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Vozrozhdeniya, the mysterious former island where the Soviets tested extreme Bio-Weapons (and not only…)

4 min read

Vozrozhdeniya was once an isolated small island only 200 square kilometres in the nineteenth century in the Aral Sea.
However, in the 1960s, the island began to grow in size as the Aral Sea began drying up as the Soviet Union dammed its feeder rivers for agricultural projects. The shrinkage continued and accelerated over time, and the receding waters briefly made Vozrozhdeniya the second-largest fresh water island in the world, at 2,300 km2, in the final days of its existence in mid-2001, becoming a peninsula when the South Aral Sea dried up enough that the island joined the mainland. Upon the disappearance of the Southeast Aral Sea in 2008, Vozrozhdeniya was simply a part of the surrounding land, and by 2014 it was simply a part of the land within the extensive Aralkum Desert.
Today, it’s just a wasteland infused with tonnes of anthrax, as well as other exotic and deadly diseases.

Science apart, the Aral Sea was once the fourth-largest sea on planet Earth, but after the rivers that fed it were diverted by the Soviets to irrigate cotton fields, its waters receded and today it is nothing but a salty-sand wasteland where temperatures frequently reach 60 degrees Celsius and, as a result, every signs of life are scarce or even non-existent.
But you know what’s worse than a salt-covered wasteland?
This salt-covered wasteland…infused with anthrax and a plethora of other exotic diseases that the Soviet Union experimented for years.
And that’s what makes Vozrozhdeniya one of the deadliest places in the world.

Back when the Aral Sea was still a body of water, Vozrozhdeniya was an isolated patch of land that the Soviets called Aralsk-7, and It was so secluded that it wasn’t even known to man until the 19th century.
It didn’t show up even on Soviet maps, and its existence was a secret to most of the population, so the chances of it being discovered by Western Intelligence were very scarce.
Thus It was the perfect place to experiment with some of the most controversial biological weapons you can imagine.
For years, Aralsk-7 was part of a national biological weapons program and was used as a testing site for anthrax, smallpox and even the plague, yes, that plague, as well as diseases like tularemia, brucellosis, and typhus, all seeped into its sandy soil.
So it’s really no surprise that, over the years, the island has been implicated in a number of sinister incidents.
For example, in 1971, a young scientist fell ill after her research vessel went through a brownish haze close to the island. She was diagnosed with small pox, despite being vaccinated against the disease, and she ended up infecting nine other people, three of whom died.
A year later the corpses of two missing fishermen were found floating in their boat near the island. And, apparently, they had died of the plague…

Moreover, stories of locals drawing in nets full of dead fish abound in the area around Vozrozhdeniya, and in May of 1988, 50,000 saiga antelope which had been grazing on a nearby steppe famously dropped dead in about an hour, apparently of mysterious causes.
Its reputation is so notorious that ever since the former island, now 10 times its former size and connected to the mainland, was evacuated in the 1990s, only a handful of expeditions have been organized.
Not by chance the mystery of the biological horrors that were once tested here keeps people, curious, tourists and not only, at bay, as does the known fact that hundreds of tonnes of anthrax were just dumped here at one point in its history.
In 1988, the Soviets decided that playing with anthrax was a dangerous game, so some 100 to 200 tonnes of anthrax slurry were dumped in giant pits and forgotten.
The real problem is that its spores are notoriously hard to kill and can survive underground for hundreds of years.
Being bathed in disinfectant and roasted at 180 degrees Celsius doesn’t seem to trouble the spores either. To make matters worse, the precise location of the pits was never disclosed, but, as luck would have it, they were so large that they were visible from space.
Fearing that the anthrax could end up in the hands of terrorists, the U.S. sent specialists to Vozrozhdeniya to do some tests, and when they found traces of anthrax, millions of dollars were pledged for a cleanup operation.
Thousands of kilograms of powerful powdered bleach were used by crews wearing protective suits over several months, but in the end the spores were gone.
However the cleanup operation didn’t really end the threat of Vozrozhdeniya, as experts claim that surely there is still anthrax in and around the dumping pits, not to mention the burial pits of infected animals, each holding hundreds of corpses, or the unmarked graves of human victims.
But, luckily, Vozrozhdeniya is not the most accessible place in the world. You’d need someone to guide you there, and locals know that’s better to stay away…

Images from web – Google Research