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Soviet scares: USSR urban legends

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Urban legends and creepy folklore were staples for those growing up in post-Soviet states. Since these countries had long remained closed to Western horror films, these stories offered some much-needed everyday spookiness. They were first told around fires at Young Pioneer camps in the Soviet Union, and then later migrated to summer camps in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and beyond. While Western urban legends like Bloody Mary and Slenderman have also become popular recently, Soviet and post-Soviet kids were always more likely to creep their friends out with coffins on wheels, red pianos and (for whatever reason) various shades of curtains.

Many of these have been collected as part of studies of modern folklore — for example, by the folklore faculty of the Russian literature department at Nizhny Novgorod State University, who published their archive online (in Russian). Children’s author Eduard Uspensky, who gave the world the famous Cheburashka, also published two archives of children’s spooky stories. And while literary historians now say we have entered a dormant phase of scary children’s tales — the need for creepiness is now satisfied by modern horror films and video games — we still get to enjoy the existing ones, all of which have countless versions.

They might not be the scariest thing you’ve ever read, but they present a phantasmagorical world where Ivan Tverdovsky’s Zoology meets Nikolai Gogol’s short stories and Soviet faith in figures of authority. Read on, if you dare.



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