends, walled corners soggy with condensation and speckled with the occasional growth of small mushrooms.

I wondered if these had been intended for extension – if the huge turn-offs from the main thoroughfare might once had led to whole new areas of the base. Or, perhaps more likely, these might have been garages; for all this talk of building the tunnels large enough for military vehicles to traverse, those same vehicles would presumably have needed parking spaces.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Objekt 221 CrimeaWe walked and walked, trudging deep into the mountain; until a little way past the turning we had recently emerged from, the passageway split in two. This time, it was for real – the main corridor continued on ahead, straight as a bolt, while a smaller passage broke off to our right. Although the darkness blotted out any final destination, we could see that the track curved upwards; a 45-degree angle presumably leading towards higher levels above. We followed it, for the sake of variety at least.

(It’s probably worth noting at this point that while I’d plotted a map to our destination, the co-ordinates for the entrance to the base, I had no idea what we would find inside. I only came across plans, schematics of the complex layout later on. So, while you might check the map above and deduce that we were heading towards the highest two levels of Objekt 221, the feeling of actually being there was rather more mystifying.)

Roughly halfway up the ramp (as I’d deduce it later, on my way back down), a small corridor turned off into what seemed to be a dead-end; but here I found a shaft, a small opening that fed through and then suddenly down into a series of chambers beyond. It was Level-2, the ‘Residential’ floor of Objekt 221.

Objekt 221 Crimea

At some stage, there must have been an easier way to access this floor. When the elevators were working, certainly, and probably there would have been staired access available from the command suite on Level-1… but by this stage, dropping down from a rusted shoot into a puddle of red liquid and soggy, broken beams was the only entrance I could find.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see here. A series of identical rooms, badly decayed and stripped of anything that might come away from the walls. With a bit of imagination though, it wasn’t hard to picture how this might have worked – tightly packed bunks, steel wash basins, lockers and standard issue mirrors.

My Finnish companion chose not to follow me through that shaft, and I didn’t spend too long down there… enough time at least to get a picture of the scale, to imagine how hundreds of men might once have sheltered from nuclear winter inside a hollow mountain.

Back out on the ramp, we made it up to the very top; to Level-3, or ‘Hardware.’

Consulting maps now, both levels 3 and 4 should have formed into double-horseshoe shapes; parallel arcs on either floor, two crescents connected at either end. I didn’t see that, though. At the time I managed to explore only one gallery on each floor, half of the space that had actually been hollowed out from the rock. Perhaps that was why I only saw basic dormitories on the residential level – maybe I missed the leaders’ suites altogether, lurking somewhere further back inside the mountain.

The top level of the base, reserved for military hardware and apparatus – presumably, a lot of it weaponry – felt rather like a hanger. The floor was thick with compacted gravel, and as I walked the length of the wide open space, beneath a corrugated metal roof, I had the strange sensation of being close to the surface; as if just beyond the curving metal sheets above I’d find the open sky of the Crimea. It wasn’t true, of course. Above me were 180 metres of solid mountain… but after climbing all this way to the highest level of Objekt 221, the illusion was peculiarly compelling.

Objekt 221 Crimea

This level of the base was largely featureless, save for a few metal-framed cubicles that rose up here and there from the gravel floor. Whatever hardware they’d once stored here, had long since been stripped out. I took a closer look at one of these structures, leaning in through the open bulkhead door with my torch. Inside was a sheer drop.

I recoiled instinctively, checking my footing, my grip on the gravel floor, before tentatively leaning in again, slower, lower to the ground, and peering over the edge.

Walls that had once been white – but now caught the torch beams in shades of sooty grey, smeared with the ruddy hue of flaking, wet and dribbling rust – feel away beneath my feet. The remains of a staircase clung to the sides; the steps had long since corroded away to nothing, but their fixtures marked the walls as dark diagonal tracks spiralling into the abyss. Three floors down, a pool of stagnant water reflected the light back up at me.

Objekt 221 Crimea

It was time to go and explore the largest level of the base – the ground floor, the command centre – but in spite of the apparent short cut in front of me, we decided to take the longer route around.

Command Level & The Reactor Chamber

Back down the slope we went, back across that same junction and into the same vaulted, booming tunnel that had led us in from the eastern side of the mountain. We followed it now deeper within the base; the ground beneath us was pockmarked with tracks, muddy grooves that made it all the more easy to imagine this conduit filled with military jeeps, APCs, ferrying staff around the base or being scrambled to engage in operations out on the mountainside and beyond. I’ve been inside plenty of underground facilities in my time, but I had never seen – barely dared imagine – anything quite on this scale before.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Objekt 221 Crimea

Reaching the back of the eastern wing, ‘Blok A’ according to the maps, the passage curved around and fed through a series of bulkhead doors; two long, parallel galleries that ran along the innermost walls of the base. This was the command centre, and walking through the foremost entrance we soon emerged into a huge, pillared hall.

The ground here was rough gravel, the ceiling shining silver in the torch light with a thousand tiny drops of condensation. Thick, concrete pillars broke up the space in between. I tried to picture the purpose of such a space – briefing hall? Officers’ mess? Stripped back to its most basic shapes and fittings, there was simply no way of knowing.

This first hall was connected to another, parallel space, by a series of interlinking corridors. Ducking through the now-familiar bulkhead doors, these led along narrow passages lined by smaller doors and chambers. Here there were once-secure offices, administrative rooms, perhaps, communication centres; at least the toilet block, tucked away along one of these back passages, was self-explanatory.

Past the second ribbed, silvery, moisture studded hall, there were passages leading into the far back reaches of the base; even without a map to check, I could sense that we had come to the deepest point inside the mountain, that we were stood at the most remote and secure corner of the subterranean network.

One of these passages fed into a chamber, not looted so badly as other parts of the base – perhaps it had only more recently been broken open. Here was more than bare concrete walls; there were wooden fittings, metal railings, the beaten remains of a filing cabinet in one corner… and, hanging from a nail attached to a skirting board, a heavy blue military-style jacket.

Following another of the base’s rearmost corridors, I stumbled across a sunken passage; or at least, that’s how it looked. The floor beneath me angled downwards, a slippery slope that disappeared beneath the oily, black water. The whole chamber felt as though it leaned into the liquid, to give the illusion of standing in a shipping container dropped into the ocean, frozen halfway through the process of sinking.

It was an uneasy sensation, and I was careful of my footing on the slippery, angled metal – fearful of finding myself dunked in that suspicious pool.

Later I’d learn that this chamber marked the start of the base’s drainage system; but how deep it ran, and where it deposited its load, I couldn’t even guess. Such information will likely remain a mystery – at least without finding a more detailed blueprint of the base, or perhaps by donning scuba gear and diving in for a closer look.

Objekt 221 Crimea

My Finnish companion was back out in the gallery somewhere, nosing about through some offices and storerooms, when I stumbled across the corridor that would lead me to the reactor chamber. The walls here, the bulkheads, were peppered with large circular holes; suggesting some kind of overlaying structure, missing parts connecting one chamber to the next, so that it felt I walked not through a series of rooms, but rather within the chambers of a long disused machine.

The passage seemed to finish abruptly, but by climbing through one of the larger portals in the wall I stepped at last into what would have been the most tightly secured and sensitive chamber of Objekt 221.

Objekt 221 Crimea

It wasn’t exactly a sense of dread that I felt, but there was certainly a strong feeling of foreboding in that space. I was on my own too, which added to the effect; exploring some areas of the base as a team, the darkness had been saturated with the echoes of our voices, it had been humanised by our movements, our footsteps and our torch beams. Those times when I had wandered off alone however, it never took long for the very real otherness of this place to reassert itself; when a single torch beam would be swallowed by the limitless dark, and the sound of dripping condensation was amplified into a watery pulse so that the base itself felt louder, more present, perhaps more real, than did my own intrusion.

There was something dramatic about the finality of the reactor chamber. The passages of the base had largely led somewhere, so that it became easy to simply keep on walking – no more than peripherally aware of the textures and decay that lined the corridors – so long as those corridors kept promising access to something new. Here though, the chamber simply stopped at a circular pit that filled the end of the room. The surrounding metal walls had once been white, but now were corroded into oblivion and bleeding a rust-orange residue. I moved closer to the pit. On the wall behind it, an innocuous graffito depicted an octopus; the flooded reactor well appeared more like a hellish altar to some Lovecraftian deep-sea deity, than it did a ruined scientific facility.

The reactor itself, meanwhile, was long gone – or perhaps more likely, had never been installed in its housing.

Objekt 221 Crimea

I drew up level with the reactor well and peered down into the flooded shaft. I didn’t know what I was looking at; how deep this well would need to be, or what other equipment might once have stood around it. The holes in the walls, perhaps, might have served for the delivery of fuel rods to the reactor chamber. I barely understand the simplified mechanics of a regular nuclear reactor though, let alone speculating the inner workings of a Soviet-built military reactor, custom designed to power an underground city inside a mountain.

Above the well, a shaft pierced through the ceiling. From here it appeared no more than a dark fissure, the housing for a pipe or some other machinery – according to the site’s plans however, this shaft would cut a direct line up straight through the mountain. Measuring 4.5m across by 180m long, two such conduits emerge through concrete plates positioned right on the peak of Mount Mishen above. Some visitors, on finding these openings above the base, have taken them for missile silos; in reality however these were the ganglia that would connect the base with its sensory organs, the large antenna to be positioned atop the mountain thus allowing those sealed inside to communicate with the outside world.

Exit from Objekt 221

By the time we made our way back out of Objekt 221 – exiting by the eastern portal to follow the track overland, around to the western portal and then down the mountainside by the same track we had ascended – we had been inside the base for something like five or six hours. There was still much we hadn’t seen: we’d skipped large parts of the hardware level; we’d missed some of the residential quarters, most notably anything resembling the lodgings reserved for the leader class; we hadn’t even set foot on Level-0, the communications floor.

Objekt 221 Crimea

What we had seen however, had been enough to give a taste of just how large this complex was – how meticulously prepared and ruthlessly secret the Soviets had been about constructing the ultimate, apocalypse-proof military lair. With its interior paint still white and fresh, floors tiled or tarmacked and polished military vehicles circuiting the roads that led in and out of the mountain (not to mention a nuclear reactor silently powering it all from within), this would have been a subterranean headquarters to rival even the most imaginative of Hollywood villains; yet this one was real, and at the time of its abandonment it had reached a reported stage of 80-90% completion.

As we trekked down the mountain road, a rhythmic throbbing sound passed overhead; and looking up, shading our eyes against the bright sun, we saw a helicopter pass over us. No more than a black dot in the sky, it suddenly split in two… and then a third, a fourth silhouette appeared from the aircraft. We were watching a military drop, a series of paratroopers launching one after another from the back of the helicopter. For just a moment, I wondered if they were coming for us; but here in the Crimea, in the run-up to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, the local military probably had other matters on their mind.

Objekt 221 Crimea

Besides, Objekt 221 is a wreck. It’s a shell now of whatever it once was, whatever it could have been, and likely no government on Earth would have the time, the money nor inclination to pay it much attention. The base was purpose built for the Cold War, and it died with it.

For the historian though, the explorer-archivist, Objekt 221 is a treasure trove; an immeasurably rich insight into the once-secret machinations, the plans and intense paranoia of an empire moving into its final death throes.

An hour of walking later, as we waited to flag down a bus beside the Yalta-Sevastopol highway, I wondered what else was hiding beneath Mount Mishen. With another visit, with more time, ropes, climbing gear, perhaps even diving equipment, there might well be plenty more waiting to be uncovered at Objekt 221. The only major difference, is that next time around I’m going to need a Russian visa.

Objekt 825

If you haven’t seen it already, you might want to check out my other report on abandoned military objects in the Crimea: Exploring Crimea’s Secret Soviet Sub Base.