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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back In The U.S.S.R.: The Soviet Union In Color In 1963

Published 26 November 2014

Pretend you’re rummaging through an old steamer trunk in a dusty antique store somewhere. Inside the trunk, hidden amidst some old Frank Sinatra LPs and a stack of fading “National Geographic” magazines, you find a cardboard box.

You open the box and discover a stack of photographic slides wrapped in a yellowed newspaper dating to 1963. Holding one of the slides up to the light, you can just make out what appears to be Moscow's Red Square. You’re intrigued. You buy the slides for a few dollars, take them home, load them in your slide projector, and voila! That’s how we’d like to think these 24 photographs of the Soviet Union were discovered. But the truth is, we don’t know much about them.

Here’s what we do know: 1) The photographs were taken in 1963. 2) They’re in sumptuous color. 3) They mostly depict street life in the capital, Moscow, with a few from Ukraine. 4) They’re in excellent condition. 5) They were first published on the website Vintage Everyday, which agreed to share them with RFE/RL but didn’t really know anything else about them.

Here’s what we don’t know: 1.) Who took the photos. 2) The identities of the people in the photos. 3) Where we can get more.

If you know anything else about where these photos were taken, or can provide any more context, we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, enjoy this wonderful glimpse into Soviet life in the early ’60s. -- Grant Podelco

(Originally published April 24, 2013)


An entrance to Moscow's Red Square, with St. Basil's Cathedral in the distance, and the State Historical Museum to the left. Thousands of people can be seen standing in a long, snaking line to enter Lenin's mausoleum.


Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, with the old Moscow Hotel just visible at the top. It was torn down in 2004 to make way for a new hotel.


Looking into Moscow's Red Square, with St. Basil's Cathedral in the distance. Thousands of people can be seen standing in a long, snaking line to enter Lenin's mausoleum.


A book stand in Kyiv at the corner of Khreshchatyk and Prorizna streets, then named Sverdlov Street. The address is Khreshchatyk 30. There used to be a book store named Druzhba (Friendship) there where foreign books (but only from socialist countries, of course) could be bought.


The entrance to Hotel Europe


Kiosk No. 125 in Kyiv used to sell beverages and also alcoholic drinks and cigarettes. The kiosk is still there but looks rather different today.


A vendor in Kyiv sells "carbonated water."


In this photograph of Kyiv, one can see where central Khreshchatyk Street runs through Independence Square. The large building on the corner is the Main Post Office, with St. Sophia's Cathedral and its belfry in the background.


Kyiv's central square. It used to be known as Kalinin Square in 1963; in 1967 it was renamed October Revolution Square. Now it's Independence Square. The picture is taken from the podium of the then-Moscow Hotel, now known as the Ukraine Hotel. Only three buildings partly seen in the upper left corner remain today.


Moscow State University


The Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in Moscow


One of the Kremlin's towers


Moscow's Manezhnaya Square with its Central Exhibition Hall. It has been restored following a major fire in 2004.


"Peace, Labor, and Friendship"


Outside the Kremlin walls in Red Square

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Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: ab from: usa
April 23, 2013 19:37
Considering the vantage point of some of the photos, it looks like they were staying at the Natsional Hotel in Moscow.

by: Mamuka
April 24, 2013 11:04
There is only one possible reason for such a queue to be forming at that entrance to Red Square, and that is go see Vladimir Ilyich!

Traffic was certainly lighter in those days. And no 'inomarki' (foreign cars, usually driven at high speed in today's Moscow... traffic permitting)

by: Angela from: NYC
April 24, 2013 12:47
Beautiful photos! Thank you.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 24, 2013 13:36
Aha, just look at the faces of the people on the pictures above: isn't it obvious how much they suffered under the horrendous Communist regime :-))? And come to Vienna today and make some pictures of drug-addicts on the subway station Karlsplatz - it will show you how great it is that we now have democracy and free market economy.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
April 24, 2013 18:02
Eugenio, you are welcome to travel to a free country USA and see if you can survive the smell of New York's subway.
In Response

by: Janka from: Vecumnieki, Latvia
April 24, 2013 20:12
Having lived in communist regime for 20 years, I can tell you that regime impact does not necessarily reflect in faces. You smile when your today's life is as you expected yesterday. And you think it's great because you have no idea that somewhere in the world it can be completely different, for example, people can say whatever they want to.
You have a choice too - if there are problems in Karlsplatz, you can go to Donau Insel or another subway station and enjoy the silence. In USSR all buildings, cities, stations and faces were similar, because everything that was too different was suspicious.
In Response

by: HK from: Tbilisi, Georgia
April 25, 2013 04:32
I agree 100% with Janka. Living in the USSR for 21 years, I had a VERY happy childhood but I knew "not to speak in public what you hear at home", to have no possibilities to enter where you want - even civil places in my neighborhood - "Intourist Hotels" for example, and I have heard the horror stories about my closest relatives - being arrested and partly shot because of the "discreditation of the leader" (Stalin), or even digging a tunnel to London!!!!
Of course, someone living in Vienna, New York or any other place in the "democratic" world, can criticize the mess there - we in the Soviet Union could not: critics or mocking were forbidden under the penalties of death (in Stalin time) or "softer" repressions after him.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 25, 2013 20:42
Latvia and Georgia are apparently two examples of "successful" transition to capitalism: Georgia has had a number of civil wars, inflation of several thosand per cent per year and lost 20 per cent of its national territory.
Latvia is now being presented as an example to follow in the EU, because the Lativa govt and its intl donors managed to reduce people's salaries by 40 % during and after the "prevous" economic crisis of 2009 and recently I even read news about Lativa going to join the Euro-zone in the near future :-)). Once you join it, they will make a new Cyprus of you and will steal your money directly from your bank accounts - the same way they did in Cyprus. And you will be smiling and thanking god because you live in a democratic capitalist society :-)).
The RFE/RL and affiliates can be proud of themselves: their brainwashing machine works well and there are just so many people in Latvia, Georgia and elsewehere thinking that white is black and war is peace. George Orwell was just an amateur in comparison to the RFE/RL.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 25, 2013 21:32
Janka, HK, by the way, while talking about the "happy democratic present" you forgot about one more reason to be happy and to smile: the absolute number of UNEMPLOYED in the long-time EU- and NATO-member state SPAIN riched the figure of 6.000.000 people according to the latest statistics of the Spanish govt! This figure represents some 27 % of the total population of the country! Isn't that one more reason to be happy that one is so blessed to live in this wonderful democratic free-market Europe! Thank you, Frau Merkel! Thank you, Janka and HK!
In Response

by: Victor
April 26, 2013 18:42
Well, Janka, if you think you are free to speak whatever you wish in the USA, for example, please, do tell me more about the "Patriot Act", or about how Obama approved a law which allows the Police to arrest anyone without formal charges for as long as they wish, or also how he approved Drone missions within US territory or CISPA. Yeah, we're super free...Yay Democracy, yay Capitalism!
In Response

by: Janka
April 27, 2013 12:24
Eugenio, Victor - Patriot Act and unemployment is exactly what you have chosen yourself by voting in democratic elections for many years. In south Europe where there always have been strong labor unions, unnecessary jobs have been financed by employers (and partially by Germany) since WWII. And, finally, when due to crisis, they were unable to continue, the labor market finally started looking as a free market. The situation in UK - thanks to late Thatcher and in Eastern Europe - thanks to historical weakness of labor unions, is much better or at least improving if compared to 2007.
I don't have any illusions about real democracy in the USA; still, you cannot compare it to today's Russia. I don't even speak about USSR in 1950 - early 1980s.
There are real problems in Western Europe and the USA, however, that is exactly what you've chosen by voting for those who implement their party programs in real life, so blame yourself. And I do the same. In Russia, you don't have such opportunity, you can vote whoever you want to, and still there will be the same result. In USSR that was not a good idea to miss elections with only one list. I'd prefer to be unemployed time by time rather than to live in such country with 0% unemployment.
In Response

by: Andor from: USA
April 27, 2013 12:29
HK from Tbilisi, the doorman at the Trump Tower will block your way exactly the way the doorman of the Inturist Hotel did in Tbilisi. Imagine that, I also lived in Tbilisi, in Gldani, as a matter of fact, in the 1970th. The pictures of your mustachioed butcher Stalin were everywhere, my friends, simple engineers, traveled all over the world, and far above the city pretty, little private restaurants were thriving. Please, please, save your sob stories for Europeans! You and I know how well Georgians lived in the Soviet times. If I would ask for change at the butcher store, he would become incensed and throw my money in my face, saying, "Here, take it, take your chicken, and go away!". Georgians never asked for change!
In Response

by: Camel Anaturk from: Kurdistan
April 24, 2013 22:08
Well,I went to Vienna and smelled a rat in the backyard of the mother Russia embassy which turned out to be Eugenio rummaging the garbage cans of the embassy for vodka and selyodka leftovers,then I ran away to the US of A only to bump into Jerky jack offering his rear in Christopher street and now I wanna go to North Korea to find some peace and happiness there and of course to push the button whenever necessary!!!
In Response

by: JLevin from: Los Angeles
April 28, 2013 04:51
I spent 5 weeks there in 1961--these pics are very familiar to me. But thinking that the way people looked in central Moscow or central Kiev was typical is like thinking Beverly Hills is typical America. I also visited Novocherkassk, where the Red Army had suppressed a Cossack uprising only a few years earlier. A Komsomolets told me how much he hated Khrushchov, and a guide in Kiev while loudly praising everything whispered in my ear: terpet' ne mogy--I can't stand it. Outside of central Moscow there were food shortages everywhere, although it actually got worse on later visits. Tourists who don't know Russian never got the real story.
In Response

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
April 29, 2013 06:10
Dear JLevin, it's not quite clear what specific point you are trying to make with your example of a "Komsomolets who hated Khrushchov". May I just remind you that a vast majority of those belonging to the international Communist movt ended up hating Khrushchov for a number of reasons - but primarily because he severely damaged the unity of the Communist movt by having spoiled the relations between the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. I would also like to remind you that it was exactly due to his erroneous policies in a number of fields that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union removed him from the position of the Secretary General just 3 year after your landmark visit to Novocherkassk in 1961.
I wish we had this system today and the Central Committee could simply remove Frau Merkel and other Euro-theives from their positions. But the way things look now, no one will remove them and they will continue stealing people's money for some more time.
In Response

by: JLevin from: Los Angeles
April 29, 2013 16:41
Well, Eugenio, I will concede that my Khrushchov comment was a non sequitor. Happy to know you understand and agree with my other points.
In Response

by: JP from: San Diego
May 01, 2013 17:07
There seems to be debate here between supporters of two systems without realizing how similar they really are. In the US you have a kind of freedom of political expression, but this is part of a facade that makes it easier to repress people by more subtle means. It is a complete illusion to say we the people have voted for this system, this so-called democracy is a totally rigged farce. Just try and run for office advocating a fairer distribution of wealth and opportunity, or to stop the foreign wars of aggression, or any other platform in the interest of the common man, and see how far you get. Nowhere fast. So what we have is a more sophisticated brainwashing and control system called CORPORATISM where you have the illusion of freedom of choice, but the choices are just the ones the MONEY POWER lets you have. The big issue in the USA is just 400 people have 50% of the wealth and the poorest 50% have almost nothing, something like 7%. Inequality is getting worse and the media cover it up because they are owned by the Oligarchy. So both systems are oligarchies that PRETEND to be working for the people - NOT! Just two different varieties of the same big lie.

by: Jim from: U.S.
April 24, 2013 19:35
Great photos and very colorful. Especially appreciated there were so many of Kyiv! Thank you for posting!

by: Jack from: US
April 24, 2013 21:53
beautiful photos, especially given they were taken only 20 years after WWII, and compare it with a typical American city of Detroit today.

by: Jo from: London
April 29, 2013 08:10
No. 22 - The caption is wrong. It's the Kremlin wall alright, but not on Red Square. Looks to me like the Kremlin wall in Aleksandrovsky Gardens, just near the 'eternal flame' war memorial. In fact, look at pictures 1 and 4, where the queue goes into the Aleksandrovsky Gardens in the bottom right hand corner, and look at the brickwork on the Kremlin wall there, and you'll see that I'm right.
In Response

by: Moderator
April 29, 2013 13:45
Thank you for your comment, but we beg to disagree. Notwithstanding the fact that a lot of refurbishment has been done in the intervening years, the brickwork in the left corner quite clearly seems to be the Spasskaya Tower:
and it differs substantially from that of the "eternal flame" memorial

by: Daniel Jones from: Richmond, Virginia, USA
May 08, 2013 19:50
These pics are absolutely gorgeous. Having just returned from Ukraine, I was able to see the country's beauty -- even present in its past, which was evident in almost everything. Yes, I'm talking a bit about the Soviet Union era. I am an American. Many of my countrymen would rather travel to Mexico, Jamaica or Paris, than a former Soviet country. It's kind of taboo.

The truth is, whether the Slavic people are against or for the Soviet Union and what it stood for, all citizens of all countries are torn, sometimes even embarrassed, by their past. Or at least I hope we are. Take America for example: many of us are not proud of the turbulent 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement occurring too late, the wars we've stuck our noses in, etc. But these things are all part of our histories and, therefore, changed us and evolved us into who we are today. What I'm saying is, when we can get over each other's pasts, we can work toward progress. Because it's really all one in the same.

All I know is, Ukraine is one of the most beautiful countries I've seen. I hope Americans, especially, will give her a chance. The EU, too.

by: Mamuka
November 26, 2014 12:17
Remarkable photos of the Maidan in quieter times. But where are all the signs saying "Slava KPSS" and "Da Zdravstvuyet XVIII Syezd itp itd?" Did they come a little later? OK, Jack and Eugenio, maybe today they say "Samsung" and "Honda." And in fact the old ones may have been a little less obtrusive.

by: Dr Subroto Roy from: India
November 26, 2014 16:17
I was there as a boy tourist in Nov 1967, a few days after the 50th Anniv celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution. Intimidating and awesome. Vast red and white banners of Marx, Engels (I think), Lenin and Brezhnev. No Stalin or Kruschev. And the hammer and sickle always seemed like (class) weapons to me.
Comments page of 2