Odessa’s catacombs: An Ancient Metro – Ukraine

Every corner of Ukraine’s streets carries a history lesson telling stories of resistance and abdication. Sometimes these stories are not only told by walking in the open air but unfold underground. Beneath the sandstone from which Odessa was built, the city’s labyrinth of underground tunnels and caves wind across nearly 580 miles of the city and the surrounding Ukrainian countryside.

Odessa’s tunnels and caves, originally quarried for sandstone nearly two hundred years ago during the 19th century, became a favored hideout for smugglers and partisans over the years. The catacombs are best known, however, for hiding anti-Nazi partisan units sheltering resistance fighters, provisions, and weapons in what may be called a war of attrition during Ukraine’s occupation by foreign armies of Romania and Germany. A recreation of the resistance effort’s headquarters with rusty bedsteads, desks, faded pictures of Soviet leaders, and old caches of ammunition is open to the public. This network of these excavated tunnels is part of the small but very popular Museum of Partisan Glory.

Much of the tunnel maze has yet to be excavated, however. A guide is strongly recommended for visitors when viewing the open network of catacombs located close seven miles from Odessa close to the village of Nerubaiskoye. Hotels and local travel agencies can assist visitors in booking a tour of Odessa’s catacombs at a cost of 25 U.S. dollars. Cheaper Russian language tours depart from Odessa’s train station during the summer months as well.

The catacombs are not for the faint of heart, however. Humid and claustrophobic conditions in the tunnels and caves are overwhelming and may discourage some. Rumors also persist that the occasional unaccompanied visitor has been lost in the tunnels never to be located. Travelers are advised to use care when stepping backwards into this part of Ukraine’s history.