It’s been 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. The nation born through revolution died a slow death over a period of several years, officially dissolving on Dec. 26, 1991. As the individual republics celebrated their freedom from Moscow’s rule, they demolished many of the omnipresent military and political statues and monuments marking the USSR’s nearly 75-year reign. Yet a surprising number still stand today, some of them quite impressive in scale and craftsmanship.
10. Monument to the Conquerors of Space (Moscow)
Rising 350 feet, with the base representing a rocket’s exhaust plume, this monument commemorates Yuri Gagarin’s 1961 feat of becoming the first man to travel into space. The Soviets took great pride in beating Americans into space, first with the launch of the tiny satellite Sputnik, and then in manned flight in the early 1960s. In fact, planning for this monument began several years before Gagarin’s historic spaceflight. The base houses the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.
9. Mound of Glory (Minsk, Belarus)
Finished in 1969, this monument honors Soviet soldiers who helped drive German soldiers from the area in a decisive operation in 1944.
8. Alyosha Monument (Plovdiv, Bulgaria)
As noted earlier, many Soviet-era monuments around the former USSR republics have been demolished. Bulgarian officials have tried to have this 36-foot-tall concrete statue destroyed at least twice in recent years, but it’s so beloved by many locals they stationed a guard by the monument to protect it. The monument honors Soviet soldiers that occupied Axis affiliate Bulgaria in WWII.
7. Monument to the Liberator Soldier (Kharkiv, Ukraine)
This Red Army soldier with his rifle held high honors the Soviet soldiers who drove out the Germans in 1943. Finished in 1981, the monument had fallen into disrepair a few years ago, until officials raised funds for its restoration.
6. Buzludzha Monument (Bulgaria)
Evoking images of a UFO, this strange memorial commemorates historic events that occurred on this Bulgarian peak in the 19th century. Built in the mid-1970s, it was abandoned around 1989. It has since been heavily vandalized, it still stands.
5. Soviet War Memorial (Berlin)
No city better symbolizes the Cold War and Soviet domination better than Berlin. But while the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin had been opened by 1989 and totally demolished by 1992, evidence of the USSR’s longtime presence in the city can still be found. One of three major war memorials built in Berlin to honor Soviets who died in the Battle of Berlin, the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park features several statues and elements. The centerpiece is quite striking, a 40-foot-tall statue of a Soviet soldier holding a small child, standing over a broken swastika. It depicts a true event from that conflict. Around 5,000 soldiers are buried in the memorial’s cemetery.
4. Alyosho Monument (Murmansk, Russia)
This is also known by the more unwieldy title of the monument to the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War (the war most refer to as World War II). This monument to military personnel stands 116 feet tall.
3. Motherland Monument (Kiev, Ukraine)
This stainless-steel statue and its base tower 335 feet over Ukraine (about 30 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty). Part of the Museum of The History of Ukraine in World War II, the monument spurred controversy even before construction began in 1979. Locals argued the money could have been much better spent on the citizens; even today, the statue is a source of irritation for many, given Ukraine’s messy history with Russia. While Ukrainian officials have aggressively purged Soviet-era communist symbols and monuments, the Motherland statue is exempt, because it is a WWII monument.
2. The Motherland Calls (Volgograd, Russia)
This is an impressive monument by any standard. Standing 279 feet tall, it was the tallest statue in the world when unveiled in 1967 (and it’s still in the top 10). It commemorates those who died in the Battle of Stalingrad, one of the deadliest battles in the history of warfare, and a decisive battle in World War II. It’s worth noting that its architect, Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich, also designed the Motherland Monument (No. 3 above) as well as the Soviet War Memorial (No. 5).
1. Giant Lenin Head (Buryatia, Russia)
This enormous head of early Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin is a major tourist draw in Ulan-Ude, the capital city of the Republic of Buryatia, Russia. Weighing 42 tons and standing 25 feet tall, the monument was erected in 1971 for the centennial of the Lenin’s birth.