Yuri Smirnov at the sealed Kola Superdeep Borehole near Zapolyarny, Russia.

Yuri Smirnov at the sealed Kola Superdeep Borehole near Zapolyarny, Russia.

In 1970, Yuri Smirnov a WWII hero, began working at the Kola Super Deep Borehole (KSDB). A Soviet megalomaniac endeavor launched on the 100th birthday of Vladimir Lenin meant to dig to the center of the earth. The project was conducted near the northernmost settlement of Zapolyarniy, in the arctic tundra of the Kola Peninsula. 19 years later, at 12,000 meters KSDB became the deepest hole in the world. Yuri, as a project leader, was celebrated by institutions in Soviet Union and around the world including the New York Academy of Science.

His success did not come without cost, due to remote and enduring living conditions, his wife gave him an ultimatum, “Its me or the hole”. Yuri chose the hole. His spouse and children left him.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, two years later, religion made a comeback. In Zapol-yarniy, rumors were spread about a microphone recording sounds of hell at the bottom of the hole. Conspiracists tied catastrophic events such as war in Afghanistan, nuclear reactor meltdown in Chernobyl and the collapse of the USSR to the work at the station.

In 2005 the project was completely shut down and dismantled for scrap metal. With his communist ideals and his dreams shattered, alone and unable to leave the arctic due to health conditions, Yuri remained the self appointed guardian of the hole.

Before his death in June 2018, late Yuri Smirnov, distributed communist flyers campaigning against local technocrats and saving his pension to buy an apartment to house a museum dedicated to his life’s work at the station.

 
 Workers once reached the drill site in buses which arrived from nearby towns daily. Today, the only way to get to the site is by off-road vehicle in the summer or snowmobile in the winter.

Workers once reached the drill site in buses which arrived from nearby towns daily. Today, the only way to get to the site is by off-road vehicle in the summer or snowmobile in the winter.

 World War II veteran Yuri Smirnov said he enlisted in the Soviet military at 14 years old, lying about his age and pretending to be an orphan in order to join.

World War II veteran Yuri Smirnov said he enlisted in the Soviet military at 14 years old, lying about his age and pretending to be an orphan in order to join.

 Smirnov asleep in his apartment in Zapolyarny, Russia. He moved to the town in 1970, when the drilling began.

Smirnov asleep in his apartment in Zapolyarny, Russia. He moved to the town in 1970, when the drilling began.

 Smirnov survived on his government pension, saving part of it in hopes of one day opening a museum dedicated to the borehole.

Smirnov survived on his government pension, saving part of it in hopes of one day opening a museum dedicated to the borehole.

 Smirnov’s apartment was cluttered with ephemera related to the hole, his archives, and his medical devices.

Smirnov’s apartment was cluttered with ephemera related to the hole, his archives, and his medical devices.

 Smirnov displayed a portrait of Lenin, left, next to a painting depicting the urban legend that the sounds of hell could be heard coming from the bottom of the borehole.

Smirnov displayed a portrait of Lenin, left, next to a painting depicting the urban legend that the sounds of hell could be heard coming from the bottom of the borehole.

 Graffiti above and below the button for the elevator in Smirnov’s apartment building reads “heaven” and “hell.”

Graffiti above and below the button for the elevator in Smirnov’s apartment building reads “heaven” and “hell.”

 The building complex at the drill site, which shut down in 2005. It has since been raided for scrap metal.

The building complex at the drill site, which shut down in 2005. It has since been raided for scrap metal.

 The cap sealing the top of the defunct borehole.

The cap sealing the top of the defunct borehole.

 Smirnov dreamed of welcoming visitors to a memorial museum to the borehole with this introduction: “At last, the stone chronicle of nature will reveal its mysterious pages. Great thinkers like Da Vinci, George Collier, William Smith, and Mikhail Lomonosov foresaw what you are about to see today.”

Smirnov dreamed of welcoming visitors to a memorial museum to the borehole with this introduction: “At last, the stone chronicle of nature will reveal its mysterious pages. Great thinkers like Da Vinci, George Collier, William Smith, and Mikhail Lomonosov foresaw what you are about to see today.”

 Smirnov at the drill site.

Smirnov at the drill site.

 Smirnov’s living room, furnished with displays of geological ephemera he had collected for the museum he dreamed of dedicating to the borehole.

Smirnov’s living room, furnished with displays of geological ephemera he had collected for the museum he dreamed of dedicating to the borehole.

 Smirnov gives a tour of the drill site.

Smirnov gives a tour of the drill site.

 The Kola Superdeep Borehole, nearly forgotten. When Alexey Yurenev first visited the site in 2016, its depth in meters—12,262—was mislabeled on its cap.

The Kola Superdeep Borehole, nearly forgotten. When Alexey Yurenev first visited the site in 2016, its depth in meters—12,262—was mislabeled on its cap.

Perhaps the ultimate human happiness consists of not only understanding the present, but also the depths of the past, combining contemporary history with the beautiful and perpetual cycle of existence.
— Yuri Smirnov, ten confirmed kills, four captives