2 Abandoned Island with Bio Warfare Polygon

Abandoned Island with Bio Warfare Polygon

Posted on April 2, 2014 by tim

The Soviet center for testing biological weapons on a godforsaken island in the Aral Sea existed for about 45 years. The town has a school, shops, a post office, a dining room, science labs, and, of course, a polygon, where extensive testing of deadly biological agents, including anthrax, the plague, tularemia, brucellosis, and typhoid, was carried out. In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR, Soviet troops left the town and the polygon  among the sands of the dying Aral Sea.

Back in the late 1920s, the Red Army command took care to select a location for the research center for the development of biological weapons and the grounds for testing . The struggle of the proletarian world revolution was still real, and the missiles with deadly strains could reinforce that idea. It was necessary to find a large island, a considerable distance from shore (at least 5-10 kilometers). Looking for a suitable candidate, they settled on three locations : The Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, The Gorodomlya islands on Lake Seliger and Renaissance Island in the Aral Sea .

The main center for the study before World War II was located in the Tver region, Gorodomlya island, close to the capital of the USSR. In the years 1936-1941, there was a “Third Test Laboratory” , the main Soviet center for the development of biological weapons. However, the Great Patriotic War (World War II) demonstrated convincingly that such institutions should be built far from  the borders of the USSR.

Renaissance Island was perfectly suited for this task. This desolate piece of land in the Aral Sea, on the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was settled in 1848. It is a lifeless archipelago, where there was no fresh water, after the war it became a top-secret Soviet base, or polygon, which was used for testing deadly diseases.

This island is about 200 square kilometers at a glance, and satisfied all the safety requirements: almost uninhabited surroundings, flat terrain, and a hot climate that is not suitable for the survival of pathogenic organisms.

The first expedition of military biologists led by Professor Ivan Velikanov, father of the Soviet bacteriological program, landed there in the summer of 1936.  In the next year, they tested some biological agents that are based on tularemia, the plague and cholera. The works were complicated due to a period of repression, and some leaders of the Military chemical control of the Red Army were killed by the NKVD (precursor to the KGB).  Velikanov, for example, was shot in 1938. The works were also suspended for the duration of World War II, and resumed again with even greater zeal after the war had finished.

The Military settlement Kantubek, officially known as “Aralsk-7″ was built in the northern part of the island. In general, it was like the other hundred cantonments in the Soviet Union: a dozen residential houses, officers and scientific staff, a club, a canteen, a stadium, shops, barracks and a parade ground, and its own electric power station. This is how Aralsk-7 looked to the American spy satellites in the late 1960s.

Near the town, a unique airfield “Dune” was built, the only one in the Soviet Union that had four runways making it look like a compass rose. As strong winds were always blowing on the island and changed direction often, depending on the current weather, the aircraft could be landed on a particular runway.

Up to a thousand soldiers and their families lived there. It was a regular garrison life, features of which were special secret buildings and operations, and a not too comfortable climate. Children went to school, their parents worked, and in the evenings citizens watched a movie in the Officer House, while on the weekends a lot of people went for picnics on the shores of the Aral Sea, which until the mid-1980s really felt like a sea.

The best days of Kantubek (Aralsk 7). There was a regular marine trading route with the nearest town on the “big land”, Aralsk. Barges brought fresh water here, which was then stored in special huge tanks on the outskirts of the town.

The laboratory complex – 52nd Field Research Laboratory, was built a few kilometers from the town, and contained here were the experimental animals, which became the main victims of testing. Research has found the following fact. In the 1980s, especially for this lab, the Ministry of Foreign Trade of the USSR bought a batch of 500 monkeys from Africa. All of them eventually became victims of tularemia microbe strain, after which their bodies were burned and the ashes buried on the island.

The test area occupied the southern part of the island. It is here that exploding shells or spray from aircraft was used, depending on the pathogenic strains of anthrax, the plague, tularemia, Q-fever, brucellosis, glanders, other dangerous infections, as well as a large number of artificial biological agents

The nature of prevailing winds on the island explains the landfill location in southern part of the island. The aerosol cloud formed as a result of the testing of weapons of mass destruction, was blown by the wind to the opposite side of the town. Compulsory control measures were carried out and the area was decontaminated. A hot climate, with days regularly over forty degrees, was an additional factor that ensures the safety of the military biologists because most bacteria and viruses die from prolonged exposure to high temperatures. All professionals involved in the tests were mandatorily quarantined.

At the same time, with the activation of the post-war military / scientific works on the island of Renaissance, the Soviet leadership made a great mistake which became the imperceptible beginning of an ecological disaster, and which ultimately led to the enormous degradation of the Aral Sea. Two rivers, the Amudarya and the Syrdarya, feed the Aral Sea with water. The largest rivers in Central Asia deliver to the Aral Sea about 60 cubic kilometers of water per year. In 1960, the waters of these rivers had started to fill drainage canals – it was decided to transform the surrounding desert into a garden and grow cotton there, which was a national economy crop very much in demand. The result was not long in coming : the cotton crop, of course, grew up, but the the Aral Sea began rapidly to get shallower and shallower.

In the early 1970s, the amount of river water reaching the sea had been reduced by one third, and after another decade, only 15 cubic kilometers per year was arriving at the Aral Sea, and in mid-1980s, this figure dropped to as low as 1 cubic kilometers. By 2001, the sea level had dropped by 20 meters, and the amount of water had decreased to a third, and the water surface area had decreased by one half. The Aral Sea was divided into two unconnected, large lakes and many small ones. As time went on, the sea got shallower and shallower.

As the sea got shallower, the Renaissance Island land area began to grow rapidly – and in 1990 it had increased almost 10 times over. In the 2000s the island joined with the “big land” and became a peninsula.

The collapse of the USSR finally “buried” the test area on the island of Renaissance. Weapons of mass destruction did not eventuate and in November 1991 the military-biological laboratory, Aralsk-7, was closed. The population of the town was evacuated in a few weeks, but the entire infrastructure (housing and laboratory) equipment were left. Kantubek turned into a ghost town.

Marauders quickly took the place of military owners and in their own way taken over the former top-secret research center. Everything that was of any value though, and thus amenable to dismantle and transport, was removed from the island. Kantubek-Aralsk-7 is an elusive dream for the lovers of ghost towns.

The streets in the town of the Soviet military biologists, where two decades ago garrison life flowed steadily.


Children will never go to this school.

Water tank for pure water.

Ex-army shop.

Unlike the Chernobyl exclusion zone there is no risk to your health here. The biological threat is far less tenacious than radiation, although environmentalists still sound the alarm because the former landfill burial site with the remains of the dead test animals still exists.

But sometimes the landscape looks like the Ukrainian Pripyat.

The Renaissance Island with its mysterious and top-secret history of apocalyptic research could not  be uninteresting for developers of computer games – so it appeared in one of the episodes of Call of Duty: Black Ops.

The disappeared Aral Sea offers a wide scope for exploration activities. In the 1990s deposits of oil, gas, rare non-ferrous metals were found and mines opened. Their active development on the one hand, and the island becoming a peninsula on the other, make it more and more likely to be visited by more and more people.

The military and civil authorities claim that all necessary precautions against the former landfill site were taken promptly, but one can only guess what else the Renaissance island hides in its depths, and how unpleasant these surprises can be for humanity.

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2 Responses to “Abandoned Island with Bio Warfare Polygon”

  1. Dag says:

    and that explains all of the new diseases today

  2. MAXDMG says:

    It would be interesting to go there. Very apocalyptic looks) And surreal, too, not every day that you see the ships in the wilderness.

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