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Report - Odessa Catacombs, Ukraine - April 2014

Discussion in 'European and International Sites' started by Limerick_Student, Oct 10, 2014.

  1. Limerick_Student

    Limerick_Student 28DL Full Member
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    The below report contains photos from two separate trips into the catacombs. On day one I made a 6 hour journey into the catacombs under the villages outside Odessa. On the second day I went looking for the nuclear bunkers I heard were hidden beneath the city which were apparently built into the catacombs themselves. There aren't too many accounts of journeys into these catacombs online so I've written a pretty comprehensive account of my trip into the system. I admit that this is a pretty long write up so I won't be offended by any tl;dr replies. I've tried to condense it from my original account of the journey as much as I could but I love a good underground venture so I find it hard to stop typing sometimes!


    History

    There are no exact figures available but it’s estimated that there are 2,500km of passages running below Odessa and its neighbouring villages, which as far as I know would make the Odessa catacombs the longest system of man made tunnels in the world.

    The title of the Odessa catacombs is slightly misleading as the vast majority of the tunnels are actually limestone mines which have been spreading out further and further under the city since at least the late 18th century. Back in this era, as Odessa was rapidly expanding, building materials had to be sourced from mines far away from Odessa. It was found during this time that there was a huge limestone base beneath the city and its surrounding villages. And so the digging began and hasn't stopped since. Nowadays nearly the entirety of the huge system of mines lies completely abandoned apart from several still operational mines in the villages surrounding Odessa.

    Since the catacombs came into being in the 18th century they have had many different occupants and uses. Smugglers and pirates realised the value of the labyrinth and began to use the tunnels to transport and hide stolen goods. In 1941 during World War 2, Soviet soldiers hid in the catacombs upon the Nazi invasion of the city where they could launch surprise attacks from. During the Cold War, the Soviets utilised the catacombs by building several nuclear bunkers deep down in the system. And in more modern times gangs have used the catacombs as a hiding place to store drug caches.

    Most people would probably have heard about the catacombs from this old thread on uer.ca (Just a quick warning that the following link contains a photo of a corpse on the first page):http://www.uer.ca/forum_showthread_archive.asp?threadid=68818 There is much more detail on the catacombs and a more comprehensive set of photos there if anyone is interested in some further reading.


    Day One: Catacombs beneath the twin villages of Nerubayskoye and Usatove

    With the vast majority of the catacombs being unmapped and the sections that are mapped being quite complex (http://katakomby.odessa.ua/board/) I decided not to go it alone. In other systems you could most likely get away with navigating by yourself but due to the complexity of this system and due to the fact that there have been several incidents of explorers getting lost in the catacombs and never being found, I wasn't going to take the risk. The digger community seems to be quite underground in Odessa so unlike Lviv and Kiev where I was able to meet up with some of the city's community of diggers, I had to seek out another alternative. Luckily there are a few unofficial guides in Odessa who take people down into the off limits areas of the catacombs. I usually try not to go with this option as it takes away from the exploration aspect but when you only have a limited time to see one of the more famous tunnel systems in the world you have to make the most of the opportunity and see as much as you can. So for this reason I decided to go with this option.

    I owe a huge thanks to Darmon Richter who put me in contact with one of the guides who would agree to a longer visit into some of the deeper and less visited sections of the catacombs.

    On the morning of my arrival in Odessa I met up with Egor and Vanya, the two unofficial guides. We took a bus out to the village of Nerubayskoye where one of the larger sections of the catacombs exists. Underneath this village lies "The Excursion Route" as it is called by the other explorers of the catacombs. This is due to it being easy to access, very well traveled and easy to get around with the majority of the tunnels being large enough to easily navigate standing up. In addition to this though it contains some of the more interesting features of the catacombs which is why I didn’t want to miss this section. So, it was decided that we would spend the first 2 and a half hours exploring this main “Excursion Route†section of the catacombs along with a few trips down some side tunnels to other interesting features. So without further ado we made our way to the entry point and began our trek into the vast tunnel system.

    #1 - The wide open spaces of "The Excursion Route"
    [​IMG]

    #2
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    #3 - Some of the huge amount of graffiti on display down here. Inspecting it more closely it was interesting how the old mingled with the new. Graffiti from the 60s up until the current day could be seen scratched on the wall. There were even elaborate drawings which were possibly from even further back.
    [​IMG]

    #4 - A set of tables and chairs in one of the bases. Having seen the photos from the Paris Catacombs, the bases here weren't a patch on them but they were still pretty interesting to wander around.
    [​IMG]

    #5 Base Natalie
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    #6 - No escape from the gas masks, even down here!
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    #7 - This chamber was used to access the lower and upper levels of the mines. The mines in this section were built 3 levels deep in order to access the largest amount of limestone possible
    [​IMG]

    While continuing along the Excursion route we ended up coming across a strange shrine to a ghost, lots of unusual graffiti and several more interesting chambers. Down one passage we came across the Russian poetry which this area is most well known for. Two Russian poems using the old script which is no longer in use were scratched into the walls here. As far as I remember, the guys told me that they reference an old Tsar from over 100 years ago. It is hard to know whether these are genuine or whether they are a forgery reproduced more recently but if they are genuine they are quite incredible. One of the poems was hidden behind some blocks which had since been torn down. Also, the rock at the edge looked like it had been eroding away, taking some of the most right hand letters of the poetry with it. So, this would give some hope that they are genuine but it is impossible to know for sure.

    #8
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    #9
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    After two and a half hours we had seen all of the main features and had to decide what to do next. Vanya mentioned a rarely taken underground route to the next village, Usatove. It was supposed to be a 2 hour journey and he had done it 3 times before, 2 of those times he had to retrace his entire route as himself and his colleagues could not find an exit out into the village. Apparently the route was pretty tough going and went through some rarely visited areas of the catacombs. This sounded perfect. Egor decided to opt out of this crossing so we walked back to the nearest exit and agreed to meet up with him again in a couple of hours.

    I decided to put the camera away for the majority of this journey as it was going to take us over 2 hours to get under the next village. Stopping for long exposures and light painting would extend this quite a bit. We spent the next 10-15 minutes making our way through this area until we got to a flooded passage. Vanya explained that this passage led from the older section of catacombs which we were in to a slightly newer section. The passage was flooded with stagnant water up to between a metre and a metre and a half in places. For good measure there was a nice collection of white mold or some type of larvae floating on it. And, to make it more interesting there were also thousands of flies covering nearly every inch of the wall on either side. We had to cross the whole thing on stepping stones, it was very like something out of Indiana Jones. We carefully made our way across on the stepping stones being careful not to slip. Every so often you would have to touch the wall for balance and you would feel the flies crunching beneath your palm. The water continued on for a surprisingly long section of the passage but nonetheless we kept our balance and made it across safely to the smaller, slightly newer section of the catacombs.

    #10 - The water crossing. The black specks on the wall are the thousands of flies which we were trying not to disturb.
    [​IMG]

    Our trek from here to the chambers under Usatove was a long and difficult one but I will try and condense it as well as I can. For the next hour or so we spent our time winding through this much tighter section of catacombs navigating various rockfalls, more flooded sections and confusing junctions. There was nothing straightforward and so Vanya had to consult a map which he had drawn the last time he had been through this way. We followed this with the use of a compass I had brought along and were able to trace our way along the path he had taken previously. At one stage we came to an area which he didn’t recall and wasn’t marked clearly on his map. We had to try every combination of the different splits in the tunnel backtracking several times so that we didn't lose our way. After 15 minutes of repeatedly going into the unknown and then retracing our steps we finally found a path that looked familiar to Vanya. It's quite easy to see how someone might get lost or disorientated in here going by the amount of routes we had to take and then backtrack along before we found the right one.

    As we navigated through this section it was clear that these tunnels aren’t visited very often. There was barely any graffiti on the walls. Some of the only that we did see were at the junctions where someone had scratched in arrows and a two letter code to the village each route headed. How long ago these were put there I don’t know but they seemed pretty old. The routes these followed could have been blocked by rockfalls or had their exits sealed off so we couldn’t put all our faith in these. Along with the lack of graffiti, the other noticeable thing was the amount of rusted equipment left behind. Sometimes we would come across heavily rusted saw blades, other bits of indistinguishable machinery and old cans which were all from the times in which the mines were still operational, presumably over one hundred years ago.

    #11 - One of the many dodgy looking offshoots from our route. You can just about make out the route marking with its two letter code here to the left of the wooden beam which looks like a “Thâ€
    [​IMG]

    #12 - This was a typical area of the newer section of catacombs which we had to stoop the whole way through
    [​IMG]

    As we continued through here the ceiling started getting lower and lower. Soon enough we reached the passage which was one of the reasons why Egor had decided not to come with us. I should probably explain one thing about the catacombs before I continue… Due to the cost of plumbing for villagers in Ukraine, some of them choose to find other alternatives for their human waste. Conveniently for the people of Nerubayskoye and Usatove, there is a vast network of tunnels underneath their villages. Some enterprising people have taken advantage of this and have driven boreholes from underneath their homes down into the tunnels below. They then run a metal pipe down this borehole directly from their toilet down into the ceiling of the tunnel. What this means is that every time they flush, their waste is dropped straight down into the tunnels below where it piles up higher and higher into a lovely collection of waste with a fine smell to accompany it.

    Anyway, back to my journey… As we came up to the passage in question, the smell greeted us first, soon the number of rat droppings along the ground increased and soon the ground completely changed colour. What lay in front of us was a large pile of sewage which must have been building up for years. It went the complete width of the passage and must have continued on for 15 metres of passage lengthwise. Some of the sewers I've seen on here are much worse I'm sure but the fact this had been building up in a pile here for years and years meant it was still pretty fecking bad! Luckily for us there were stepping stones sticking out of the sludge which were the only way across. To make things even more interesting, the ceiling was pretty low here so the only option was to stoop down low when crossing the stepping stones with your face tilted right down into the dark pit of misery! We got across the stepping stones okay in the end, trying not to be distracted by the earthworms and millipedes squirming through the filth right below our faces.

    Soon after this we reached the halfway point. We had covered the more difficult to navigate sections already however which meant the second half would be quicker. The next section was a long winding tunnel which we covered pretty quickly. The end of this passage dropped us out into some chambers with low ceilings and connecting passages. We knew we were getting closer to the centre of the village as the number of pipes in the ceiling were increasing. We heard voices coming from one of these so Vanya stopped at one side of it and I stopped at the other and we listened. Vanya said that this meant we must be near the centre of the village. While we were chatting, the talking above stopped and we heard a flush. Vanya and I gave one quick look at each other and as quick as we could we scattered in opposite directions as a huge pile of water and waste came flying down the pipe and splashed onto the floor of the tunnel. I walloped my head off the ceiling in my scramble for safety but I managed to escape getting covered in shit which was a fair trade off!

    Continuing on we reached the area of the tunnels where Vanya’s map had run out. The exit he had found once before was somewhere nearby but unfortunately he was unable to locate either the exit itself or anything that even looked vaguely familiar. If we wanted to find our way out it looked like we would have to go off the map. Our only other option was to retrace our route which had taken us over two hours already. Not wanting to go back the way we came we went exploring the tunnels around us. We tried various different tunnels looking for signs of increased activity. The more graffiti and rubbish there was, the more likely a route was well traveled and would lead to an exit. We found some graffiti on the wall with the code “Tb†and a number after it. We noticed that these were counting down. We started at Tb 31 and decided to see if we could follow them all the way down to 0 in the hope that this would lead to somewhere more regularly visited than the section we were in. We went through chamber after chamber until finally we worked our way down to Tb 0. It was around this area that we noticed spray paint saying “выход†(exit) with arrows. It seemed however that the exits which these were pointing to had either been all sealed off or blocked by rockfalls. We kept going trying to find the areas with the most evidence of previous visits. After several false exits we finally we rounded a corner into a chamber and saw daylight in the distance. We scrambled up a slope of earth hoping that the exit wouldn’t be barred and that it would be large enough to get out of. We needn’t have worried though and we were soon standing at a large opening in middle of some grassland with houses all around us. We were out!

    In the end it took us nearly 3 and a half hours since leaving Egor at the entrance in Nerubayskoye to reaching our exit in the centre of Usatove. What is only a 3km journey as the crow flies was much longer in the weaving tunnels underground but it’s hard to say what distance we covered overall. In the end I was pretty glad I had taken this route. We weren’t 100% sure where we were going at times and we weren’t sure if we would manage to find an exit or not. It was pretty damn tough and it was anything but straightforward down there which is exactly what I was looking for. It was a good way to end my first day in the catacombs.


    Day Two: Nuclear Bunkers and City Centre Catacombs

    Seeing as the write up was so long for day one I will try and make this one a bit shorter and more photo orientated.

    I had remembered reading before I left that some areas of the catacombs contained old Cold War nuclear bunkers built into them. Egor had a vague recollection of visiting a bunker last year and knew the general area where he had accessed it. I decided to give this a look. Vanya was interested also so he agreed to meet me in his free time the next morning so we could check out the lead. We scanned the area Egor had mentioned and within 10 minutes had found an access point. We quickly disappeared below ground and began our journey down a long stairway that led surprisingly deep underground.

    We ended up in a long section of tunnels with large adjoining rooms which seems to have been used as some form of bunker or military storage facility. We had thought this would be a standalone bunker (which is all Egor had mentioned being down here) but towards the back of the bunker we found a broken down section of wall which led into a less manicured set of tunnels, the catacombs. It soon became apparent that this bunker and section of mines are regularly visited. Hanging upon the wall of the first junction we reached was a paper map showing the section of tunnels we were in and also exactly where we were on the map. From what we could gather this place was used for airsoft and orienteering challenges and these maps were to help people get around without becoming lost. This made everything pretty convenient for us and also took a bit of the adventure out of the explore but nonetheless the whole aspect of where we were exploring meant that it didn’t take away from the experience too much. Looking at the map in detail the bunker we had already been in was just marked a normal tunnels. However, there were two bunkers clearly marked on the map not too far from us. These looked pretty promising so we set off in search of them.

    As I've written far too much text already, below are the photos I got from the three bunkers and also a selection of photos from the city centre portion of the catacombs which we ventured into afterwards.

    #13
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    #14
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    #15 - The long corridor that ran the length of the initial bunker
    [​IMG]

    #16
    [​IMG]

    #17 - A rusting control panel in the second bunker
    [​IMG]

    #18 - The old conference room of the second bunker
    [​IMG]

    #19 - One of the original blast doors
    [​IMG]

    #20
    [​IMG]

    #21 - These stairs led from the second bunker back to the surface. These were pretty useful as we able to tell that we were around 8 stories underground here.
    [​IMG]

    #22
    [​IMG]

    #23
    [​IMG]

    #24 - One of the few remaining artifacts from the original bunkers
    [​IMG]

    #25 - Back out of the bunkers and into the catacombs we found some great graffiti from the original working days of the mines. Some of the calculations written by the miners can still be seen on the left of this wall. The drawing of the horse carrying stone out of the mines seems to be from the same time period
    [​IMG]

    #26
    [​IMG]

    #27 - Above this ladder lay another 7 ladders which led all the way to the top of a huge rusting silo that had been placed underground intersecting with the catacombs
    [​IMG]

    #28 - Here you can see some of the older graffiti in this area and also one of the old wooden pillars used to support the ceiling. The grey concrete wall on the right with the arch in it is one of the walls you see approximately every 10 metres in the majority of the passages down here which were built to prevent collapse.
    [​IMG]

    #29 - This was one of the cooler features we came across. This wasn’t marked on the map at all so we were lucky to find it at one of the furthest out areas we visited. It is one of the natural caves that have lain here for thousands and thousands of years. With all the mining under Odessa it was inevitable that the mines would sometimes cross back and forth with these natural caves. We were lucky to find such a good example here which intersected with one of the catacomb passages.
    [​IMG]

    #30 - This section of tunnel lay at the top of a long set of stairs and looks like it was originally an elaborate entrance down into the catacombs which has since been blocked at the entrance
    [​IMG]

    We ended up spending a good 4 hours down here and hadn't even covered that much of the map. Hopefully I'll get back to Odessa again at some stage for a longer look around the catacombs as I hadn't even made a dent in the system over the two days I was there. I'd highly recommend a visit to anyone in the area as it really is an amazing system of tunnels. If anyone is thinking of going in the future and wants any information feel free to give me a shout and I'll do my best to help.
     

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  2. Oxygen Thief

    Oxygen Thief Admin
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    I've wanted to go there for years and do 3 or 4 days underground with some locals. Not only is it back on the list, it's at the top.

    Thanks for taking the time to share this.

    Cheers.
     
  3. drhowser

    drhowser Bespectacled & irrelevant
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    My girlfriend is Ukranian and her sister lives in Odessa. I'm 100% doing this in the next year or so.
     
  4. Limerick_Student

    Limerick_Student 28DL Full Member
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    No worries, I'm glad that it's sparked an interest again. That sounds like the proper way to do it, no messing about! The above sections I visited are only scratching the surface, some of the photos I've seen of the deeper and harder to reach sections look properly amazing. I wish I had done a bit more research before going as I didn't get to experience the system properly like you hopefully will but it was still great to see the portions that I did manage to fit in.

    Best of luck with it if you go for it, it should be an amazing experience.

    I'd also recommend a quick night climb onto the roof of the Odessa Opera House for when either of ye visit. It'd be rude not to when you're in the area :D
     
  5. slayaaaa

    slayaaaa 28DL Regular User
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    That looks awesome, thanks for sharing, was a good read! enjoyed it thoroughly, i look forward to more of this if anyone else also visits it.
     
  6. WildBoyz

    WildBoyz Is this the future?
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    Fantastic. Excellent report. It was an awesome read between your photographs; which were equally as good.
     
  7. Lenston

    Lenston Bajo Tierra
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    Spot on that, looks amazing :thumb
     
  8. Wevsky

    Wevsky A Predisposed Tourist
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    Bloody stunning mate..Best bit of underground i have seen for a very long time
     
  9. jST

    jST LLS.
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    Impressive. I've wanted to see more photos from here with an English narrative for some time.
     
  10. Mr Beady

    Mr Beady Over 8
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    Very very nice
     
  11. Limerick_Student

    Limerick_Student 28DL Full Member
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    Thanks very much for all the comments lads, much appreciated.
     
  12. PopPunkJamie

    PopPunkJamie Irregular User
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    Very nice, some of the best underground I've seen for ages
     
  13. ACID- REFLUX

    ACID- REFLUX 28DL Regular User
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    Very nice, both informative & impressive.

    Top stuff :thumb
     
  14. fb

    fb big in japan
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  15. wellingtonian

    wellingtonian Subterráneo
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    Best report for a while, very interesting. Thanks for sharing :thumb
     
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