It was my interest in abandoned buildings that brought me to Kirovsk, a small Russian town in the Arctic circle. The town is home to the ruins of a Stalin-era train station which remains 24 years after its closure in the 1990s.
Abandoned buildings are common in this part of Russia, the result of steep population decline following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I’ve long been drawn to the way structures undergo changes when the labour needed for their maintenance is removed.
When a building is given up, natural forces take over and new human influences manifest themselves.
It’s a fascinating process to observe, but one tinged with sadness. The buildings often represent lost opportunities, malinvestments and human tragedies.
When I arrived in Kirovsk I asked around for directions to the station ruins. With limited Russian and no address I had to rely on a photograph I’d found online, taken in 2015.
On seeing the station for the first time it was clear it had changed.
It was darker in appearance: transformed by graffiti, iconoclasm, and litter. Nature, operating in slower time, had further eroded the concrete and metal carcass, and new weeds had sprouted.
The tall stone pillars and collapsed ceiling of the station interior were an imposing sight, bringing to mind the Parthenon or European church ruins.
There was also a feeling of unease about immediate dangers: the prospect that crumbling staircases might give way or hostile fauna might appear from the rubble.
I half-comprehended the intended message of graffiti on the station walls. As with other experiences in Russia, I had to interpret them through a lens of limited understanding.
I reflected on the fact that, unlike the paintings I’d seen in the art galleries of St Petersburg, each of these murals was created by someone on the ground, and therefore with a unique connection to Kirovsk. The paintings hinted at their individual stories.
After about an hour, the setting of the sun and numbness of my feet in damp snow called time on my visit.
I had felt reluctant to leave each of the places I’d visited during my three week stint in Russia, but that feeling was strongest at the station because it was somewhere I knew I couldn’t go back to.
As evidenced by the changes since that 2015 photo, the station would continue its transformation and have taken on a different form by the time of any future visit. The station I had seen would gradually fade away, symbolic of the old truism that you can never step in the same river twice.
By the time you read this, the ruins may well have been demolished: the land levelled and put to some new, happier use.
Or they may still remain to tell further stories at a different and later stage in their evolution.