Szentkirályszabadja, the largest ghost town in Hungary, was a former Soviet barracks of the 13th Soviet Armored Division. Next door was the Hungarian barracks and airport. The two units had a good relationship with each other.
Construction of the airport itself began in 1938, by 1944 only the grassy, ground runway was complete. Concreting was already done by the Soviets, who took control of the airport in 1951 to deploy MiG-15s and JAK-19s, the most modern Soviet fighter jets of the age. These planes moved to Kunmadaras with their units in the 1960s, so one half of the airport was returned to Hungarian hands to be home to the 87th Bakony Helicopter Regiment.
Although the MiGs left, the Soviets remained, and in the meantime – mostly at the expense of the Hungarian state, employing Hungarian workers – they built a military town in the area, to which Hungarians were forbidden to enter on paper after the city was completed. The closure, of course, is all it operated in two directions, Soviet soldiers could not leave the barracks area either, only officers and their families could leave it, under strict control. To ensure that the outside world was not even tempting to young soldiers on compulsory two-year service abroad, the Soviets sought to create luxurious conditions within the city. The barracks, built in the 1960s and 70s. In addition to the five prefabricated houses, a kindergarten, primary and secondary school, library, own hospital, pub, separate cinema and theater, open-air cinema, chicken and pig farm, associated meat processing plant, wine cellar, a sports field, a post office, and even a restaurant, bar, shop, and even a slaughterhouse and other residential houses awaited the residents. thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and their families.
Tanks used to be deployed in the Soviet barracks of Szentkirályszabadja, located between Veszprém and Balatonalmádi, just ten kilometers from Lake Balaton, and MiG-15s and JAK-19s were waiting to be deployed in the hangars of the neighboring airport. The fighter jets moved to Kunmadaras in the sixties, and the forces of the 13th Poltava Guard Tank Division were stationed in Szentkirályszabadja until the change of regime. In the event of an armed conflict with NATO, the division’s T-55s and T-64s would presumably have headed for southern German territories or Italian targets. During the heyday of the strictly guarded, closed facility, built in the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers served here. The permanent Soviet presence ceased with the end of the troop withdrawal that began in 1989, but the decline in numbers had been observed since 1988.
The barracks were closed to the outside world by a concrete fence and had only one entrance where access was only possible with or without permission. This was also checked from the watchtower and civilians were not allowed to set foot.
The vernacular refers to the place as “Hungarian Chernobyl“. Of course, those who once lived here did not leave their homes as a result of a nuclear disaster, but the name is still correct in that the ghost town is now as deserted as Pripyat and has reclaimed nature as much as the Ukrainian settlement.
The barracks had long since been abandoned, the weeds had beaten the place, the looters had taken what they could. There is no door window left, what is still there is fragmented and scattered. Paint drips from the walls, but they still appear in a few places: in the kindergarten, you can still see the old fairy-tale murals in many places.
A group of companies owns the former barracks and the military town built around it. The sale did not take place in days: in the second half of 2017, the area was purchased from a receivables management company. They want to create an isolated workers’ hostel complex with service facilities, which can solve the accommodation difficulties of guest workers working in and around Veszprém.
There were many types of buildings, but most of them also functioned as a kitchen in the forecourt of the homes in the middle of the corridors, through which a single room awaited the returnees. From this, the narrow booths of the bath and washbasin opened. However, the apartments at both ends of the corridors were slightly larger with a smaller and a second, rather spacious room.
On the other side of the road is a one-story building, of the six columns lined up in front of its entrance, a number can still be clearly seen on the right-hand side – perhaps one of the elements of the once valid house number. This was once the building of the military town, which housed color performances, film screenings, cultural and community programs. Its capacity, together with the places created in the gallery, could have been more than a hundred people.
For many years, it was only possible to get inside the stairs built for this purpose, but now a massive concrete bar crosses the three steps: perhaps it is meant to provide access for motorcyclists. That our assumption is not unfounded is evidenced by the dotted black streaks on the floor of the foyer — traces of burnt tires. And about the original function of the facility are the words written on the wall: “Theater the whole world”. The remnants of the planks that once represented the world can still be seen on the stage rising at the height of the ground. Soot stains spread on the columns of the porch and on the ceiling: the whole floor is burnt out.
The barracks next to the airport have been abandoned for more than 20 years, and a sci-fi film has already been shot in the creepy dead city, for example, scenes from Gergő Elekes‘ film Parallel.
The exchange and the Soviet presence ceased in 1990, but the depopulation of the military town was a slow process, as soldiers had been continuously dismantled since 1988. The combat equipment was also withdrawn quietly, unobtrusively, mostly packed in containers, and the armored vehicles and anti-aircraft missiles were taken through the forest so that they could not be seen by Hungarian soldiers or possible spy satellites.
There is no question that from one moment to the next the barracks a few minutes from Veszprém, which was once a busy military center, should have been emptied. The disarmament and withdrawal of the Soviet soldiers stationed here were slow and gradual, so they had time for everything; what else they needed was packed and taken away.
Such were the T-55 tanks in front of the entrance, with their turret towers facing the outside world, which the locals had long thought were ornaments, standing there so sculptural. Then, when the Soviets were ordered to leave the barracks, they sprinkled some fuel on the tanks, which first set off, rolled off their seats, and headed back to the Soviet Union along with everything else.
It was a strange feeling to walk within the city buildings and their walls. The message of desolation emanating from every corner of the former settlement is extremely depressing, almost terrifying.
Only 30 years is enough to make a settlement left alone by nonsense, the iron hands of passing away. So much time is enough for nature to reclaim what has been torn out of it, so much time is enough to demolish everything we have built, cared for with our inaction.