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Military heritage for peaceful purposes

Bykhov authorities develop own strategy to make use of old army sites
By Svetlana Andreeva

In Soviet times, the small town of Bykhov, in the south of the Mogilev Region, was a hub of trade and military activity. Women would travel there to buy the latest fashions and products scarce elsewhere. The stationing of the aviation division of the Baltic fleet doubled the population of the town while army shelters, barracks and warehouses occupied significant space. Its military airdrome was considered to be one of the biggest in Europe: the pride of naval aviation.

Checkpoint under the hammer
Shortly after the military left the base, there arose the question of what to do with such a legacy; it was a real problem for local authorities, explains Victor Pugach, the Head of Economic Department at the Bykhov District Executive Committee. He tells us, “Military facilities numbered more than a thousand buildings.” An electronic database and documentary archives detail every site but, of course, they soon began falling into disrepair and many were plundered. In order to find new owners, Bykhov District authorities decided to auction off sites, and investors responded.

Hens roosting in bunkers
Various investors chose to begin manufacturing inside some of the former military premises. Among them was well-known Belatmit; almost a decade ago, it bought one of the former navy mess halls [dining rooms]. Where soldiers once ate cabbage soup and cutlets, Myasograd sausages are now made. It was one of the first buildings purchased and has since given jobs to more than 700 local residents. 

The bunkers presented a different set of problems, admits Mr. Pugach, saying, “Agroling Company took an interest in these constructions and, since 2004, has been housing broiler chickens underground.” Of course, the conditions were checked carefully for suitability, including radioactivity. Levels in the bunkers were actually half that of those within the town limits!

Sheds made from wood were dismantled for building materials, bought by enterprises and private entrepreneurs. Mr. Pugach notes, “We might say that the military heritage ‘problem’ turned out to be beneficial for the district.” 

Bykhov authorities don’t demand short-term gains or huge injections from investors, being happy to see these old sites revived for peaceful purposes, to the benefit of the state budget.

On a runway using a bike
Of course, it’s not easy to find the right buyer for certain sites, so advertising has been vital, on websites and in newspapers. Since 1995, about 400 state property sites have been sold across the district. The former military camp now houses peaceful companies dealing with cargo transportation, production of windows, waste disposal and public catering.

Various ‘lots’ remain empty, including inside the airdrome. Its runway is over a metre thick, and stretches over 4km; it received such giants as the Ruslan plane and welcomed President Mikhail Gorbachev. Today, bikers and racing drivers occasionally take a spin along its length. Mr. Pugach tells us, “The airdrome has been used to give lessons in driving to Bykhov lyceum students, as well as hosting regular competitions in drag and circuit car racing and other extreme sporting events.”

The airdrome remains for sale and Bykhov continues to welcome proposals from investors.
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