The Aral Ghost
Journalist Nikita Makarenko and
photographer Elyor Nematov visited
the most mysterious place in Uzbekistan:
a ghost town Aralsk-7 on the Vozrozhdeniye Island.

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Today the Aral Sea has turned into the Aralkum Desert. The former Vozrozhdeniye Island floats along its sands, like a real Flying Dutchman. Abandoned and useless ship of the desert. It bears Aralsk-7 - the only ghost town in Uzbekistan. Shard of a former empire lost in the desert.
The Aral Sea is one of the most amazing regions in Uzbekistan. And of the most undervalued one and rarely visited (by people). In addition to the fantastic landscapes of the Ustyurt plateau and the Aralkum desert, the sea and beaches, there are many unique animals and strange plants. There is no internet and very, very few people.
Аральский Призрак
From time immemorial, the Vozrozhdeniye Island was settled by herds of saigas. Their peace was disturbed by soldiers unloaded on the shore since the 1940s. The Soviet government decided to organize here a military unit, a research center, and a closed city Aralsk-7. The island became totally secret.
In the 60-80s in Aralsk-7 life was blooming. More than a thousand people were employed on the island. Most of them worked in special laboratories. They watched television and inhabited in standard Soviet three-floor buildings, went to a club and a store, drank Zhigulyovskoye beer in a bath. They had own marriage registry office, kindergarten, and school. There was even a couple of civilian cars on the Island.
The sea used to splash literally right at the soldiers' barracks. But former soldier Dmitry Istomin won't find it anymore. He bathed in the Aral Sea only once. It was remembered as a purest and clearest water.
However, now in Aralsk-7, you can barely find anything more valuable than scattered iron mugs in the dining room.

Today only chilling sounds are filling the abandoned city. Strong winds shake sheets of iron and pieces of slate. It seems that someone is constantly walking around and watching you. It's an illusion. Nobody's here. The residents hastily left Aralsk-7 in 1992 and never returned. Military, scientists and families were evacuated on the orders of Boris Yeltsin. They threw everything behind: personal belongings, documents, dishes, cars, and even two tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, which were prudently burned out.
It was completely prohibited to get to the Vozrozhdeniye Island for an ordinary person in the Soviet times. You can't do it now either. The Ministry of Health of Uzbekistan and recommen refraining from visiting the island. Who knows which secrets and dangers are stored by the former military base?
The island is being penetrated by local poachers. Local saigas suffered more than others, which is now almost completely distinct animal type. The horns of this rare and harmless animal are valued in some countries as a medicinal product, but not yet proved by evidence-based medicine.
To preserve the unique fauna of the region, the President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed the creation of transboundary protected natural territories in the Aral zone. Ecologists support this idea.
"Until 2011 on Vozrozhdeniye Island, there was a stable isolated saiga population. At least 200 heads. In 2016, we no longer saw them on the Island, only rare single footprints. The collected data clearly indicate that poaching was conducted on the saiga. The creation of a protected natural territory is a critical thing. Five years of rest, the organization of watering holes, and the population will be restored. The protected natural territory will not only save the fragile island nature but also help create jobs for people", says Elena Bykova, Executive Secretary of the Saiga Conservation Alliance.
According to Elena, on the Island, it is possible to restore not only saigas but such animals like kulans as well. The island is unique in that as a result of prolonged isolation, amazing landscapes, unique complexes of flora and fauna, which are not found anywhere else on the territory of Uzbekistan, were formed here.
Zukkov fund's employee Rustam Murzakhanov believes that the Aralkum desert ecosystem is very fragile, and it should also be protected:

"The former islands of the Aral Sea are from an ecological point of view are unique. Here we can study how the desert came to replace the sea. The status of the protected area will help preserve the new ecosystem and explore how nature itself copes with the consequences of the disaster. "
A ghost town, a formidable ship of the Cold War era, now is harmless to anyone. Now it must be protected from people. Vozrozhdeniye means "a renaissance" and it should justify its name and give new life to animals and plants.

Photo and video: Elyor Nematov
Story: Nikita Makarenko
Music for the video:
Nikita Makarenko
Video edition: Nikita Makarenko and Elyor Nematov
Design and layout: Elyor Nematov

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Created with help of:

The State Tourism Commitee of Uzbekistan

Saiga Conservation Alliance

Central Asian Desert Initiative (CADI)

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