What is BALAKLAVA, Ukraine?

Balaklava is a small port town to the south of Sevastopol where the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade took place. In fact, it’s played a major role in all sorts of military conflicts through the centuries. Speaking of things military: Can you spot the military base in this photo?

See the tunnel entrance at the base of the hill? Here’s a close-up:

And here’s a look inside:

You’re looking at a secret, and formerly highly classified Soviet submarine base, which was in operation until 1993. Being built inside that hill, it was designed to survive a direct nuclear impact. Until 1993, Balaklava was one of the most secret residential areas in the Soviet Union. Nearly the entire population at one time worked at the base; even family members could not visit the town without a good reason and proper ID. In 1996, the last Russian submarine left the base, which is now open to the public for guided tours. Here’s a video of the tour we had.

It’s funny, though. Once, in February, I went to Balaklava in hopes of taking such a tour. There, at a café directly across the bay I asked a waitress, “Can you tell me how we can get a tour of the secret submarine base over there?”

The waitress shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, nearly emotionless.

I pointed to the tunnel entrance. “The hidden submarine base. I heard that it’s possible to visit now,” I insisted.

“I’ve never heard of it,” the waitress said. “Why don’t you ask the Military Police over by the pier,” and then she left.

When I told my girlfriend Dasha what happened, she smiled. “She probably thought you were a spy, Mark.”

But when we held our Russian Accelerator Summer Workshop the following year, we arranged a tour of the base ahead of time, which is how we took these photos.


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