In 2006, a mysterious man appeared on the streets of Kiev, claiming to have come from 1958. And the story gets crazier from there. The Sergei Ponomarenko story has become a bit of an internet phenomenon as one of the most compelling time traveler stories ever documented. It’s a great story. But is it any more than that?
In 2006, in the city of Kiev, Ukraine, police were called to deal with a confused man. When they arrived, they found a young man who was scared, didn’t know where he was, and dressed in strange, anachronistic clothing, carrying a camera.
Little did they know they were possibly standing face to face with an actual time traveler.
The man’s name was Sergei Ponomarenko.
The police asked him for his ID. After he handed it to them, the first thing they noticed was that it was issued from a country that didn’t exist anymore… The Soviet Union.
Ukraine was of course part of the Soviet Union in the past, but the Soviet Union had dissolved almost a couple of decades ago at that point.
So let’s just say the police didn’t see those IDs much anymore. Especially on young people, this guy looked like he was in his 20s.
And yet, his ID had his birthdate in 1932. And he matched the picture in the ID. Something didn’t add up.
When they asked him what day he thought it was, he said April 23, 1958.
And the police said, “Okay, we’re going to take you to a room where you can talk to the nice doctor.”
He winds up in a mental hospital and is put in the care of Dr. Pablo Kutrikov.
The doctor asked if he could remember how he appeared in 2006 even though he thought it was 1958.
And as recorded by the doctor, Sergei said,
“It was daytime, and I wanted to go for a walk in the city. I took my camera, but when I left my house, I saw a strange object that had a bell shape, and it was very strange, and it was flying in a strange way. It is difficult to explain what I was seeing. It might be better to look at the photos from my camera…”
Dr. Kutrikov was curious so he got a hold of the camera and the first thing he noticed was that it was an old, rare Yashimaflex.
The doctor was a bit of a photographer himself, so he recognized the brand and knew that this was, like, an antique.
Which was a problem because it used a type of film that hadn’t been manufactured since the 1970s. You can’t just take that down to the CVS to get developed, so he called in a photography expert named Vadim Poisner.
Vadim got the film out and was able to see from the reel info that it was manufactured in 1956. But it was in perfect condition.
So, he developed the roll. And this whole thing just kept getting weirder.
What he found were photos of Kyiv, but clearly from a long time ago. All the cars, all the clothes, all the street signs, all were from the 50’s. There were photos of buildings that didn’t exist anymore.
And Sergei, with his girlfriend at the time, out enjoying a beautiful day… wearing the exact same clothes he was found in.
And the last photo, just as Sergei had said, featured a bell-shaped UFO.
When the doctor asked him about the UFO photo, Sergei said,
“Now you are convinced that I am telling the truth. I so far do not understand what this object is and how something like that happened to me at the same moment when I took the picture and I went down to look at the camera and somehow I showed up in this year.”
Dr. Kutrikov, being scientifically minded, hypothesized that if this was some kind of alien spacecraft, it could perhaps have flown him across the universe at the speed of light and brought him back in a split second. And due to Einstein’s theory of relativity, he would experience time dilation, meaning while that time would barely have passed for him, back on Earth, 47 years would have gone by.
The Flight of the Navigator theory, if you will.
That night, Sergei went back to his room, closed the door… and was never seen again.
The hospital’s security camera captured when he entered his room, but it never filmed him leaving.
The main way out was always watched, and the room’s windows had bars, so there was no way for him to escape without being noticed.
Yeah, Sergei pulled a Shawshank.
Only he had no Racquel Welsh poster. He was never found. No means of escape were ever found… He just vanished.
Leaving the police with a crazy mystery to solve – a mystery that just keeps getting weirder.
Because they investigated the case and found that there actually was a Sergei Pomonorenko who was declared missing in Kiev in 1960.
They also tracked down the woman from the photographs, his girlfriend, who was over 70 years old at this point.
She told the police that Sergei had disappeared that day in 1958, but returned just a few days later – the exact amount of time he had been in 2006.
But then she claimed that he disappeared again in the 1970’s and this time was never seen again.
But years after he vanished, she received a strange photo in the mail. It was from Sergei. And according to the note he wrote, the photo was from 2050.
It shows an older, mustachioed Sergei with Kyiv in the background, only the skyline is full of skyscrapers.
The story of Sergei Ponomorenko has gone down in internet lore as possibly the most well-documented case of time travel in history.
You know, now might be a good time to introduce you guys to Woo Woo Alarm 2.0.
Shoutout to the video where I put on the woo woo alarm for almost a full minute and people went apeshit in the comments.
Look, it’s a great story, okay, I totally get why it became such an urban legend. The problem is everything I could find on this all led back to one TV show.
It was a show called Aliens that aired on a Ukranian channel called 1 + 1 in 2012. There were 10 episodes total, the episode that tells this story is the third episode, titled “Time Traveler.”
Other titles include “Alien Abductions”, “Levitation Effect”, “Phantoms,” and “Crop Circles.”
The show focused on stories of paranormal and supernatural occurrences, and included a disclaimer at the beginning that translates to:
“The ‘Aliens’ series aims to restore scenes of controversial topics. Any theory and hypothesis proposed cannot be considered to be correct, and further scientific research is required. All scene restorations are based on the statements of ‘witnesses’. There is no conclusive evidence to prove the existence of aliens. Your opinion on this issue is up to you.”
So, yeah, the show itself says, “Any theory proposed cannot be considered to be correct.” Which is more than you ever get from the History Channel.
It also makes the point that these are scene restorations, so all these images of Sergei that show up on every website and video that talks about this story – those are recreations.
This is not real interview footage. Which kinda felt obvious to me, but I guess I spend more time around cameras than most.
And besides, there’s a few pretty glaring details that are wrong in this episode, for example, the “security camera” footage displays the time as Tuesday, April 23, 2006.
But if you pull up the calendar on your phone, you can see that April 23 of 2006 was a Sunday.
Others have pointed out that the ID card that you see on the show has a seal of the Communist Youth League stamped on it, but it’s not the actual seal from that time period.
I’m sure the art director was good, but you can never beat the internet.
There’s also that picture from 2050, it has buildings copied and pasted all over the skyline, and I’m pretty sure that’s the Empire State Building?
So, minor photoshop.
But the point is, those were recreations, again, the show said it right at the beginning. Fine. But according to the story, there was an ID, there were photos, there was a recorded interview. Where are the real ones, if they exist?
All I can say is Jason and I both searched all over and couldn’t find them anywhere. Nor could we find any actual police records, no other media reports, and I couldn’t find anything on any of the key figures like Dr. Pablo Kutrikov or Vadim Poisner.
Granted some people don’t have much of a web presence and there’s definitely a language barrier here but yeah, I couldn’t find anything.
Now, I don’t know much about this show, if you are familiar with it, maybe if you’re from Ukraine and know something about it, please educate me in the comments but it comes across like those History Channel type shows where they take some urban legend and dramatize it.
Like I feel like this was just a good piece of creepypasta that the producers ran across and decided to run with, and they did a great job, it has taken on a life of its own.
The credits list the script writer as KONSTANTIN KOVRIGIN, the Director as VLADIMIR RYBAS, with Producer ALEXEY LYABAKH
and the Executive Producer was Oleg Rogzha, who owned the station.
Any of whom I would love to ask directly about this but I wasn’t able to find a way to contact them.
So for me the overwhelming evidence is that this is just a work of fiction. And a great story. But like, don’t take it any more seriously than you did that Mermaid show on Animal Planet.
Which was a thing that actually happened. I hate this timeline.
For example, a paper published in Classical and Quantum Gravity in September 2020 suggested a way to travel backwards in time.
They looked at Einstein’s theory of relativity, specifically his calculations that show that it’s possible for an object in our universe to travel through space and time in a circular direction and end up back at the starting point.
It’s called a closed time-like curve.
But physicists struggle with scenarios like the grandfather paradox. That’s when a time traveler goes to the past and kills a younger version of her grandfather.
This means the time traveler’s parents aren’t born, along with the time traveler herself. And if the time traveler isn’t around, then who would kill the grandfather?
The researchers used the “billiard-ball model” to tackle the paradox.
Imagine several billiard balls across a circular table. When you push one ball from say position X, it goes around the table and hits other balls in a particular pattern.
The researchers calculated that even if the ball’s pattern is messed with at some point during its journey, future interactions with the other balls can correct its path.
The ball will come back to position X at the same speed that it would have if it hadn’t been interfered with.
Basically, the ball will fall into the same place.
The study’s model says that you could travel back in time, but you couldn’t change events significantly enough to change the future.
Like with the grandfather paradox, that could mean something would always get in the way of attempting to kill him.
As researcher Germain Tobar said,
“No matter what you did, the salient events would just recalibrate around you. Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency.”
Now I think this paper is mostly an interesting thought experiment, but this sounds a bit like determinism. The idea that things will recalibrate around any changes you make in the timeline.
Kinda like car navigation when you miss your exit.
But what causes this “recalibration?” What holds this reality together? Is it fundamental quantum forces? The Matrix? The power of Zoe?
Unfortunately it’ll be a long time until we can test something like this and send an instrument or a person on a closed time-like curve. Until then we’ll just have to imagine it.
Which we’ve kinda been doing all this time. One of the earliest ancient Sanskrit epic poems was titled Mahabharata and it was about time travel.
I think we’re drawn to time travel stories because it removes us from the most insidious force in our lives. Time marches on, it never stops, we are ultimately at its mercy. The greatest fantasy we have is to escape its grip.
So maybe that’s why this urban legend has struck such a chord online. As disoriented and confused as he was, we all kinda want to be Sergei Ponomarenko.