Imagine Fords and Chevrolets, parked with the windows down, in a drive-in movie theater advertising Western previews; imagine poodle-skirted girls sipping milkshakes at their local diner while their letterman-clad dates sauntered off to put the Beach Boys on the Jukebox. This scene seems straight out of 1950s middle America, until you realize none of it is real – it’s 1959, and you’re in the fake American KGB town of Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
Vinnytsia may be a booming, modern metropolis in the 21st century, but that wasn’t always the case. The top-secret town was part of KGB training, which taught deep cover spies how toplay American during the Cold War so that they could infiltrate the country without raising suspicions.
Vinnytsia raises so many questions: did America have secret replica Soviet towns to do the same? How many of these spies came into America without any of us batting an eye? Here’s a close look at the eerie, fake American town resting in the middle of a war-ready Soviet Union.
Travel Restrictions Made Vinnytsia Necessary – Otherwise, How Could A Spy Learn About American Life?
From 1954 to 1991, the KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union (it disbanded at the end of the Cold War). While their training was thorough throughout the ’50s, the agency ran into one problem. The USSR’s intense Cold War travel restrictions made it impossible for spies to experience actual American life. Most of what they knew about the western world was from what they saw on TV or in movies. To immerse recruits fully into American life before they were sent to America to blend in with the local Midwesterners, the KGB created Spy Schools. These training camps were located in specially constructed towns made to mimic English and American life.
The Soviet Union Enlisted Retired Agents To Play Along
To help deep agents in their training, the KGB employed the best linguists from all over the Soviet Union (you couldn’t let a Russian accent slip). They also hired retired deep cover agents to pose as Americans in these towns and teach the trainees what it was like to be born and bred in the United States or UK.
In the above photo, you can see an ex-spy posing as an American-looking police officer and talking to a suited man over a coin-slot parking meter. This small detail of American life is so easy to overlook, but the details – like the usage and lingo of the parking meter – were essential to acquire in order to pose as a someone born in the USA.
The Homes Mimicked A ‘Typical’ American Suburb
The Soviets’ fake American town was pretty spot on – ranch houses sprawled out in tract housing developments that perfectly captured the expanding suburbs of the American middle class. Still, everything was just a little bit off – it looked new, not lived in. Blocks, bookended with English street signs, were clean and pristine like a movie set.
Except Apparently The Suburb Had No Middle-Aged Residents
Like something straight of the Netflix series Between, KGB training towns like Vinnytsia had an eerie youthfulness about them. It was almost as if every middle-aged resident disappeared in the middle of the night. In reality, spies had to be at their physical peak, so those being trained were often not much older than 30. In Vinnytsia, everyone – including businessmen and police officers – appeared to be in their 20s.
The Church Always Remained Locked, In An Eerie Ode To Soviet Beliefs
Vinnytsia had an American-looking church, which some would regard as a crucial element to Midwestern life. Imagine living in the Bible Belt having never seen a Christian church. It may seem normal to every American, and even residents of Europe, but the USSR put an emphasis on atheism. They created government-sponsored programs that forced residents to convert to it and everything. Though most religions were never outlawed in Soviet Russia, religious property was confiscated; those who practiced were bullied and harassed; and schools preached atheism. Notably, the church at the center of this fake American town remained locked as a reminder of the USSR’s core values.
The Grocery Store Was Stocked With American Goods
Vinnytsia had all of the common shops on the main street of a typical American town, including schools, a library, a hardware store, and a grocery store. The grocery store was stocked with American goods, but one thing was noticeably absent. There were no screaming children reaching for sugary cereal because there were no children in Vinnytsia.
The 1950s Diner Served Nothing But American-Style Food
Diners were a craze among young people in the 1950s; they would stop by for a milkshake, a burger, and some songs on the jukebox. The replica American-style diner in Vinnytsia served nothing but American foods (think: burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and sandwiches). Thus, it not only taught appropriate diner behavior, but it also familiarized deep agents with the typical American menu via cheeseburger training.
Familiar Brand Names Peppered The Shops And Pharmacies
What would an American town be without Coca-Cola or McDonalds? Vennytsia had it all. In this typical pharmacy, you can pick up a can of Coke with your prescriptions, something unfamiliar to Russian life. By the Cold War, most pharmacies in the Soviet Union were nationalized and not privately owned. They adopted a socialist healthcare model in which the government provided state-funded healthcare to all citizens. Health personnel, including doctors and pharmacists, were state employees.
Nowadays, The Abandoned Streets Have Grass Growing Through The Pavement
These eerie, abandoned towns were left just as they were when the KGB disbanded in 1991 at the end of the Cold War. Grass grows between cracks in the pavement as long out-of-style homes are left to crumble. This town is truly a time capsule of 1950s American life, even if it was never in America to begin with.