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If secrets were measured by the thickness of walls that keep them, then Adolf Hitler’s secrets would be eight feet deep.
Hidden in the pine forests of central Ukraine is one of Hitler’s clandestine bunkers, from which he and his generals monitored the Eastern Front during the World War II.
Built in 1941, about eight kilometres from the town of Vinnitsa (three-and-a-half hours southwest of Kiev), the site today is overgrown; frequented by history buffs and illegal diggers. A concrete grey swimming pool – dry except for when the spring rains come – and eerie piles of rocks covered in Nazi graffiti are the only indicators that this was once a German command centre. Below the surface are the bunker’s covert facilities, which some historians claim go as deep as seven floors underground.
Plans to sanction the digs and turn the site into a memorial have not gotten very far. When news broke that the Ukrainian government wanted to open a museum on the site in May 2011, indignant, local residents and communists protested against it. The Communist party objected to memorializing Hitler’s past, calling the museum a shrine for neo-Nazis, and residents expressed fear that digging into the site may ignite possible dormant gas traps. Nothing has been done to the site ever since.
While there is no set date of completion for the memorial, you can still visit the ruins by taking a mini-bus from the railway station in Vinnytsa, getting off at the “Camping” stop and walking for 20 minutes until you see the sign for Wehrwolf.
The bunker -- called the Wehrwolf in reference to “wolf”, the translation of Hitler’s first name -- was built by Soviet prisoners of war, most of whom were shot dead and buried in a mass grave after construction was finished. There is an elaborate gilded monument to the estimated 14,000 victims in the nearby village of Stryzhavka.
A few of the elderly residents who helped bury the prisoner’s bodies donated military uniforms, medals, kitchenware and other grim reminders of the Nazi occupation to a private war exhibit in a former sanatorium, Lastochka, located near the Wehrwolf’s parking lot.
One of the most interesting items is a miniature replica of the bunker’s complex, which had about 80 buildings, including barracks, bars, a casino, a power generator, a telegraph and even a church. A fleet of Soviet war machinery is also worth a look.
During the German army’s retreat in 1944, Hitler ordered that his lair be destroyed with explosives. The Wehrwolf’s underground passages were then rendered classified and no historical digs have been allowed since.
So for now, the site remains shrouded by Soviet secrecy, giving way to a myriad of legends of what could possibly be underground: Nazi gold to gunpowder?