If bus stops in most parts of the world give the bare minimum of shelter–and sometimes not even a place to sit–the former Soviet Union went to the opposite extreme, with ornate bus stops shaped like birds, castle turrets, and train engines, or covered in detailed, propaganda-themed mosaics, even in rural areas with few, if any, riders.
Photographer Christopher Herwig first saw the bus stops on a bike trip from London to Moscow in 2002, and spent years documenting many of them. In a book called Soviet Bus Stops, he shared bus stops from remote parts of smaller Soviet republics. For a new volume, he returned to document more, focusing this time on Russia and Ukraine.
He drove more than 9,000 miles in Russia, from coast to coast, searching for the best and strangest examples of bus stops as an art form. The search was often difficult. “In Siberia, because they have a new road through there, there was nothing for thousands and thousands of kilometers, and I’d have to look for the worst roads to go on,” he says. Research online in the months before his trip–including on Google Streetview, which now covers parts of Russia–helped him target potential locations.
While some of the stops are still in use, in some cases, the stops were so remote that Herwig wondered if they had ever been used. Near one Ukrainian village, he realized that a bus stop he visited was off the map. “I looked down on Google maps and Garmin GPS, and there was no road anymore,” he says. “I was literally in the middle of nowhere. I had driven off of any known road, and there were still these bus stops.”
Some of the bus stops are obvious propaganda; one series of stops celebrates the founder of the secret police, while others show workers and peasants or Russian cosmonauts. The government, which issued recommendations suggesting that the bus stops should pay close attention to modern architectural design, also likely wanted to use the stops as a signal of Soviet modernization even in the most rural areas. But they also were a creative outlet.
“The architects I talked to were fairly free in their ability to create these, and they all say that this didn’t follow the same restrictions that you would get if you were building something important like a theater or something else,” says Herwig, adding, “In some ways the idea can very likely be linked to some centralized Soviet ideology, but I think in the implementation of it, there’s definitely room for individuality.”