The Fall Of The Soviet Union, In 36 Rarely-Seen Photos

Published July 29, 2017
Updated December 28, 2018

These powerful historical photos reveal the how and the why behind the fall of the Soviet Union like never before.

Berlin Wall Jumpers
Hammer And Sickle Footrest
Baltic Way Human Chain
Empty Grocery Store
The Fall Of The Soviet Union, In 36 Rarely-Seen Photos
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The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t happen overnight. Communism in the USSR suffered a slow and prolonged death — an entire decade of economic collapse, political revolts, and military failures that slowly ate away at one of the most powerful empires on Earth.

By the 1980s, the Soviet economy was falling apart. Food and supplies were growing so scarce that people would have to spend hours lined up outside of their local stores, patiently waiting for their turn to scavenge what little was left on its shelves before they were completely stripped bare.

Political unrest reached its peak in 1989 when revolutions started to spread like wildfire across the Eastern Bloc. Countries throughout the region started standing up and fighting to topple their Communist rulers and weaken the Soviet grip on the world.

In response, the Soviet Army rolled in on tanks and armored carriers, trying to crush the dissidents that had risen up against the Kremlin’s power. They massacred whole crowds of people for daring to rise up – but many kept fighting, no matter what Moscow threw at them.

Most of the protests were peaceful. Across the Baltic states, people protested the Soviet rule by simply holding hands; 2 million people grabbed hold of each other in a human chain that extended across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, pleading for freedom from the USSR.

Then, as winter crept into the year of revolution, the Berlin Wall came down. On a November 9, 1989 press conference, East German ruling party spokesman Günter Schabowski misread an official memo about relaxed travel restrictions and told the people of East Berlin that they could travel freely to West Berlin, effective immediately — when the party had, in fact, wanted a slower transition. Crowds of thousands then rushed across the checkpoint that very night, and, shortly after, the wall was torn down.

In a single year, six countries seceded from the Soviet Union – and soon, their troubles would come to Moscow. In the last month of 1991, the hardline Communists made their last stand, staging a coup d’état to try to take control of the nation.

The last, dying struggle of the Soviets was over in just two days. The people wouldn’t stand for their new rulers, and stood up, demanding democracy. The last leader of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, accepted their demands. He stepped down, President Boris Yeltsin took over, and the Iron Curtain was torn down.

It was December 26, 1991, when the long, slow fall of the Soviet Union came to an end. That evening, the Soviet flag flapping above the Kremlin was taken down for the last time. In its place, the flag of Russia was raised.

After this look at the fall of the Soviet Union, check out some of the most incredible photos from the Soviet-Afghan War and the youth of the USSR in the 1960s.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cite This Article
Oliver, Mark. "The Fall Of The Soviet Union, In 36 Rarely-Seen Photos.", July 29, 2017, Accessed May 21, 2024.