35 Historical Facts about the Soviet Union

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1 1957 Ice Hockey World Championships

1957 Ice Hockey World Championships

The USSR expected to win the final of the 1957 Ice Hockey World Championships, held in Moscow but lost to Sweden. The organizers did not have the Swedish national anthem ready for the medal ceremony, so the Swedish players sang a drinking song and it was broadcast over the PA system.

2. When the Soviet Union was pushing towards Berlin, an SS soldier was forced to play the piano for his captors. They made it clear in sign language that he would be executed the moment he stopped. He played for 22 hours, after which he collapsed in tears. They congratulated him, then shot him.

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3. The USSR had a televised song contest. Since few people had phones, viewers would turn their house lights ON if they liked a certain song (OFF if they didn’t). The state energy company recorded the size of each power spike and reported the results to the station to determine points for each contestant.

4. The USSR sent so many scientists and engineers to the gulag prisons that the government set up labs for them. While workers in the ‘Sharashka’ facilities did not have to perform hard labor like other inmates, their work was published under the names of more famous Soviet scientists.

5. The Soviet Union attempted to domesticate moose for use in cavalry.

6 Dam proposal

Dam proposal

In 1954, the USSR proposed a dam to the U.S. that would close off the Bering Strait. The Soviets claimed it would block arctic cold currents that flow down over Korea and the Sea of Japan, warming it as much as 30 degrees. The U.S. declined.

7. The Soviet Union held elections seeking the appearance of democracy, but only one candidate appeared on the ballot. In 1949, Ivan Burylov, protested this absurd ritual by writing the word ‘Comedy’ on his secret ballot. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison camps for his ‘crime.’

8. The Soviet Union tried to suppress Genghis Khan’s memory in Mongolia by removing his story from school textbooks and forbidding people from making pilgrimages to his birthplace.

9. The Soviet Union cancelled history exams in 1988 because increased government transparency had revealed that the textbooks were filled with lies.

10. The USSR was seriously considering a nuclear strike on China in 1969 before Nixon stated that the USA would nuke 130 Soviet sites in retaliation.

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11 McAuliffe crater

McAuliffe crater

The Soviet Union named a crater (McAuliffe) on Venus after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher astronaut who died during the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

12. The USSR renamed its rocket base Baikonur in 1961 to keep the Soviet space program a secret. Residents of the original Baikonur, hundreds of km away, took advantage of the resulting confusion by ordering many valuable supplies for themselves before the scam was discovered.

13. The Soviet Union disapproved of Somalia’s 1977 invasion of Ethiopia and so ceased its support of Somalia and started supporting Ethiopia. In response, the United States ceased its support of Ethiopia and started supporting Somalia.

14. The Soviet Union couldn’t figure out how to weld titanium without cracking it, so they built 80% of the Mig-25 out of stainless steel.

15. The USSR built a Skynet-like device (Dead Hand) in the 1980s that would launch a massive nuclear attack without any human intervention if it detected Moscow had been destroyed.

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16 5-day week

5-day week

From 1929 to 1940, the Soviet Union introduced a 5-day week in a deliberate bid to eliminate religion.

17. In 1973, the USSR missed out on the 1974 World Cup for refusing to play in a Chilean stadium that had been used to detain, torture, and execute political dissidents.

18. The Soviet Union closed down many churches and reopened them as Museums of Atheism dedicated to scientific education and anti-religious exhibitions.

19. In the USSR, when you were sentenced to be “imprisoned without the right of correspondence”, it meant you were to be executed.

20. In the Soviet Union during 1991, voting “none of above” led to new elections with new candidates in 200 races. Boris Yeltsin later said the “none of the above” option “helped convince the people they had real power even in a rigged election, and [it] played a role in building true democracy.”

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21 Lysenkoism


The USSR promoted a pseudoscientific form of agriculture that rejected genetic heritability for political reasons. Up to 3000 scientists critical of Lysenkoism were imprisoned or killed for being “bourgeois”, fascist or anti-Marxist saboteurs.

22. Soviet government officials made a deal with Pepsi to allow Pepsi into the Soviet Union, being the first foreign product sanctioned for sale in the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Coca-Cola was favored because Pepsi was associated with the Soviet Union.

23. The USSR refused to host the 1980 Summer Paralympics after the Moscow Summer Olympics. An official claimed “there are no invalids in the USSR”; the games were held in The Netherlands instead.

24. USSR built a prototype amphibious plane (Bartini Beriev VVA-14) to hunt American submarines. It could take off vertically, sail on water, fly at high-altitude, land on runways or water, and would eventually have used ‘ground effect’ to travel.

25. In 1974, the Soviet Union launched Salyut 3, a crewed military satellite armed with a 30mm ‘self-defense’ cannon. It was fired several times and even used to destroy a test satellite in orbit. It remains the only armed, crewed spacecraft ever flown.

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