At a Soviet military base deep in the Polish forest, miles from the nearest village, an officer's family was whiling away another Saturday morning. The children brushed their teeth hurriedly after breakfast, then rushed outside to play soldiers with plastic pistols. Their father laid out his uniform, the hammer and sickle button sparkling, while their mother sat down for a game of chess.
But they knew that beneath their feet, stored in utmost secrecy, were nuclear warheads, likely many times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
"Commanding officers knew very well that, for their psychological health, it is very important to create an illusion of everyday peaceful life," says Grzegorz Kiarszys, an archaeologist at Szczecin University who has studied the ruins and rubbish piles at three long-abandoned Soviet nuclear weapons bases in north-western Poland.
Each of the three bases – Podborsko, Templewo and Brzeźnica Kolonia – was once home to around 140 people, mostly soldiers but also some officers whose immediate families were allowed to live there too. Kiarszys has seen photographic evidence confirming the presence of these families, but it was the ephemera and waste they left behind that revealed the most striking insights about how they lived while stationed there.