Classified area in the Aral Sea – death city secrets
“Vozrojdeniye” (Renaissance) island, in the Aral Sea’s center, was considered one of the most classified areas in the world from the 40s to the 90s of the last century.
It remains a mystery. This is evidenced by the negative consequences left over from the cold war of the former Soviet Union, although 27 years have passed since the pilot testing carried out on the island.
There were almost 300 large and small islands when the Aral Sea was full. Kukorol, Barsakelmes and the Renaissance were the largest ones.
The Renaissance island appeared in the XVI-XVII centuries in the period of the Aral Sea’s decline. The island, known among the local population as Kantubek, was discovered in 1848 by an expedition of Lieutenant Alexey Butakov, and in honor of Emperor Nicholas I was named “Nikolay”. The island became known as the Renaissance island in the era of the new government. It was washed by turquoise waters. Thousands of herds of saiga lived there, and the sea itself was rich in fish.
The island, former refuge of fishermen from ancient times, since the 40s of the last century was turned into a territory for testing biological weapons. Since that time, it was strictly forbidden for fishermen and other people to approach this area.
Conventionally, the territory was called “Barkhan” or “Aralsk 7” and was considered secret, it was not marked on any of the world maps. The secrecy was so high that even the staff at the testing site did not know where they were.
The Renaissance island has much information on the Internet, but so far very few people have visited it. Now there is an opportunity to visit the island due to the fact that digging wells and creating green oases, planting saxaul in this area began this year.
Our guide from Muynak said that the city was completely plundered. One person from Karakalpakstan served in the military unit, and according to him, in the early 90s, after the landfill ceased operations, people from the Kazakh city of Aral, Kungrad and Muynak districts of Karakalpakstan were engaged in theft. Following people who were involved in the export of scrap metal, this man arrived on the island and was surprised by the condition in the city.
“Is this the city where I served?”, he exclaimed.
Convincing himself, he convinced others, but many did not believe him. Then he said that he would show the place where he lived and wrote his name on the wall. And people became convinced that the inscription was preserved.
Almost one and a half thousand people lived and worked in a classified area at one time, and they were probably instructed not to disclose secrets until a certain time, because even today it is impossible to find a story on the Internet of at least one person who served or lived in this military city. And only the secrets revealed by Kanatjan Alibekov (Ken Alibek) caused a shudder all over the world.
Who was Ken Alibek?
He was born in 1950. A physician, scientist, specialist in immunology and infectious diseases, military physician, colonel, doctor of biological and biotechnological sciences.
Starting from 1975 he held senior positions in Biopreparat organization, where biological weapons were created and tested. In 1990, a letter of recommendation sent to M. Gorbachev on termination of the biological weapons production program in the Union was approved and at the end of 1991 Ken Alibek became one of the directors of the commission for the inspection of US biological objects. The inspection establishes that in the early 70s, production of military biological weapons was discontinued in the United States.
In 1992, Kanatjan Alibek moved to the United States, published “Biohazard” book, in which he reveals all the secrets of the Renaissance island.
On the way to the city of Kantubek, our attention was attracted by stakes standing in different places and similar to basketball poles. They were 5-6 kilometers far from the city. According to reports, the most terrible tests were carried out around these stakes.
It is known that tests on dogs, monkeys, sheep and horses and other types of bacteriological weapons were conducted on this island for half a century. Samples of drugs were supplied from biochemical laboratories of dozens of cities, including Stepnogorsk, Kirov, Yekaterinburg.
According to Kanatjan Alibekov, during small experiments, 8-9 monkeys were tied to these stakes and a biological bomb was dropped on them, causing anthrax. Thus, using a special measuring device, it was established how the infectious strain spreads in the open air, how long it reaches the experimental monkeys, how it affects and causes death. When the bomb exploded, the monkeys were frightened at first, then began to run around the stakes and then, losing their strength, closed their mouths, hid their heads between their paws and soon died.
The most terrible thing was that tests were also carried out in the upper layers of the island’s air sphere in order to study the scale of the bacteriological aerosol spread in the atmosphere. During the tests it was dangerous to be near the island, especially in its southern part, because air tests were carried out there. Everything around was covered with a greenish fog during the experiments.
Since 1970, emergencies began to occur on the Aral Sea. In 1971, a research boat sailing into the sea is being blown away by the wind, and it falls into dense green fog. A young female scientist falls ill on the expedition. Upon returning to the city, she is diagnosed with smallpox. After a while, she recovers, but the infection is transmitted to another 9 people, and three of them, including her brother, die.
A year later, they find the bodies of two fishermen who had previously disappeared in a boat sailing off the coast of the island. It is established that the cause of death was epizootic.
After some time, the local population catches a huge amount of dead fish in the sea. No one understands the reason for this. And in May 1988, a large herd of saiga, 50,000 heads, die within an hour in the steppe area of the island.
It can be concluded that the pilot tests of bacteriological weapons conducted on the island are the cause of these events.
As it was noted, bacteriological weapons were tested also in the air.
Widespread news of the production of dangerous weapons “anthrax” in the former Soviet Union caused international conflict. In 1988, hundreds of tons of weapons produced in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk, causing anthrax, are placed in stainless special containers and filled with bleach. And then 24 carriages are taken over thousands of kilometers, buried on Renaissance island. According to reports, 10 kilograms of anthrax in one evening can destroy a city with a population of 300 thousand people.
What do the old fishermen of Muynak say about this?
They remember a lot about this classified area and how they repeatedly faced with warships.
“Once on a barge, cargo was shipped from the Kazakh city of Aral to Muynak. Suddenly, rope caught on our boat propeller, we could not sail further. We tried a lot, but were unsuccessful, could not loosen the screw. With a request for help, we launched a red SOS rocket. After 2 hours, a military boat floated to us. We were all transferred to a boat, locked in a cabin and, having picked up our boat, were taken to an unknown shore. We did not know where we arrived. After some time, the rope was removed from the screw of our boat, then they brought us to the former place and ordered us not to approach this area”, says a fisherman from Muynak Olmos Tobashev.
“In 1970-75, there were many sturgeons in the Aral Sea. Once there was a thick fog on the sea, and our compass deteriorated. We sailed for a long time in an unknown direction. Suddenly a warship appeared near us. Our compass was fixed and direction indicated. Then we learned that we had approached the area considered classified at that time – the Renaissance island in the middle of the Aral Sea”, recalls Adilbay Bigeldiyev from Uchsay.
Can tourists visit this island?
We visited the island and were amazed at the beauty of the desert’s nature. Spring had heavy rainfall days, thanks to which everything was in green outfit. There are many rabbits on the island. Many saxauls are growing.
At the entrance to the city we were worried. Empty high-rise buildings. The wind rustles giving a sense of fear. And, it seems that an unknown beast suddenly comes up from somewhere. Scary to go inside buildings.
The city is divided into two parts: there were almost one and a half thousand soldiers serving on the test site, members of their families and soldiers in the northern part, and laboratories in the southern part.
We walked almost four hours the part of the city where the population lived, but did not have time to inspect completely. We were interested in every object. Yes, there were a school, a hospital, a kindergarten, a canteen, a shop, a bath and laundry complex, a warehouse, a car depot and even a prison. A mountain of coal is left in the western part of the city, which is at least 40 tons. Cars and tanks are abandoned. But today only remains are left.
Despite the fact that this area was considered dangerous, it is noticeable that excellent living conditions were created here, and the area surrounded by the sea presented an amazing picture.
There were laboratories in the southern part of the city. The smell of medicines and drugs emanates from these buildings even today, but despite this, everything was plundered many years ago.
We saw a building between the two parts of the city that looked like a boiler room. As it turned out, this was a cremation furnace. The bodies of experimental animals were burned in it, and the ashes were buried in a special place. According to some information, the bodies of infected people were also burned in this furnace.
There are so many interesting objects in an abandoned city that one day is not enough to inspect them.
So, is the area of Renaissance island dangerous or not? This question is still open.
In many countries, particularly in Chernobyl, ghost towns are used for tourism purposes. If the safety of the Renaissance island’s area is proved, it will soon become known to many.
Currently, wells are being dug, a green oasis is being created on the territory near the island, on Shagal area, to increase the tourism potential. And the island is reviving according to its name.
Y.Kanoatov, photo by M.Khabibullayev, UzA