The Catacombs In Odessa

Walking in the dead of the night to an old car yard, I was nervous to what was about to come. Coming to a small hill, littered with rubbish and dirt my heart sank as I realised what it meant. 

Our couch surfing host was hushing us, slowly sneaking around to make sure no one was watching, before pulling some rubbish aside to reveal a small opening in the hill.

‘No way…’ I whisper to Tyral, and by the look on his face he had just had the same realisation as me. We were about to climb through the hole, less than half a meter tall and a meter wide. My claustrophobia was starting to flare up and my hands got sweaty and my heart racing, there was no way I would be crawling through that.

Below us, a network of tunnels ran under the entire city of Odessa, Ukraine, and its surrounding region reaching a depth of up to 60 kilometres below sea level.

Our host was a skilful and experienced catacomb expert, having visited them on many occasions and even spent numerous days below ground exploring (and lost, I found out after we surfaced).

The town of Odessa was built using the limestone extracted from underground, and a labyrinth of tunnels remains underneath, the layout so large most is still left unknown.

Although our skilful host was guiding us through them, I felt extremely anxious at entering. It was past midnight, we had to wait till dark to enter to make sure no one spotted us. Although some tours take you through one part, entering the tunnels is prohibited. Approximately two people go missing underground a year and a recovery group is sent to find them, some times never to be found again. It is rumored a girl went missing in December 2014 after a drunk night out, but there are little facts supporting it. Still, It’s enough to frighten me. 

Our host slipped his way through the hole with ease, quickly disappearing from sight and he slithered his way down. Panic stricken, I looked back at Tyral wide eyed. I repeatedly said ‘I cannot do this, I can’t do this’ shaking my head. My stomach hurt from the butterflies and even in the cool air I was covered in sweat.

But I had no other choice, Tyral kept reminding me. I couldn’t stay on ground level in risk of being caught, and I couldn’t walk back home safely.

‘It will be fine, I promise’, he kept reassuring me. But after poking my head in and seeing an even tighter tunnel running down into pure darkness, I jumped back and thought no fucking way. 

Our host pocked his head back up the hole to see what the delay was, to see me in slight panic attack mode. He assumed me I was perfectly safe, I would be fine. His calmness and Tyrals reassurance, mixed with my sudden burst of ‘fuck it!’ attitude made me wriggle head first through the hole. Once my body was completely inside, panic took over me as I looked straight down the steep drop off in front of me, a tight hole filled with rubbish and lots of broken glass. ‘I cant do this, get me out!’ I cried, tears pouring from my eyes at this point as anxiety crippled me. 

Tyral had started to wriggle his way behind me, whispering reassuring words of encouragement to go further down. 

Deep breathes, and slow movements, I lowered my way through the tunnel and towards blackness. Once on the lower level, the tunnel opened up to a larger hallway, large enough to stand up in. Although underground freaks me out, being out of the small tight tunnel was a relief, and as Tyral joined me, he laughed and hugged me saying that was one of the bravest things he’s seen me do. It was defiantly the scariest thing I’ve even done in my life, something I would jump to repeat in a hurry…

Walking underground through the catacombs was a spooky experience. Water dripping from above, the drops of water making puddles and the stillness of the air is eerie. Everything is cold, quiet, wet with the smell of mould lingering all around.

We turned corners, wound our way through the never-ending tunnels and climbed over broken rusting systems. Our host told us they were to be used as living quarters in the cold war if a nuclear attack ever happened. I couldn’t stop thinking, if I were around then I would have died in an instant.

At various points as we heading up towards the mainland, we could hear dogs barking at various other entrances around the city.

Once finally back at the entrance after what felt like hours underground, I scuttled my way back up the small tunnel. Going out was much easier than heading down, as I was keen to be back in normal air and on safe ground.

We entered one of the small parts of the catacombs under the main part of Odessa. It was crazy to experience an underground world right under the feet of everyday Odessa.

Out of the main city the catacombs stretch so big there are areas unexplored and abandoned. I don’t think I could ever brave up enough to enter into one of these areas, entering the small hole in the middle of the city was scary enough for me.

– not my photo, I was way too frightened to take any….

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