What life was like in Soviet Central Asia (PHOTOS)

The Soviet Union consisted of 16 republics, each of which had a unique local flavor, yet all of them were building communism together. What did it look like? Let’s take a look at the five Central Asian Soviet Socialist Republics: Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Turkmen, and Tajik.


One of the main tasks facing the USSR was the elimination of illiteracy, and so, new schools, including those for adults, were set up all over the country. Tuition was in Russian and in local languages. Children were taught to love the Communist Party and Lenin from an early age. Many pioneers from Central Asia were awarded with visits to both the capitals of their republics and Moscow.

At school, Uzbek SSR; 1930s

Pioneers from Kazakh Republic visit Moscow; 1935.

Pioneers, Uzbek SSR; 1930s.

Ahead of September 1, “Day of Knowledge,” Tajik SSR; 1972.

Kyrgyz pioneers; 1975-1976.

Pioneer Day in Tajik Republic; May 19, 1972.

Collective farmers

Collectivization, i.e. the process of merging individual peasant farms into collective farms, was carried out in the Central Asian republics. People from all over the USSR poured into the region. They ploughed virgin lands and developed agriculture.

First tractor in Uzbek Republic; 1929.

Uzbek Republic. Cotton harvest; 1970s.

Assistant combine driver Fyodor Frolov is studying the seven-year agricultural development plan at the Krasnodonsky Sovkhoz Community Center, Kazakh Republic; 1959.

Dairymaids in Kyrgyzia; 1970s.

Grain elevator with the Soviet emblem, Kazakh SSR, Kustanay; 1959.

Students at the ‘virgin lands’, Kazakh SSR; 1952.


Central Asia was also the scene of major industrialization projects: building railways, factories, hydroelectric power stations and canals. Incidentally, local Stakhanovites invariably received recognition from Moscow – in the form of bonuses or feature stories about them in national papers and magazines.

READ MORE: How the USSR created ‘super-workers’

 Kazakh builders of TURKSIB, one of the main construction projects of the first five-year plan of Stalin's industrialization. The railway connected Siberia with Kazakh and Kyrgyz republics; 1930.

At the construction site of Toktogulskaya hydropower plant, Kyrgyz SSR; 1975-1976.

Construction work on the Great Fergana Canal named in honor of Stalin. The 350 km canal made it possible to irrigate over 500,000 hectares of land in the Uzbek, Kyrgyz, and Tajik republics; 1939.

Collective farmers from the Tashkent Region set off for the construction site of the Chirchik Machine-building Plant, an industrial giant that produced literally everything, from bombs to tractors; 1930s.

Stakhanovite Gemulin Geledzhiyeva from the Tajik Republic; 1936.

A model train, Uzbek SSR; 1930-1949.

Stakhanovite Maria Nasilbayeva, a worker at the Alma-Ata cotton mill, grew up in an orphanage. Her team fulfills the production plan by 200 percent. From the archive of Ogonyok magazine; 1950.

Local flavor

The authorities in Moscow supported the development of local crafts and encouraged the production of ‘exotic’ items. Thanks to the Central Asian republics, residents of the central part of the USSR had the opportunity to buy carpets, which they loved hanging on walls, and to try delicious fruits. At the same time, the inhabitants of Central Asia enjoyed inventions by metropolitan designers, and listened to radio even in the steppe.

The Uzbek Republic’s leading and most decorated winegrower, Rizamat Musamukhamedov, bred a new grape variety, Rundweis (aka Bayan Shirey); 1939.

A melon seller, Uzbek SSR; 1930s.

 A local councilor receives voters in Uzbek SSR; 1950s.

Tea drinking, Uzbek SSR; 1930s.

A hunter with a golden eagle, the Kazakh Republic; 1963.

A shepherd and a radio-set. Kazakh virgin lands; 1952.

Virgin lands. A shepherd family outside a yurt; 1952.

Camels in Kazakh steppes; August 1952.

A border guard in Turkmen SSR; 1930s.

Woodcarving, Tajik SSR; 1950s.


Foreign travel was out of reach for most Soviet people, but many could still travel to other Soviet republics. For example, Muscovites could go on a trip to Alma-Aty or Tashkent. Many Central Asian cities had numerous preserved historical buildings, as well as new buildings erected in the Soviet modernist or constructivist style.

A tour of the capital cities of the Soviet Socialist Republics of Central Asia. A group of tourists with the Lenin Museum in the background, Tashkent; 1972.

Hotel Uzbek in Tashkent; 1974-1976.

A hotel in Alma-Aty, Kazakh SSR; 1978.

A railway station in Ashkhabad; 1940s.

A cinema theater in Ashkhabad; 1940s.


Many Central Asian place names were changed to Soviet ones. For example, the Kazakh city of Akmolinsk (present-day Nur-Sultan) in Soviet times was renamed Tselinograd (tselina means a virgin land). Meanwhile, Dushanbe, the capital of the Tajik Republic, was named Stalinabad. Every major city in Central Asia had a monument to Lenin, and many buildings were decorated with agitprop mosaics. Street names had the words Revolution, Gorky, and Peace in them – same as in many cities across the USSR.

“I know, the city will come”, Nurek, Tajik SSR; 1960s.

A residential neighborhood in the Uzbek Republic; late 1960s – early 1970s.

Revolution Square, Tashkent; 1930.

“Gorky – the founder of Socialist Realism”; 1930-1949.

“Greetings to dear Comrade Stalin”, Uzbek SSR; 1930-1949.

A monument to Vladimir Lenin; Andijan, Uzbek SSR; 1930s

Celebrating the 350th anniversary of the city of Uralsk, Kazakh SSR; September 4-5, 1964.

A monument to Vladimir Lenin in Ashkhabad, Turkmen SSR; 1930s.


Soviet Asia was predominantly Muslim. As in the rest of the USSR, religion was suppressed and atheism promoted. Mosques were closed or even destroyed. However, the religious system was not dismantled completely. Official Muslim bodies, albeit fully controlled by the state. Praying was not forbidden, but, for example, workers were officially freed from the obligation to observe Ramadan fasting. Also, collecting money for the poor was banned because in the Soviet state there was no need for it.

Leonid Brezhnev’s visit to the Uzbek Republic; 1970s.

On a restaurant balcony, Lake Issyk, Kazakh SSR; 1961.

Nurek hydropower plant in the Tajik Republic. A hot day; 1977.

The Pamir Mountains became very popular with Soviet mountaineers and hikers.

Soviet hikers in Pamir, Tajik SSR; September 3-24, 1986.

The Kazakh Republic had numerous settlements for exiles: the Volga Germans and Crimean Tatars were resettled there by force. In addition, the republic had several Gulag camps on its territory, the most infamous of which was the so-called AZhIR, the Akmolinsk Camp for Wives of Traitors to the Motherland, where women were sent because their husbands had been convicted as “enemies of the people”.

A prison camp in the Kazakh Republic; 1970s.

The first Soviet spaceport was built in the Kazakh steppes: Russia leases and uses it to this day. From there Yuri Gagarin, Valentina Tereshkova, and Alexei Leonov made their first flights.

Gagarin before lift-off at Baikonur.

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