Back in the USSR
From tsar to red star
The October Revolution
The Red Army
Still marching on
Uncle Joe
A Soviet icon
51% of Russian people still love him
The famous five-year plan
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin
The Eastern Front
Stalingrad
The Great Patriotic War
Slave labor
Holodomor
Now you see him...
...Now you don't
The Khrushchev Thaw
Centrally-planned economy
Life behind the iron curtain
Advantages
The backbone of the USSR
No party like the Communist party
The Dynamo years
Moscow 1980
Los Angeles 1984
Miracle on Ice
A more literal Cold War
Space Race
The Moon Landing
Retreat from Kabul
'From grandfather to grandfather'
The neoliberal era
'The Evil Empire'
Glasnost and Perestroika
A McDonald's at the Red Square
Revolution
Dissolution
It's not the end...
New name, same faces
From KGB agent to Russian president
Not quite dead?
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Back in the USSR

The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics existed from 1922 to 1991. For better or for worse, the Soviet Union is still a source of fascination for many.

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From tsar to red star

The Soviet Union, during its almost 70 years of existence, took a backward, quasi-feudal realm ruled by an autocratic tsar and turned it into a modern, global superpower rivalled by the United States.

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The October Revolution

The Soviet Union was formed in a time of political turmoil. Tsar Nicholas II, the absolutist ruler of the Russian Empire, was overthrown and the provisional government that replaced the monarchy was powerless against a Bolshevik revolt led by Vladimir Lenin.

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The Red Army

The Russian Civil War defined the early years of the Soviet Union. The newly-formed Red Army quickly became legendary while fighting the White Army, made up by supporters of the tsar.

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Still marching on

Even if the Soviet Union is no more, the pageantry and imagery of the Red Army still linger in Russian military parades and events, particularly during World War II commemorations.

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Uncle Joe

Political instability marked the early years of the Soviet Union, as the party leaders struggled to define how the world’s first socialist state should be. When the dust settled, Joseph Stalin had become Lenin’s successor and led the Soviet Union for the following decades.

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A Soviet icon

Stalin is probably the most iconic leader of the Soviet Union and one of the most important figures in world politics in the 20th century.

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51% of Russian people still love him

Stalin's influence is still felt today. The BBC reported in 2019 that a Russian poll showed that 51% of the Russian people still admired Stalin.

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The famous five-year plan

On one hand, his five-year plans pushed forward widespread industrialization. The Stakhanovite Movement made heroes out of efficient, self-sacrificing workers that gave everything to reach and superseded production quotas.

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Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin

Uncle Joe, as he was nicknamed by English-speaking media, also led the country during World War II.

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The Eastern Front

The Soviet Union had the highest number of casualties during World War II, and over 24 million soldiers and civilians perished while defending the Eastern Front from the Axis.

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Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad (current day Volgograd) is regarded as one of the bloodiest conflicts in modern warfare, with an estimate of up to 2,500,000 deaths. Here you can see the 'Motherland Calls Monument,' in Volgograd, dedicated to those fallen during the siege.

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The Great Patriotic War

The Red Army was fundamental for the defeat of Nazi Germany in what is known in Russia as The Great Patriotic War.

Pictured: Soviet Soldiers fly the USSR flag over the ruins of the Reichstag.

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Slave labor

However, Stalin’s centralized collectivism put him at odds with many social and ethnic groups. Here you can see deported peasants and political prisoners forced to build The Stalin White Sea-Baltic Canal in 1932.

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Holodomor

According to National Geographic, the Soviet Famine of 1932-1933 claimed seven million lives, mainly in Ukraine. Pictured: The Holodomor (Great Famine) Memorial in Kyiv.

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Now you see him...

Political oppression also became firmly established as a government tool. Purges, show trials and censorship were part of everyday life under Stalin and existed, one way or other, during most of Soviet history.

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...Now you don't

Millions were executed under flimsy accusations. Many others were sent to work in forced labor camps called gulags, located in remote and inhospitable regions such as Siberia. The Soviet government even edited out figures fallen in disgrace from official photographs and film.

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The Khrushchev Thaw

Stalin passed away in 1952. His eventual successor Nikita Khrushchev denounced his rule and started a process to dismantle the cult of personality around the Soviet leader. This began an era known in Soviet history as ‘The Thaw."

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Centrally-planned economy

However, not everything was bread and roses. The Soviet economy faced all sorts of problems linked to its centrally-planned economy. Here you can see People in Moscow queuing to buy western goods at the GUM department store in 1960.

 

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Life behind the iron curtain

Despite the image we have of the Soviet Union as a grim totalitarian state, people found ways to have happy, fulfilling lives.

Pictured: People vacationing in the Black Sea in the early 70s.

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Advantages

Everyday life had some advantages when it came to health, education, and social services. Here's a picture, from the 80s, of girls sleeping at a daycare center in Stavropol while their parents work.

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The backbone of the USSR

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was the backbone of the USSR. In the mid-1980s, the CPSU supposedly represented less than 10% of the population.

Pictured is the 27th Congress of the CPSU, held in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses in 1986.

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No party like the Communist party

Government officials, military officers, members of the press, and academics could only ascend in their respective fields if they were members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

 

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The Dynamo years

Sports played an important part in Soviet life. Starting in 1952, the Soviet Union had a significant presence at the Olympic Games, earning over 1,200 medals, out of which 473 were gold.

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Moscow 1980

Moscow hosted the Summer 1980 Olympics, which were boycotted by the United States and some of its allies.

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Los Angeles 1984

The USSR and other Communist countries, in turn, boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.

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Miracle on Ice

The competition between the United States and the Soviet Union also translated into sports, such as the famous Miracle on Ice of 1980.

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A more literal Cold War

The Miracle on Ice happened during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, in a match between the United States and the Soviet Union. The USSR team, the gold winner in the four previous Olympic Games, lost 4-3 against their US rivals.

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Space Race

Science was another battlefield for both superpowers during the Cold War. The Soviet Union sent the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961.

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The Moon Landing

However, the United States one-upped the Soviet Union on July 21, 1969 - when it managed to get Neil Armstrong and the rest of the crew of the Apollo 11 to safely land on the moon and return to Earth.

Image: NASA

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Retreat from Kabul

By the 1980s, the USSR was facing a crisis. The retreat of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, after 10 years of military occupation, left a big impression on what was meant to be one of the most powerful armies in the world.

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'From grandfather to grandfather'

Not helping the matter was an aged political elite, without much chance of reform or different opinions. A common Russian joke at the time was that the leadership of the Soviet Union went “from grandfather to grandfather.”

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The neoliberal era

The aged Soviet leadership had a hard time matching a shift in global dynamics. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher heralded a new era of media-centric leadership and neoliberal politics.

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'The Evil Empire'

US President Ronald Reagan was more confrontational than his predecessors. He vehemently referred to the Soviet Union as “The Evil Empire”.

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Glasnost and Perestroika

Mikhail Gorbachev, who became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, was meant to bring necessary reforms such as Glasnost (openness) and Perestroika (Reconstruction).

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A McDonald's at the Red Square

Images of a McDonald's opening in Moscow's Red Square seemed to be the writing on the wall for the Iron Curtain.

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Revolution

The reforms caused a domino effect that shook the Eastern Bloc. Pictures of protesters tearing down the Berlin Wall remain powerful symbols of that historical moment.

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Dissolution

Clashes between Gorbachev and Communist Party hardliners led to the definite demise of the USSR by the end of 1991. The Soviet Union was no more.

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It's not the end...

The demise of the USSR brought quite a few setbacks and problems to people in former Soviet countries, despite the promise of newly-found liberties.

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New name, same faces

The 90s were marked by inflation, economic woes, and the rise of the Russian oligarchs, many of them coming from the old Communist elite. This 360-degree spin could also be seen in the world of politics.

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From KGB agent to Russian president

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was a former agent of the KGB, the main security agency of the USSR, who quickly rose up among the ranks of the then-new Russian Federation until he became president in 2000.

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Not quite dead?

A 2017 poll cited by Newsweek reveals that 66% of Russian people believe that the dissolution of the USSR was a mistake. The Soviet Union may be gone, but nostalgia lives on…

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