Kadykchan is located at the eastern extremity of Russia in the Kolyma region of Siberia, an area renowned for the harshness of the climate.
This part of Siberia is known for something else too, the devastating brutality of its Gulags.
For decades, the name Kadykchan was uttered in hushed tones by anyone unlucky enough to live under Stalinist rule. Nicknamed the “land of the white death,” the town was populated by hundreds of thousands of prisoners relocated for “reeducation” in the local work camps.
Today, Kadykchan is an abandoned ghost town. Situated along the route of the “Road of Bones”, (a highway built by prisoners to connect the many mines of the Kolyma region); it is a place only the most discerning dark tourist is likely to visit.
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The History of Kadykchan
Kadykchan was originally founded during World War II after rich deposits of gold, silver, copper, uranium, cobalt, diamonds, coal where discovered in the region.
The gulag prisoners used to build the town and work the nearby mines endured appalling living conditions. The mortality rate was tragically high.
However, the mines were prosperous. After the death of Stalin in 1953 and subsequent closure of the gulags, many of the former prisoners stayed on in Kadykchan to continue working the pits.
Although now free men, the conditions were still harsh. The Far Eastern Federal District in which the city is situated is one of the most remote areas of the former Soviet Union.
The long, cold winters and almost constant permafrost meant that the growing season was reduced to a mere three months. It was not an easy place to live.
All that said, by the 1980s, Kadykchan had a population close to 10,000 people. Gradual modernization had taken place (in line with Soviet levels of progress) and there was a collective infrastructure comparable to other industrial cities in Siberia.
The collapse of Communism
The eventual collapse of the Soviet Union and the resulting disruption to the value and level of coal production spelled doom for Kadykchan and its residents.
It wasn’t long before people were fleeing the town in droves, many for larger cities miles from Kolyma.
The town faced further problems in 1996 after a pit explosion claimed six lives. This was the proverbial nail in the coffin for the mine that was already destined for closure.
Throughout the 1990s the population of Kadykchan dropped from over 10,000 people, to under 300. By the early 2000s, there were very few people left.
The turn of the century also saw the Russian government offer the remaining inhabitants meager subsidies in an effort to convince them to relocate.
As of the 2010 Census, it had no recorded population. A deathly silence had settled upon Kadykchan. It is now the largest ghost town in Siberia.
Where is Kadykchan?
The town is just off the Kolyma Highway, approximately 1,300km from Yakutsk and 700km from Magadan. The closest city is Susuman, (100km in the direction of Magadan).
Visiting Kadykchan Today
Since many of the residents left unceremoniously, packing just essential belongings and heading by train to other parts of Russia, Kadykchan is now eerily filled with the decaying relics that were left behind.
Aging posters peel from walls, furniture lays haphazardly among ruined apartments, and rusted cars dot empty streets.,
Battered by glacial winds for much of the year, and hidden within the frequent snowy fog, to say a visit to Kadykchan is a melancholic experience is an understatement. It really does feel like the edge of the known world.
A walk through the town offers such apocalyptic sights as dilapidated, Soviet apartment blocks, decaying children’s play areas, and a cultural center whose façade still displays the word Sevodnya, (an announcement for the entertainment of the day).
To remind one further of the communist links, a bust of Lenin is still visible in the central town square.
Evidence that this was once a bustling town is everywhere. Enter one of the town’s larger schools and old textbooks litter the floor, equipment lays smashed in the science labs and gym gear can still be found in a ruined sports hall.
The old city cinema can also be explored. It is not hard to imagine a crowd of moviegoers enjoying the latest cinematic release in what are now rows of torn and broken seats.
Like many ghost towns of the communist era, a walk through Kadykchan is to travel through time.
Good to know
Vistors to Kadykchan enter at their own risk. There are potential health and safety issues and the Russian government has not opened the site to tourists, i.e there is no infrastructure to support you being there.
Roads throughout Kadykchan are not passable to traffic due to debris and decay. You are advised to park close by and to cover the town on foot.