On the fringes of Moscow, a dilapidated 1,300-bed hospital looms, festering and abandoned for three decades. Coils of barbed wire grind the perimeters of its vast expanse, and a shrewd security presence seeks to deter ‘stalkers’, or risky urban explorers, who are frequently compelled to break entry by its creepy legends.
The realities of Moscow’s unfinished Hovrinskaya Hospital are known only to those who have survived their excursions inside. According to urban tales, the site has been home to satanists and hobos alike, as well as grisly suicides, ‘accidents’, memorials for said deaths, and animal sacrifices.
The lower floors of the building are flooded, and the walls are ruptured and coated with threatening graffiti alluding to death – rather than a revival of life – whether it be pictures of its hooded skeletal form, a sign claiming the space as ‘The Club of Nimostor’ (a satanist sect who inhabited the place in the early 1990s), or an open elevator shaft instructing people to ‘jump’ down it – as one 16-year-old boy did in 2005, committing suicide (it is said, on account of unrequited love). On the second floor of the building, a memorial in his honor remains, and people leave cigarettes, flowers and poems.
Yet it is still a beacon of intrigue to certain sectors of Moscow’s population, and youngsters seek to pass on its stories through illegal ‘tours’, at great risk to themselves – a practice which has spawned a new mockumentary film seeking to recreate its unsettling legends in a first-person‘Blair Witch Project’ style.
The film is being directed by 22-year-old Sergei Kuznetsov, who ‘does not give interviews’ according to producer Evgeniy Loshak, a slightly timid, yet skillfully polite and endearingly vampiric-looking young man of Moscow-based film company ‘KinoEst’.
Filming the project started around the end of June and early July. “The heroes … go to the hospital and we have the impression that it’s actually happening,” he said. The plot will revolve around a woman named Ira and a collective of students who explore the off-limits area and its connected stories, becoming slowly entwined in its mysteries as they learn where myth meets reality.
While still cagey about the precise plot, Loshak and Kuznetsov have a wealth of urban legends to draw from, the most well-known being from the early 1990s, when a group of Russia’s infamous OMON riot police allegedly raided the building, and besieged the Satanist-inhabited basement with explosives.
“A special operation to detain these Satanists (the ‘Nimostor’) was carried out there and the cellar was blown up. I mean, it was mined, blown up, and it flooded. And supposedly, these Satanists were killed and left in the basement.” Loshak stated.
Since the heavy Nimostor presence disappeared, many others have since mysteriously vanished from its grounds too.
“More than 1,500 applications regarding the disappearance of people in the territory of Hovrinskaya hospital lie with the police,” Loshak said. However, the number of actual recorded deaths in the past two decades remains in the tens. Modern isolated incidences are also traceable: In 2011, a 23-year-old boy’s head was smashed in with an iron pipe, according to FSB-linked media outlet LifeNews.
Karin, a leader of illicit excursions into the building and a real-life ‘Ira’ of sorts, started a group exploration project in June last year, giving an interview under a pseudonym. Her legitimacy has been verified with the aid of social media. She recalled a run-in with a ‘psycho’.
“My group was once chased by some psycho. He quickly turned his attention to me as I was the only girl … but I was the most experienced in the group. I managed to escape, when, due to clumsiness I fell into a pit, and he ran past, and did not notice me. I hurt myself, but I think it’s better than being caught,” Karin said, adding that “the crazy, the homeless, drug addicts and other unpleasant personalities like abandoned buildings, especially ones that big.”
Adrenaline, intrigue and mystery are the forces behind decisions to explore the building for those who do not fall into these three categories. Present-day ‘stalkers’ go to the building for the thrill of the adventure, and are a young crowd. “ The tense situation and the ability to run [from]…. ‘chop’ [private security] I liked,” said Karin.
These self-defined ‘stalkers’ draw their name from the Strugatsky Brothers’ classic sci-fi novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ which later became acclaimed director Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Stalker’ – a film in which illegal guides show intrigued parties around a post-apocalyptic yet strangely sentient ‘Zone’. Parallels are easy to recognise.
“There is the constant likelihood of collapse … illness and death, a lot of holes in the floor.” However, she acknowledged that the odd ‘bomzhi’ (hobo) takes the risk and will stay there, albeit well-hidden, for extended periods.
‘Stalkers’ repeatedly remind one another to keep their eyes on the ground because of the structural instability of the building. Karin called it “uninhabitable” as a result of this.
The danger, and concentrated security presence mean that Loshak and his crew of filmmakers have had to obtain the correct filming permissions from authorities (one gets the impression that they would have gained entry there anyway: “We decided that we will shoot in any case” he interjected), yet still cite the dangers of creating the project on the premises – not because of the people, but the nature of the building itself.
“We will not shoot the whole movie on the territory - because the area is dangerous. It is dangerous - not because of its myths or mystical stories; it is dangerous because of the fact that there…are missing blocks…really [it] is unfinished,” said Loshak.
The hospital has not restricted its influence within its own grounds and as with the ‘Zone’, it has affected nearby residents, who experienced difficulties inhabiting its surrounding areas, prior to the installation of security guards.
On the quest to source shooting locations, Loshak came into close contact with them. “We asked: ‘Well, how do you live near the hospital?’…for them, was really a big problem … before the guards were placed on the territory, before it was fenced off. It was impossible to sleep, as one woman told us. There were cries of animals…strangeness.”
Timing is tight for Loshak, Kuznetsov and their crew: At the end of March, the hospital’s eventual demolition was finally announced. Deputy Mayor for Urban Development and Construction, Marat Khusnullin said that a new “future investor will have to dismantle it completely,” after its territory is sold off later in the year, calling its constituent buildings “significantly dilapidated and worn out.”
More recently Karin stopped going on account of perceptions of heightened danger. “The last time I was there a long time, a few months ago,” she said. “Now, the situation has changed significantly.”
Heightened security at the site has impacted widespread desire to conduct excursions, as now, word on the corridor is that people will face imminent arrest, rather than just being kicked out.
“There are some special teams that catch people who go there – not just drive off as before, and only call the police,” Karin stated, acknowledging that these reservations are couched in rumor and passed on word-of-mouth from friends who she believes could also be ‘cowardly’.
However, it is the wisps of rumors and stories which gel the building’s identity and are the driving force behind both the film and the visitors.
“I think the rumors are a very important part of [the hospital], because they lure lovers of extreme sports there. There are really a lot of stories about [it], but not all are made-up, for example, the story about Satanists, who previously lived [there], is real,” said Karin.
Loshak reported an astonishing level of interest in participation. “It is very difficult to choose the actors. As it turns out…there have been more than four thousand applications,” he said.
Other people are more disparaging about the hospital’s reputation: “It is only children and the crazy,” dismissed one commenter, Alexander Savchuk, on a Vkontakte (the Russian version of Facebook) forum. Karin confirmed that “most people really investigating [it] are teenagers. For the main part — 12 to 19 years, but there are those older and younger.”
More pictures of the building can be found at KHZB vk.com group.