Vitaly Susasin has quickly grown to be one of the most recognizable YouTube celebrities in Ukraine.
In under three years, his channel — called Super Sus — has gathered over 800,000 subscribers and he has amassed a fanbase of over 150,000 followers on Instagram. His content is a strange mix of drunken sorties into abandoned Soviet relics, slapstick humor and run-ins with the law.
Super Sus scrambles through claustrophobic ventilation ducts, drops into abandoned Soviet-era bunkers and explores abandoned metro systems. And Susanin is not afraid to wade through years of industrial gunk and grime, swim in flooded tunnels or drink from irradiated pools in Chornobyl — all, naturally, with a cheap bottle of beer in his hand and accompanied by a rag-tag band of urban exploration enthusiasts.
Susanin, who is also known in some publications as Vitaly Lushkov, is a universally recognizable figure in the urban exploration community. With his short stature and distinctive features, he can often be seen emerging from manhole covers throughout Kyiv. His nickname, Susanin, is a reference to a legendary Russian figure Ivan Susanin, who in 17th century stopped an enemy attack by guiding adversary troops along a false path.
But for a guy navigating the Kyiv sewers, Super Sus is growing increasingly popular internationally. His videos feature English subtitles and have been showcased by English-language influencers.
He may be Ukraine’s most unexpected international celebrity: a man peddling a unique mix of adventurous hijinks and Soviet ruins to a growing global audience.
Susanin’s rise to stardom was hardly predictable. Still, since an early age, he has harbored a passion for amateur video and exploration.
“Everyone does something from childhood that they later become obsessed with and put their soul into,” he told the Kyiv Post by phone. “Since childhood, my cameraman and best friend Dima and I would climb into random places together.”
“We used to record our trips on old phones and cheap cameras, and essentially kept them as a collection of videos for home viewing,” he said.
But this hobby would later turn into a full-fledged career for Susanin and his friends. He found a niche among a predominantly Ukrainian and Russian community of urban exploration enthusiasts who are heavily inspired by the critically acclaimed Ukrainian video game franchise Stalker.
“At some point during one of our expeditions, we just dressed up in a bunch of costumes and went out to have fun, and Dima decided to upload the recording of that trip online just as a joke,” Susanin said. “And essentially within a month the public was kinda shocked, saying: ‘Look at this person and his weird looks, dressed like that, going into such dangerous areas.’ It was definitely outside of the norm for YouTube at the time, but the public liked it and wanted more.”
For Susanin, his content was a way to share his experiences with the world, to engage with people stuck at home who may never have the opportunity to explore the industrial relics that were right on his doorstep.
Kyiv has an abundance of abandoned Soviet structures, making the city an ideal filming location for the Kyiv native.
To many, Soviet buildings appear monolithic, gray and brutal. For Susanin, it’s more complicated.
“It’s both depressing and not. Because this is a hobby, and a philosophy of sorts, so I can’t really call it just depressing,” he said. “On the one hand, it’s a hobby, and it’s fun — you run away from the guards or discover new architecture never before seen by the majority of the public. On the other hand, there are sad moments such as when you discover something that is completely breaking apart.”
In Kyiv, many Soviet-era buildings are simply left to collapse, due to lack of funds and disputes over land ownership. Many ambitious Soviet projects remain frozen in time, crumbling to pieces or overtaken by nature. Susanin says that this decay is “sad, but unstoppable, because of the amount of money involved in the new construction projects.”
Susanin’s career certainly has its occupational hazards.
He says he is fully aware of the danger of his hobby and that he always errs on the side of caution.
The urban exploration community is like “one big family,” Susanin says. And Ukraine is becoming a safe haven for many urban exploration enthusiasts because the police usually just let trespassers off with a warning.
Many explorers now travel from Russia and Belarus to escape the draconian punishments meted out by the Russian and Belarusian governments to those who dare traverse off-limits areas.
Having traveled abroad to explore abandoned buildings, Susanin is aware of the challenges urban explorers in other countries face.
“In Russia and Belarus, the laws are very tough, and in both countries you’ll just be put up in prison,” he said.
But, for some, with the illegality comes the appeal.
“In Paris, many abandoned locations are completely open to the public, which made it boring,” he said. “In post-Soviet states, there is a layer of mystery with abandoned buildings, and it makes it enticing to explore and then be chased around by the guards…”
Despite growing increasingly famous, Susanin says his work has not changed. He views his content as a positive influence on his young audience, placing an emphasis on active living and avoiding drinking and drugs.
“When it comes to Ukrainian society at large, I’d say the Ukrainian public is actually taking a huge interest in what we do, and many youths also. This is especially important because we encourage (young people) to get out of the house and explore the city instead of being attached to technology,” he told the Kyiv Post. “This is reminiscent of our own childhoods prior to the internet era.”
Susanin’s videos also showcase an element of society not seen by much of the Ukrainian public: the large homeless community that sleeps rough in Kyiv’s numerous abandoned buildings. Susanin describes them as “an invisible layer of Ukrainian society.”
“What I’ve come to notice is that many of these homeless people who live in these buildings are often content with their lifestyle,” Susanin said. “It’s hard to comprehend, but I think it’s their very strong outlook on life.
“After showcasing many homeless people in our videos, many social groups and activists have tried to approach them to offer help, but they remain strong in their ways and reject a lot of aid, essentially responding that they know their life and where it’s heading, and that they don’t need a lot in life.”
Building on his popularity online, Susanin has continued to grow his audience and branch out into other areas.
His rap debut, a song called “Pubertat” (“Puberty” in Russian), has almost four million views on YouTube and he has collaborated on music videos with the Ukrainian pop group Agon (“Fire”). He also hosts lively livestreams and is starting to venture into the film industry.
“I don’t know what I will do in the future,” he said. “I just live my life the way it is. Plenty of people are trying to direct us and tell us what we should focus on, but really the Super Sus project is about displaying what Dima and I witness ourselves the moment the camera starts rolling.”
It is no secret that Super Sus has a large Russian audience and his videos are recorded in the Russian language. Since Russia started its war on Ukraine in 2014, Ukrainian creators working for the Russian audience often find themselves a target of criticism.
However, Susanin heavily pushes back against attempts to politicize his content.
“Because of the nature of our underground society, discussing politics is generally frowned upon, and can even result in people mocking you and kicking you out,” he said. “Politics is persona non grata. Urban exploration is our underground sandbox, and it’s inappropriate to bring up politics.”
The urban exploration lifestyle originated in Russia, Susanin said, so “it’s no wonder why so many Russians are interested in our content.”
“Our community, our movement and hobby, does not discriminate based on nationalities,” he added. “It’s about being a trustworthy individual.”
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