I woke up and headed to Maidan Nezalezhnosti in Kiev to get picked up for a tour to an old Soviet nuclear missile base – the Strategic Missile Forces Museum. I waited a few minutes for the driver and the other passengers to arrive. Unfortunately, a group of four from France didn’t make it. The driver informed me and the other passenger, a man from Ohio, that we each had to pay an extra $60 to make the trip happen. It was unexpected and I wasn’t happy, but we both agreed to pay.
I didn’t expect this place to be as far away from Kiev as it was. They advertised a nice 2 ½ hour drive. That wasn’t the case. The driver was a maniac and it took three hours. He was flying the whole way down. I’m used it by now after living in Turkey, but the other guy on the tour, Mike, was pretty nervous. It turns out this was his first time outside of the US. Not Paris, London, or Rome, but Kiev? For a first international trip? Why? I still wonder.
We got to the base and met our guide. She gave us a quick talk about the history of the base in the small museum located in the former administration building. We learned that out of the many missile bases in the Ukraine, this was the only one that the Russian government allowed to remain intact. The Ukraine had to go through a lot of negotiations to open it as a museum, and it’s the only one of its kind in the world.
From the museum, we continued into the tunnel that leads from the administration to the Unified Command Center shaft. The tunnel is 3m underground and runs 155m.
We piled into an elevator that would make anyone claustrophobic and headed down to the shaft. The shaft is 45m deep and has nine levels.
Our first stop was the living quarters. Soldiers had to stay in the very tight space for several days at a time. In case of a nuclear attack, there were enough provisions for three people to survive for up to 45 days.
We then climbed up into the actual command center where we simulated a nuclear launch in just 60 seconds. I got to press the “red” button, which was actually gray. I was shocked that such primitive technology was still being used by the Soviets in the 1980s. The Soviet flag was also kept in the command center. It was there for safe-keeping because it would survive any nuclear attack.
The real soldiers had 6 hour shifts in which they were tied to their seats and had to input new codes every seven seconds. The codes were aimed at many different cities and the soldiers had no idea if the code they input was actually going to launch a missile. This was in order to desensitize them. Once a missile was launched, it would only take 62 seconds to be in the air and a mere 25 minutes to reach New York.
After visiting the shaft, we climbed up into the fresh air and walked around the grounds. We were shown a refrigeration facility that held battle cold accumulators and antifreeze. It cooled down the base in case of war to draw off excess heat from the facility. We were also shown an antenna that was used for radio communication in times of peace between the Soviet military and the missile base.
Next, we walked past the emergency exit shafts of the Unified Command Center. It was hard to imagine we were so far underground in this very spot just minutes before.
Continuing along, we were able to climb into a couple enormous vehicles that were used to carry missiles and nuclear warheads to the base.
Near the trucks, we were shown the missile silo where the missiles were kept. A dismantled RS-22 warhead sat nearby.
We then walked past the powerhouse, which supplied electricity to the base, and the food warehouse. The Soviet military did not provide any food to the soldiers on the base. There was a small farm to grow fruits and vegetables, but generally, the soldiers had to buy food from the outside world.
The last part of the walk through the grounds took us to the guard house, which was equipped with automated sensors and a Kalashnikov tank to protect the Unified Command Center. It could only be entered via a tunnel in order to avoid the heavily mined area between the security fences.
Before leaving, we walked over to a “missile graveyard” to see the actual missiles. The biggest one was a SS-18 Satan missile. This intercontinental ballistic missile was capable of destroying 300,000 km². It weighed 211 tons, was 34.3m long, and had a range of 15,000km. It carried 10 warheads.
Our tour lasted about two hours and we raced back to Kiev, stopping on the way to have lunch. We arrived in one piece at around 5:30pm.
You can book a tour to the base through Solo East Travel. They also did the Chernobyl tour I went on. It turned out to be an expensive tour because the group from France didn’t show up, but it was also a once in a lifetime experience – you can’t do this anywhere else in the world. It’s definitely worth it.