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Mysterious Sky: Soviet UFO Phenomenon

Authors: Philip Mantle and Paul Stonehill
PublishAmerica, 2006

Reviewer: Lee Paqui

At over 400 pages, Mysterious Sky is an enormous exploration of UFO and related phenomenon from one of Europe’s most mysterious countries. For those of us in Australia, and probably the rest of the world, Russia is almost a complete unknown. As a direct result of history and politics, Russia’s cultures, its history, even its physical environs, come to us in filtered snippets, layered in a dense blanket of unimaginable cold and harsh extremities. Not surprisingly, Russia’s UFO encounters are even more mysterious, and Mysterious Sky presents an engrossing history that more than adequately fills this gap.

Presented in chronological format, Mysterious Sky delves back about as far as it may be possible to go when researching the history of UFO sightings in Russia, back to the eleventh century when signs were seen in the sky over battlefields. Interestingly, these signs were analogous to signs seen over other parts of the globe at that time – comets that descended so close to the ground that soldiers were able to fire weapons at them, serpents, and shining balls of light that in other cultures inspired entire religions. The fact that such accounts exist and were available to the authors today demonstrates the collective Russian willingness to record historical events, no matter how seemingly impossible they appear, and to accord these events some legitimacy in their chronicles of history. The cultural ability of Russians to accept the existence of the paranormal is a constituting factor in their approach to this topic, and it has resulted in quite a different set of circumstances in their encounters and interactions with UFOs when compared to the western world, all of which are explored very thoroughly in Mysterious Sky.

Of course no exploration of Russian Ufology would be complete without an investigation of the Tunguska event, and this is where Mysterious Sky really begins its journey. For those not familiar with the this event, in 1908 an explosion occurred over Tunguska that completely destroyed more than 2000 square kilometres of forest. Speculation over the cause exists even today, not helped by the fact that researchers of the time didn’t seriously investigate the event until many years later, hampered by the extreme remoteness of the area and the limited science available at the time. However it might surprise readers to learn that the Tunguska event was preceded by a high number of meteorite strikes in the region, unusual atmospheric events and over 1500 recorded earthquakes in the month prior. Whether any of these were a prelude to or related to the actual event is unknown, but on the day two vastly different objects were seen flying over the region, and the aftermath of the explosion resonated on a global scale. The night skies over northern Europe glowed brightly enough to read by for days after the explosion and the Earth’s magnetic field was disturbed up to 900 kilometres away. Another peculiar feature of Tunguska was that afterwards numerous reports of unusual humans and strange animals began appearing in the area, and it was also rumoured to be the home of the ‘Devil’s Cemetery,’ a zone where vegetation does not grow and which can not be approached by any living creature without it being ‘burned from the inside’.

Given the sheer size, diversity of landscape and extreme remoteness of the Russian territories, it is not unexpected to find areas of high strangeness within it, zones of magnetic anomalies and visual disturbances, areas of time distortion and places where prehistoric creatures are seen. One such place is the mysterious ‘M-Zone’, an area of UFO sightings and anomalous lights, strange ‘bubbles’ that appear out of nowhere, inexplicable feelings and images projected inside witnesses’ heads. There is also the ‘Stavropol Window’, which has recorded UFO sightings since the mid-1800s, and from this area comes an account of a large arrow-shaped craft that landed in a village and from which three dark-skinned and naked men emerged. As the men could breath only with difficulty it was assumed they were unwell. Unfortunately, three days after their arrival the strangers died and were buried by villagers, who then promptly dismantled the craft and used the metal to make household implements.

While Russia has long had a scientific interest in UFOs and the paranormal, the reign of Stalin saw such research forbidden for the duration, a ban that extended even to archaeological and genetic research. But despite his official policies, Stalin was keenly interested in the Roswell crash of 1947, assigning researchers to investigate the case and, curiously, allowing them to subscribe to the Australian Flying Saucer Review. Stalin was also obsessed with rocket science and an urge to claim the Moon for his country. Perhaps just to annoy Stalin, Russia’s space and satellite programs were consistently dogged by UFO sightings, a situation which continues to this day. In 1977 the ‘Petrozavodsk Phenomenon’ was notable for the number of different kinds of aerial craft that were observed with the launch of Kosmos-955 – spheres and jellyfish-like craft (which are again being observed in other parts of the world) and a strange luminescent ‘rain’ that could melt glass. It was this event that spurred the establishment of the Soviet Academy of Sciences Commission for the Study of Anomalous Phenomenon.

More curious incidents occurred in conjunction with the launch of the Sputnik series of spacecraft during the 1950s, and sightings of UFOs have been observed to accompany almost every launch of a Russian space vehicle since. Russia’s orbiting space stations have similarly been shadowed by strange craft and curious incidents. In 1981 cosmonauts aboard Salyut-6 filmed a UFO outside their orbital platform, and the film was later shown to a number of high-ranking Soviet officials. It purportedly showed ETs exiting their craft without any breathing apparatus. In 1984 the crew of Salyut-7 observed a large orange gas cloud, and as the station entered the cloud the crew had a distinct impression that the cloud had also entered the space station. Rushing to the portholes the cosmonauts observed seven giant beings inside the cloud – beings that appeared to them to be angels; human-like, with wings and halos. One little-known but tragic fact to emerge from the Russian Lunar Program and revealed in Mysterious Sky was that the two cosmonauts chosen to land on the Moon were chosen from KGB ranks, remained nameless (they were designated numbers) and were not expected to return from the Moon from the outset. And they never did.

Russia has also had its downed UFOs, notably an object that crashed in Dalnegorsk in 1986. No alien bodies were retrieved from this crash – indeed, the craft itself, a large silver sphere, disintegrated into small pieces, some of which resembled lead balls and ‘tiny nets.’ A curious feature of this crash occurred eight days after the event, when two more spheres arrived and circled the crash site. Then, twenty days after that, no less than 32 objects of differing shapes were observed by hundreds of witnesses over the area. Five of these objects lit up the crash site for a brief period before moving off. Like the circumstances of the Roswell crash, a variety of official explanations for the event have trickled out over the years, including the notion that it was a military probe, a Chinese satellite and a NATO reconnaissance balloon, despite the fact that the object hovered and attempted to ascend several times before it fell to earth.

Also in 1986, UFOs were seen over the failing Reactor 4 at Chernobyl – in fact for a brief period UFOs were actually blamed for the failure by Soviet authorities. However the reactor was already in the process of meltdown when the object was sighted by technicians, who told that the UFO shone two rays onto the reactor and shortly afterwards the radiation output decreased measurably, though not enough to avoid disaster. UFOs were seen over Chernobyl again in 1989 when another leak occurred in Reactor 4, and in 1990 an object was photographed hovering above residences near the plant. While authorities might have liked to blame the initial disaster on UFOs (and isn’t that a strange official line to take?), speculation rests more squarely on the UFOs assisting in the containment process. Other UFOs seen over nuclear powerplants include over the secret installation at Dubna, which also conducted space testing, over a nuclear power plant in the Volga, over the Semipalantisk nuclear testing range and the Novyaya Zemlya Island test zone, where they were observed after almost every nuclear test.

A truly fascinating chapter of Mysterious Sky focuses on anomalous creatures and objects seen beneath Russia’s seas and other large bodies of water, with the earliest recorded incident coming from 1908 when an oval submerged object paced beneath a steamship, immersing it in an unearthly green luminescence. A report from later times recounts how Soviet military divers, during training in a deep lake in western Siberia, encountered underwater ‘swimmers’ – humanoid creatures three metres tall garbed in tight fitting silver suits with helmets, but minus any breathing equipment. It was decided to attempt to capture one of the creatures, but the seven divers sent to undertake this task were propelled back to the surface of the lake, consequently suffering from pressure changes resulting from the rapid ascent. Three of the divers died as a result, the remaining four becoming invalids. Similar creatures along with underwater UFOs have been reported in deep water lakes all over Russia. Soviet nuclear submarines have encountered moving objects beneath the sea, some emitting unusual noises for which they have been named ‘croakers.’ These objects show interest in the submarines, circling them and changing the tone and pitch of their sounds as if ‘talking’.

While the authors went to considerable lengths to source information from military sources prior to the 1990s, it was Gorbachev’s era of glasnost that saw such information released, much of it from high-ranking officers who were themselves witnesses or privy to secret information. According to one officer, staff at a space communications centre were actually successful in ‘contacting’ UFOs. When a spherical object appeared over the base (an apparently regular occurrence), ground staff would make physical signals – if the staff moved their arms to one side of their body, the objects would respond by compressing themselves in the same direction. An interesting feature to be gleaned from the wealth of information in Mysterious Sky is that there has been a constant component of physical interaction between the Russian military and UFOs for years, with aggressive tendencies (or self-defence tendencies interpreted as aggression) displayed by both sides. UFOs were seen so regularly over Russian military installations that it prompted an order at one point from Soviet High Command instructing the military to stop shooting at UFOs – to in effect leave them alone to do what they want to do. Incidents continued, however – the 1960s saw twelve Soviet pilots die on the borders of Iran and Afghanistan and reports indicated a UFO ‘attack’, and it was also during the 1960s that the ‘LOTOS’ group was formed to investigate any paranormal activities occurring in the military. This same group was also involved in weapons development using gravitational and electromagnetic fields.

Experiments were conducted during the 1980s in a project designed to catalogue the enormous numbers of craft observed over the territories and to compile a visual ‘registration chart’ of types, locations and witnesses, and eventually a chart of 50 different UFO types was assembled. The military had become concerned that UFOs were in fact alien civilisations that may have an impact upon their technology and personnel, and guidelines were instituted to deal with UFOs reported by military personnel. The reports that came in were so numerous that special ‘anomalous phenomena commissions’ were formed to deal with them. One thing this information highlights is the enormous number of military and UFO encounters, both positive and negative, that have occurred throughout Russia’s history and must surely have a correlation in the western world.

Mysterious Sky brings us a valuable overview of Soviet UFO research from the 1940s to the present, a situation remarkably similar to that of western Ufology since it contains the same mix of researchers, true believers, dissenters, neutral observers and active disinformationists. However the Russian approach differs from the west in one major respect – the military and government agencies have, at various times, been publicly and vocally involved in UFO research despite, at other times, expressly forbidding it. Similarly, the Russian media tends to report anomalous events far less incredulously and in a much less negative fashion than the media of the west. It seems that at the core of every Russian citizen is an open mind, or at least a mind not closed to the prospect of the paranormal. Interestingly, the USSR Academy of Sciences came to the same conclusions as J. Allen Hynek and Project Bluebook – which is to say it denounced 90-95% of UFOs as explainable via natural effects (meteorites, birds, insects etc) and manmade phenomenon (weather balloons, aircraft, missile launches etc). However it still had its 5-10% of events that were literally unexplainable, just as its western counterparts did.

Ufology is still an ongoing and active concern in Russia. In 1999 the Department of Justice approved the formation of ‘The Academy of Informational and Applied Ufology’ – a non-commercial, voluntary organisation, but a legal entity none-the-less. Its tasks are to ‘assist the raising of the level of scientific and informational levels of fundamental and applied ufological research; and training of experts in Ufology according to international standards.’ (I’d like to know who defined the ‘international standards’ to which they are adhering!) And in the year 2000 a Museum of Parapsychology and Ufology opened in Moscow.

The events described in this review are the merest sprinkling of the reports contained in Mysterious Sky, a rich collection of accounts and events that are unique to northern Europe and the mysterious land of Russia. While the authors delve into historical records dating from the last hundred years, it is the accounts from the 1940s to the present day that are explored in greatest depth and revealed to the English-speaking world for what could be the first time. And it reveals to us that the Russian UFO phenomenon follows the same patterns – UFOs are sighted over bodies of water, over nuclear and energy powerplants, over fault and energy grid lines, and in association with space and weapons testing. The Russians also have their share of contactees and experiencers, those for whom contact with ET is a spiritual experience, and fanatics with outlandish claims of ET experience.

Rich and full of a multitude of amazing and previously unknown accounts, Mysterious Sky is entertaining as well as thought-provoking. It documents in one extensive volume an unsuspected wealth of UFO encounters from across the Russian territories and over more than a century of time – accounts made all the more interesting because they at times corroborate experiences in the west, and at other times differ so widely and wildly from our own experiences as to be alien to us. The Russian approach to UFOs and Ufology is also highlighted – sociologically and culturally the entire phenomenon is skewed in a different direction to that of the west. While this approach has revealed unique aspects of the phenomenon, it has also deepened the paradox of the UFO reality and given us many more mysteries to contemplate.

Categories: Reviews

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