Obninsk & Borovsk 2019

I have long wanted to make a “pilgrimage” to Borovsk, home to the museum-apartment of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, one of the three major thinkers – along with Nikolay Fyodorov and Vladimir Vernadsky – who could be said to be the fathers of Russian Cosmism, which is the precursor to modern transhumanism.

Fortunately, to reach Borovsk, the easiest way is to take a train to the nearby “science city” (наукоград) of Obninsk, which also happens to be the residence town of our very own Egor Kholmogorov, a Russian conservative-nationalist philosopher whose work regularly appears on The Unz Review. My traveling companion Fluctuarius Argenteus (the translator of most of Kholmogorov’s output) and I would like to express our thanks to Egor and his wife for taking the day off to show us all around Obninsk and Borovsk.

Egor Kholmogorov contemplates the meaning and future of Russia in the orchard next to the Tsiolkovsky Museum.

Donate to him: https://akarlin.com/donations-kholmogorov/


During the Soviet era, Obninsk was a science city (наукоград) that was given its status in 1956. It specialized in the nuclear industry, hosting the world’s first civilian NPP from 1954. In subsequent years, many other hi-tech enterprises sprouted up. I can’t say it is the most postcard picturesque city, though there are a number of cute “sciency” monuments scattered about the place and some nice avant-garde architecture. However, it is not in a state of decay thanks to its still active heavy industry, and unlike most small regional towns of its profile – especially those close to Moscow’s gravity well – its population has actually edged slightly upwards since the Soviet collapse.

The park by the railway station, which is currently being renovated, features a large stele with a diagram of the atom (which happens to also be on the flag of Obninsk).

Monument to the Pioneers of Nuclear Energy.

This cutaway of a К-14 nuclear submarine doubles as a Monument to the Pioneers of the Nuclear Submarine Fleet.

This building in the 1920s avant-garde style served as a Spanish language school for the children of Spanish Republican politicians in exile from their defeat in the Spanish Civil War through to the start of World War II.

The Physics Energy Technicum was a major center of nuclear energy research in the USSR and formed the nucleus around which the Soviet city grew. Though, as one might guess from its facade, the days when it produced serious research are long gone.

The entrance to the site that hosted the world’s first NPP.

This building used to belong to a late Imperial Russian factory owner and philanthropist called Margarita Morozova. Like most such objects, it was nationalized in 1917, and became more famous as the Western Front HQ for Zhukov during 1942. It later became a retreat for the town’s nuclear scientists.

It was passed down to the local (краеведческий) museum in 2015 and is currently closed for restoration.

City Museum

The main city museum is appropriately located in the brutalist-futurist building above.

It has four main galls focusing, respectively, on its early history and the peasantry; on the pre-Revolutionary nobility; on the main era of its construction and World War II; and on its modern industry.

Neolithic to Imperial Age

The first human settlements in this area appeared 7,000 years ago. This was the region of the (Finno-Ugric) Dyakovo culture, which merged with that of the expanding Vyatich tribe of the Slavs around 1000 AD.

Russian hornbooks of the late 19-early 20C.

One of the more curious objects is a 17th century wood and leather chair from Spain, which somehow found its way to the Obninsk area during the Imperial era.

Early USSR

This hall focuses on the likbez (eradication of illiteracy campaign), World War II, and the immediate postwar period.

The text on the blackboard says “We are not slaves, slaves we are not”, a popular phrase from the first Soviet hornbook. It is amusing they would feel the need to affirm that.

Incidentally, the likbez campaign was a failure. It is very hard to impart literacy to adults, and largely a waste of resources to try to do so (resources that could be spent educating children instead).

One section in particular focused on the “free schooling” project in the 1920s run by Stanislav Shatsky (who died in 1934, a few years before he could be repressed). The early USSR saw vigorous if often ill-founded educational experimentation.

Another section covered the aforementioned Spanish school for children of Republican politicians. This topic is a major source of interest for Fluctuarius Argenteus for professional reasons.

Later USSR

This section of the hall deals with the towns post-Stalin history, which saw the city of Obninsk growing to its present size.

Pravda report on the launch of the first civilian nuclear power plant in the USSR on June 27, 1954.

Model of the first NPP.

Throughout the museum, there are reconstructions of the rooms of normal people, as well as higher functionaries and scientists. This one belongs to Nikolay Timofeev-Ressovsky, a Soviet biologist who was persecuted by the Lysenkoists.

Timofeev-Ressovsky meeting with Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

(This photo is available at full resolution in case people want to read these rather interesting texts about the politicization of science in the post-Stalin USSR).

Top Right: Atheist Lectorium for Youth: The Religion Modernity, 1985/86.

Icebreakers, polar bears, etc.


The final hall is devoted to temporary exhibitions.


Borovsk is a small town (population: 12,000) about 20 km distant from Obninsk. Originally part of the Principality of Ryazan during the medieval era, it passed to Moscow during the 14th century.

It is an out of the way place that was passed over during the railway construction era, so its population has never risen substantially above its Imperial era level; it had 9,000 people in 1857, and the same number in 1913.

Borovsk is also famous for having multiple wall paintings by famed local graffiti artist Vladimir Ovchinnikov.

Intercession of the Theotokos Church

Wooden church from the late 16-early 17C, on the site of a former men’s monastery.

There is a restaurant nearby offering cheap, healthy food with large portions featuring a stunning view of the surroundings.

Monument to Saint Pafnuty of Borovsk, who was the mentor of Joseph of Volokolamsk, who would become one of the key figures in Russian monasticism.

Museum-Room of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Why is Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857-1935) important?

  • One of the founders of modern rocketry, laying the theoretical basis for space exploration.
  • Inventor of the all-metal dirigible.
  • One of the key figures in Russian cosmism (later, transhumanism), calling for biological immortality and space exploration.
  • As (slightly mis)quoted in the Civilization video games: “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever.
  • All round polymath (“I am a pure autodidact: I take everything from the mathematicians, geometrists, and mechanics… almost everything from the natural philosophers… and a lot from the philosophers“).

Anyhow, just read the Wiki.

I also believe that he may have uncovered the “Goldilocks Zone” concept in 1925, almost three decades before its official “invention” in the West in 1953, and he likewise appears to have articulated the Fermi Paradox in advance of most others.

Tsiolkovsky at the Vyatka Male Gymnasium (1871), far left/top.

Tsiolkovsky spent the years 1890-1902 as a school teacher in Borovsk, marrying and starting a family in the house that now serves as the museum. (Above photo is enlarged if you want to read all the quotes).

Autism Lv. 80: “I viewed marriage only in practical terms: Already, by the age of 16, I was theoretically done with all the absurdities of religion… On the wedding day, I bought a lathe from my neighbor and cut glass for electric machines.”

As one might expect, the people of Borovsk thought he was a bit of a eccentric who was a bit too obsessed with his trinkets.

Nonetheless, he did make friends with the local intellectuals during this period, as well as leading scientists in Saint-Petersburg (including Dmitry Mendeleev), who promoted his ideas amongst the Empire’s scientific and technical societies.

Borovsk is where Tsiolkovsky developed his design for an all-metal dirigible (see top, image is enlarged).

How Tsiolkovsky’s desk and workshop in Borovsk may have looked like.

Note the design on the chair; does it remind you of something? Some logo? 🙂

Tsiolkovsky moved to Kaluga with his family in 1892, where he taught until 1921. This is where he developed his most notable ideas about rocketry and space exploration, most notably in the 1903 article “Exploration of Outer Space by Means of Rocket Devices.”

Tsiolkovsky at the Kaluga Women’s Diocesan School (far right) in 1914, now “School №.9” in Kaluga. Despite his quite open irreligiosity, he had no problems finding work with ROC-affiliated educational institutions.

Tsiolkovsky giving one of his students a “5” (highest possible mark).

Scenes from other schools where Tsiolkovsky taught.

Tsiolkovsky continued teaching after the Revolution, although the Civil War period was one of hardship for him (as for many others). The above letter is his letter of resignation from teaching duties in October 1921.

Note an interesting detail: He now calls himself a “school worker” (школьный работник), or “shkrab” (шкраб) for short. This was the politically correct way to refer to refer to schoolteachers (formerly учитель) from September 30, 1918 which also saw the abolition of grades, admissions exams, etc., which along with other “culturally Marxist” policies was only later reversed under Stalin.

His financial situation easened the following month, when he was assigned a lifelong pension by the Soviet government for his contributions to science.

That said, it must be noted that Tsiolkovsky was not an opponent of the Soviet regime, believing that his ideas were more respected and likely to be realized under them than under the old order.

Tsiolkovsky and family, Kaluga, May 1932.

In total, he produced seven children, of whom six survived to adulthood. However, two sons committed suicide in their youth, while another two died in 1919 and 1922 from bronchitis and tuberculosis, respectively. So only two daughters lived out “full” lives.

Road leading away from the Tsiolkovsky Museum.

Borovsk Monastery of St. Paphnutius

The men’s monastery of Saint Pafnuty of Borovsk (1444), where Joseph of Volokolamsk (Ivan Sanin) took the tonsure in 1459. He became hegumen after Pafnuty’s death in 1477, but eventually left to form his own monastery in Volokolamsk when the brothers took exception to his attempts to impose rigid discipline.

It was captured and burned by the Poles in 1610, and burned again by the French in 1812. However, as usual, the biggest long-term damage was inflicted under the Soviets, who seized it in 1923 and turned it into a prison. It later became an agricultural college, and then part of the Borovsk local museum, before being returned to the ROC in 1991.

Based and redpilled: “Handing out alms to gypsies at the entrance to the monastery is not blessed.

Constructed in 1460 on the place of the original wooden church, the Nativity Cathedral features rich though degraded art from the icon painters Mitrofan and Dionisy. They still requires extensive restoration work.

Bell tower with attached refectory.

Church of Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker

This is a picturesque early 19C church in the village of Rusinovo just outside Borovsk. It was closed in the 1930s, like almost all churches, and brought into a state of disrepair.

What was left of it after German shelling and Soviet era neglect was returned to ROC in 1998, and it has since been restored.

However, the main reason to stop by – it’s on the road to Obninsk anyway – is to admire the gorgeous views. There is also a cafeteria, though it’s only open until 5pm.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Please keep off topic posts to the current Open Thread.

    If you are new to my work, start here.

  2. Boswald Bollocksworth says

    Hard to believe there are frescos from Dionysius that haven’t been restored. He’s like #2 or #3 after Rublyov. When you go around Russia the sense is there’s just so much to repair and renovate. Not that they aren’t on top of it, it will just take many decades to make up for a near century of underinvestment. The upside is that you Russians many very well have the highest number of skilled craftsmen.

  3. Philip Owen says

    Bring on thorium reactors. No military use and able to burn up all the spent fuel.

    Restoration is such a touchy issue. Leaving them as they are is a stronger historical, even aesthetic statement. Looks a nice place.

  4. TIL the cliodynamicist Peter Turchin is another Obninsk native.


    Probably a minor cognitive magnet, at least historically, which explains why it’s doing pretty well.

  5. Borovsk looks to be situated in a beautifully luscious area. Fantastic variety of trees and foliage in what looks like a venerable misty woodland. As the years pass and the tendrils of prosperity extend to these small towns, I imagine they will only get more lovely and in greater harmony with their surroundings. An enviable future.

  6. It seems a crime that a lot of the USSR’s nuclear subs were scrapped, after they were decommissioned. I would have liked to have visited an alfa and a typhoon (still hope?). There is something really inspiring about engineering on that scale – and it makes one easily think of large space rockets, which I believe can use a lot of the same build techniques.

    In the US, you can visit the USS Nautilus (launched 1954). The Nautilus was the first nuclear-powered sub and completed the first submerged voyage to the North Pole.

  7. “We are not slaves, slaves we are not”, a popular phrase from the first Soviet hornbook. It is amusing they would feel the need to affirm that.

    No different to how one keeps hearing the establishment think tanks and media affirming how “free” liberal democracies are.

  8. I have been told that making nuclear subs into museums is much harder than with diesel-electrics because they have to remove the reactor, decontaminate everything, etc.

    But never knew that the USS Nautilus was preserved – will be sure to visit in the unlikely event I find myself around Boston/NY anytime soon.

  9. Thorfinnsson says

    I’m not really sure why the reactor has to be removed.

    I’ve long suggested that decommissioned nuclear ships simply be connected to the grid. They’re not designed for this of course, but seems like that would be an easier modification than decommissioning the reactor entirely.

  10. Nowadays, I suppose a sub’s reactor might be considered a potential terrorist target.

    While I have visited a nuclear plant as a tourist before, and found the experience interesting, an actual nuclear theme-park to inspire children and fight atomophobia would obviously be far superior.

    IMO, the real trick would be to harness the power of the atom in a uniquely enjoyable way. If you could safely fire some energy weapon at destructables. Control a robotic arc welder. Safely feel the heat generated in saunas without intermediary electric conversion. Use an electro-magnetic catapult. Witness the manufacturing of some energy-intensive article that you could purchase as a souvenir. Eat hygienically-radiated snackfoods.

    Of course, there would be rides powered by nuclear-energy, and hopefully a nuclear sub and replica-silo to visit.

  11. That apple tree next to Egor Kholmogorov is quite interesting. I have never seen the like before, where they white-wash the bottom of the trunk, I guess as a defense against insects or sun-scald. I wonder if it is a typical thing in Russia.

  12. It is typical in Russia, and I believe it is typical throughout the ex-Soviet bloc and in China as well.

  13. it is typical throughout the ex-Soviet bloc

    Can confirm, have one in my yard

  14. The lime tree paint also protects against moss, fungi and heating/freezing cycles during early spring. It can be seen in better catered fruit gardens in Central Europe too.

  15. I doubt these towns even exist. Just look at the photos! Clear Photoshop. Some of them were made in Vladivostok, which is another Russian town, but elsewhere.

    Also, there are no nuclear power plants anywhere. It’s just a reptilian hoax. Who is paying Karlin to spew out this nonsense?

    (Just another high quality comment before Ron Unz starts his Final Solution to the Heavy Commenter Question. See details under the https://www.unz.com/announcement/charging-for-comments/ URL – I’m not sure everyone saw that.)

  16. Ron will not stop until this site is dead

    AK: Ok, please keep comments on topic – this is for the Announcement threads.

  17. Tsiolkovsky was not an opponent of the Soviet regime, believing that his ideas were more respected and likely to be realized under them than under the old order.

    Don’t be too judgmental, this sounds like it’s right in line with his autistic personality. “I don’t care who’s in charge as long as I can get my work done!”

  18. Yeah, it might be for the best. No radioactive waste.

    I wonder if there was some way to utilize all the radiation in places like Chernobyl and Fukushima or that toxic lake in Russia for some useful purpose, cleaning up the areas at the same time

  19. Thorfinnsson says

    The “decontamination” at Fukushima was PR/atomophobia. There was no safety requirement to evacuate the area, and certainly not to scrape up the soil. The region has now been taken over by wild boars (radioactive boars according to the always humorous British tabloid press).

    Chernobyl is a different story of course. Wildlife has returned to the area, but a study in 2011 showed new wildlife in the region suffers from DNA damage. Maybe things are a bit better today. In theory humans might be able to inhabit the region without too much damage today, especially if taking supplements (potassium iodide along with antioxidants and antioxidant upgregulators), but staying away is understandable.

    To your direct idea there are many isotopes with useful industrial and scientific applications which could presumably be harvested from Chernobyl, but doing so would be inefficient compared to conventional production techniques.

  20. It might be worth mentioning that Tsiolkovsky’s father, Makary Ciołkowski,
    was Polish and a Catholic. His mother was mixed, Volga Tatar and Russian.
    Technically, he was not an atheist. He believed in a cosmic being who
    governed humans as marionettes or mechanical puppets.

    Another famous figure, Lobachevsky – a co-discoverer of non-Euclidean
    geometry, was Polish on both sides of his family.

  21. Chernobyl is a different story of course. Wildlife has returned to the area, but a study in 2011 showed new wildlife in the region suffers from DNA damage.

    The big problem is that humans live longer than most animals, so we have more time to accumulate damage. But yes, it’s likely that Fukushima is nothing compared to Chernobyl.

    (By the way a Hungarian former president or vice chairman or whatever of a nuclear energy society, a somewhat prominent engineer, changed his stance on nuclear energy after Fukushima, because he thought that if the Japanese cannot be trusted to properly handle it, then nobody could.)

  22. The Big Red Scary says

    While Japanese individuals are very competent and conscientious, the Japanese system is far from transparent, with almost all large-scale business running through the four zaibatsu that cooperate closely with the government on regulation. I’ve read that in the 50s through 70s, Japan suffered from extreme pollution problems. Somehow they solved that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they were doing a mediocre job of nuclear safety relative to European countries. One senior American nuclear engineer told me that he had toured Fukushima some years before the accident, and thought it was an accident waiting to happen. Of course, people tell themselves many stories in hindsight.

  23. I read on a comment board that Chernobyl and Fukushima mirrored their respective countries/peoples.

    The Russians had lax safety and screwed up everything that could be screwed up. But when an almost unimaginably large catastrophe struck, they quickly focused their minds and put great effort into solving the problem, and their response was impressive not only in its scale but also its efficiency.

    The Japanese had a very nice system operated efficiently, which under normal circumstances would never blow up. But then they failed to think of a danger which, at least in retrospect, should’ve seemed obvious. And when catastrophe struck, their response was slow and inept.

  24. The Big Red Scary says

    Pretty much. The Russians defeated the Wehrmacht and put Gagarin into orbit, but to this day can’t make water soluble paper and so insist on throwing their shit into buckets and stinking up the whole toilet.

  25. Two points:

    1. Re: Tsiolkovsky (Ciołkowski) and Lobachevsky (Łobaczewski)

    Russia in the 19th century was not producing enough scientists and engineers.
    Hence there was a tremendous demand for technically trained Polonians to
    fill the gap. Congress Poland (i.e., a much diminished version of Poland
    created at the 1815 Congress of Vienna) was, particularly after 1850 or so,
    more industrially advanced than Russia

    1. In the U.S., at least, the standard belief is that transhumanism is an outgrowth
      of the Human Potential Movement which in the ‘60s and ‘70s was centered at the
      Esalen Institute in the Big Sur area on the California coast. Esalen Institute still exists,
      and still organizes interesting conferences and workshops
  26. anonymous coward says

    Bullshit, the ‘toilet paper into bucket’ meme is far more prevalent in Southern Europe than in Russia.

    Also, the USA is the only country on Earth where toilets get clogged up and you end up chasing floating turds in your bathroom. (Yuck, also yikes.)

  27. The Big Red Scary says

    Manshit, not bullshit.

    This is a real problem where I work, in a newly renovated building in central Moscow, and also even in many restaurants.

    (I have little recent experience of US toilets, so have no opinion on that matter.)

  28. anonymous coward says

    I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, just that the scale of that problem is vastly smaller in Russia than in many European countries. Also, most of the time the ‘bucket for TP’ thing is because the patron of the place doesn’t want to deal with the liability of strangers flushing random objects down the toilet. In their own homes Russians almost never a bucket in the bathroom; somehow the plumbing problems magically go away if it’s not a public place.

    (Pro tip: just flush it down anyways, the bucket is there to intimidate you and nothing will happen.)