A Crumbling Portrait of an Industrial Soviet City: Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan

A Crumbling Portrait of an Industrial Soviet City: Balykchy, Kyrgyzstan

than a quarter of a century after the break-up of the USSR,
Balykchi, once one of
industrial powerhouses is a Soviet ghost town.
Situated on the banks of a great alpine lake, it’s a symbol of
communist decay. Hulls of ships and cranes rust at its port and
factories lie in ruins; parks that were once the pride of the city
are filled with weeds; statues of Lenin crumble.

Balykchy – meaning “fisherman” in the Kyrgyz language – has a
strong fishing and boat-building heritage which was devastated by
the break-up of the Soviet Union which brought and end to trade
links and financial backing from Moscow.
As factories dwindled to a halt, people lost their jobs and the
town eventually went from full employment to almost nothing.

Young people were forced to leave their country and find work in
Russia and Kazakhstan, often leaving children with their ageing
parents. Today these pensioners cling to communist ideals and dream
of Soviet times when food and housing was cheap and they could
afford to travel to Moscow and Kiev. They struggle to survive on
meagre pensions, caring for their grandchildren.

Olga Ogarkova, 61, lives with her husband Oleg. “During Soviet
times life was good,” she says. “We all had jobs and a reason to
get up in the morning. We could travel to Moscow,
and Kazakhstan,” she continues, showing me photos of
her travels and May Day marches during the Brezhnev era. “Now young
people just hang around and drink vodka there’s nothing for them to

Valentina Pogojeva has acted as a full-time mother to her two
grandchildren Dasha and Lena since they were both 10 months old.
Her daughter Nadejda works for an engineering company in
Almaty, Kazakhstan
. The girls have different fathers, neither
of which keeps in touch. Their mother returns home for 3 days each
month. “She comes laden with presents and plays with them,”
explained Valentina. “But to know your children you have to see
them every day.”

In a crumbling whitewashed mud bungalow on the outskirts of
Balykchy, six-year-old Adinai is propped up at the kitchen table
beside her two sisters Aklai, 15, and Ryana, 12, and their
grandmother Samira Omuralieva. Flies buzz around a plate of dried
bread and a pile of chicken bones left over from lunch. Adinai was
born with brain damage and needs regular physiotherapy which is why
the girls’ mother Diana has been forced to work in Turkey as a
nanny to pay the medical bills. The girls’ father isn’t around so
Samira and the two older girls take care of Adinai.

Times are also hard for Gulbubu Sarapldinova who looks after 3
grandsons. Her son and daughter-in-law abandoned the children with
her eight years ago and never returned. “Money is very tight but
what can we do,” she says.

@jokearneyphotography | jokearneyphotography.com

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