This Russian City Is Called the ‘Graveyard of the Earth’

[Culture ★★★]


(P1) On the face of it, the living is good in Ozersk, Russia. The 100,000 people living in the city tucked in the Ural Mountains have always had plenty of food, private apartments, well-regarded schools, and good healthcare, even when the rest of the country lived in poverty. However, there are a few downsides for locals, the Guardian reports: “Their water is contaminated, their mushrooms and berries are poisoned, and their children may be sick.” Ozersk, or City 40 as it was first called, is where the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons program was born. In the 70 years since the city was secretly built around the Mayak nuclear plant, its residents have been victims of nuclear accidents; waste from the nuclear plant is dumped into local lakes and rivers.

(P2) “The rate of cancer is enormous and their kids are born with cancer,” Samira Goetschel, who made the documentary City 40, told Vice in May. “They die from cancer. But they take it as part of life.” So why do the denizens of Ozersk remain in a city called the “graveyard of the Earth”? At first, they had no choice. Ozersk is a closed city, and for its first several year’s residents could neither leave nor communicate with the outside world. Now, residents may obtain an exit visa on certain days, but other Russians and any foreigners aren’t allowed in without approval. “You know, it’s double barbed-wire fences, it’s heavily guarded,” says Goetschel, who managed to gain access. Residents today have the choice to leave and never return, per the Guardian, but “few do because it would mean losing the privileges of being a resident of this closed city.”

*click on city 40 in the article to watch a youtube video about the city*

WORDS: 277


VOCABULARY: tucked, downsides, enormous, denizens, barb-wire, privileges


If you found the passage difficult to read or had problems understanding specific words or idiomatic expressions, please discuss them with your tutor. The following discussion questions should be answered in your own words and with your own arguments.

  1. Briefly, summarize the content of the article in your own words.
  2. If you were a resident of this closed city, would you want to continue living there? Why or why not?
  3. Should the city be relocated away from the nuclear plant and waste? Why or why not?
  4. If you had the opportunity, would you visit this city? Why or why not?


  1. How many residents live in Ozersk?
  2. Where in Russia is the closed city located?
  3. What’s wrong with the berries and mushrooms?
  4. The city was built with the public’s knowledge. (T or F)
  5. The people of Ozersk have to stay. (T or F)


What do the following expressions or phrases mean?

  • on the face of it (P1)
  • dumped into local lakes and rivers (P1)
  • The rate of cancer (P2)
  • closed city (P2)

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Image source: Photograph: DIG Films

One thought on “This Russian City Is Called the ‘Graveyard of the Earth’

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