"A glimpse behind the Iron Curtain"
Soviet Visuals is the internet's largest social archive of visuals from across the former USSR. We collect and curate images, photographs, illustrations, propaganda art and sometimes even soundbites.
If you'd like to submit a visual, please send it to us via or DM us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
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HOW IT STARTED
In true spirit of the widespread Soviet economic practice of counter-planning, my first encounter with the USSR took place a little earlier than expected. My soon-to-be mother was in her eighth month of pregnancy when her state-run maternity hospital in the east of Moscow announced that it was closing down for ‘sanitation procedures’ and gently requested that she (and the other women) please hurry up. One induced labour, and I was born into the USSR – just in time, as a few pivotal historical events later, the Soviet Union collapsed after seventy years of existence. The once largest country in the world was no more, replaced by fifteen different nations and a complex and muddled jigsaw puzzle of shared identities, cultures and visual artefacts left behind.
After discovering my parents’ archive of home videos and cassettes, I became fascinated with collecting the remnants of this era – expanding my quest to libraries, friends of friends’ photo albums and obscure flea markets. Every awkward wedding snapshot, television recording and carefully folded fashion catalogue page is, in a way, a glimpse into the lives of nearly 300 million Soviet people as they experienced love and pain, celebrated their children’s birthdays, joined the (only) party, laughed, cried and dreamed in sanatoriums, prisons, communal kitchens and highly sought-after automobiles.
In May 2016, I decided to start a Twitter account called Soviet Visuals to consolidate these makeshift archives for a small group of friends. As it grew, the page evolved into a community of people contributing their own photographs, videos and personal stories as well as curious observers from all parts of the world.
For some, the project embodies the nostalgic aftertaste of a shared past; for others, a sneak peek behind the Iron Curtain and an opportunity to reflect critically on the social and cultural norms of the time.
The project is in no way an attempt to glorify or justify the USSR’s ideological constructs and totalitarian practices; I deeply sympathise with the victims of the numerous horrors and brutalities of the Soviet system.
It is, however, important to acknowledge the various elements of propaganda that were woven into the fabric of Soviet citizens’ everyday lives, as seen in many of the visuals.
For me, the greatest appeal is in unearthing certain trivial elements of Soviet people’s day-to-day existence: some questionable fashion choices, a ridiculously graphic factory safety poster, the peculiar design of a home appliance, a long-forgotten regional pop star…
One of the most rewarding aspects of curating these images has been the opportunity to observe the kinds of reactions and conversations that they prompt in people. Some are to be expected, but many have taken me by surprise: for example, the sheer number of enthusiastic reactions to a 1970s photograph of somebody’s very good-looking grandfather which almost broke the internet , or the time a man reached out to ask if he could open an account called Soviet Azerbaijan (of course you can, I told him ... this is social media, not the Soviet Union!).
While no amount of photographs or videos can fully capture the multi-layered realities of Soviet society, each image posted to the project's social pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well us for the upcoming book was chosen after careful deliberation, and my hope is that they inspire you to explore further, to question and look beyond the obvious.
- Varia Bortsova, creator of Soviet Visuals