Russians show patriotism on nuclear bunker tours

By Tom McGregor, CNTV Commentator attended the 2015 Moscow Forum, hosted by the Moscow City Government. Local officials discussed Moscow’s business climate. We will post a 5-part series of Special Reports, “China’s New Silk Road connects with Russia.” This is Part III.

Many tourists, particularly Europeans and Americans, prefer to visit museums where they gain valuable cultural experiences to view masterpieces of art and historical relics; enjoying them in libraries and ancient palaces.

Russians show patriotism on nuclear bunker tours

But Russians, who take pride in patriotic and martial zeal, they love touring war museums, famous historical battlegrounds and of course crawling underground in nuclear fallout bunker shelters.

“It’s our history, so we really should visit these places,” a Russian-born visitor to the “Cold War Bunker-42 on Tanganka” told And despite the late Wednesday evening in Moscow, many Russians were observed taking guided tours in a nuclear shelter bunker that was constructed in the 1950s.

Going lower, lower and lower

The Cold War Bunker, located in the heart of Moscow City at Tangansky Hill, is situated near the Kremlin, the administrative center of Russia’s central government. It was envisioned as a nuclear-proof bunker for high-level USSR (Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) officials in case of a US atomic blast against Moscow.

Yet, to take shelter, they were expected to go down 36 flights of stairs. The bunker remains open as a museum, and walked down its stairs, which took about about 20 minutes to go from top to bottom when strolling at a casual pace.

The undergrounds structure was built with an effective air filtration system to prevent visitors from feeling light-headed or inhaling stale air.

Constructing an enigma

When the late Great Britain Prime Minister Winston Churchill was asked to describe Russians, he said, “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside and enigma.” The quote accurately explains how the nuclear bunker was built.

Stalin ordered construction and did not want regular citizens to know about it, which included hired laborers. They were just told that they were expanding Moscow’s subway.

After completion of tunneling in 1954, military officials were assigned to make interior decorations, set up food storage and water, expected to last 30 days for 600 people, and to install a nuclear communications center along with suitable housing accommodations.

The USSR designated 600 top- Air Force commandants to live near the bunker and they were permitted to lead normal lives above-ground, so long as they never informed family members of their Top Secret duties.

To escape detection from the general public, they entered the bunker by walking into a military library as if it were a routine visit.

History in the making

Although a nuclear war never erupted, the bunker museum was witness to a crucial moment of history. In October 1962, the two countries appeared on the brink of war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Pentagon and the Kremlin were anticipating an imminent attack.

Russia’s top military officials went down to the bunker each day to discuss preparations. They sat at a long oblong table.

The site is now open to the public, which displays maps of Russia, as well as pin-point locations of nuclear launch sites in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) region.

The room has become most popular for Russian visitors. On average, museum receives 300-600 visitors, mainly Russians, daily.

Bunker-in-use no more

The nuclear bunker is no longer in-use for Kremlin officials. Nonetheless, the Russian tour guide, wearing a military uniform, explained that new bunkers in Moscow, approximately 40, have been built at undisclosed locations.

Perhaps, some tourists may not wish to visit a nuclear bunker for cultural edification, but for military historians, it’s an ideal place to go. For the Chinese taking a vacation to Moscow, they should look underground for fun and excitement.

And when in Russia, do as the Russians do.

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