Imagine Fords and Chevrolets, parked with the windows down, in a drive-in movie theater advertising Western previews; imagine poodle-skirted girls sipping milkshakes at their local diner while their letterman-clad dates sauntered off to put the Beach Boys on the Jukebox. This scene seems straight out of 1950s middle America, until you realize none of it is real – it's 1959, and you're in the fake American KGB town of Vinnytsia, Ukraine.
Vinnytsia may be a booming, modern metropolis in the 21st century, but that wasn’t always the case. The top-secret town was part of KGB training, which taught deep cover spies how to play American during the Cold War so that they could infiltrate the country without raising suspicions.
Vinnytsia raises so many questions: did America have secret replica Soviet towns to do the same? How many of these spies came into America without any of us batting an eye? Here's a close look at the eerie, fake American town resting in the middle of a war-ready Soviet Union.
From 1954 to 1991, the KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union (it disbanded at the end of the Cold War). While their training was thorough throughout the '50s, the agency ran into one problem. The USSR's intense Cold War travel restrictions made it impossible for spies to experience actual American life. Most of what they knew about the western world was from what they saw on TV or in movies. To immerse recruits fully into American life before they were sent to America to blend in with the local Midwesterners, the KGB created Spy Schools. These training camps were located in specially constructed towns made to mimic English and American life.
To help deep agents in their training, the KGB employed the best linguists from all over the Soviet Union (you couldn't let a Russian accent slip). They also hired retired deep cover agents to pose as Americans in these towns and teach the trainees what it was like to be born and bred in the United States or UK.
In the above photo, you can see an ex-spy posing as an American-looking police officer and talking to a suited man over a coin-slot parking meter. This small detail of American life is so easy to overlook, but the details – like the usage and lingo of the parking meter – were essential to acquire in order to pose as a someone born in the USA.
The Soviets' fake American town was pretty spot on – ranch houses sprawled out in tract housing developments that perfectly captured the expanding suburbs of the American middle class. Still, everything was just a little bit off – it looked new, not lived in. Blocks, bookended with English street signs, were clean and pristine like a movie set.
Like something straight of the Netflix series Between, KGB training towns like Vinnytsia had an eerie youthfulness about them. It was almost as if every middle-aged resident disappeared in the middle of the night. In reality, spies had to be at their physical peak, so those being trained were often not much older than 30. In Vinnytsia, everyone – including businessmen and police officers – appeared to be in their 20s.