During the Cold War, closed city of Priorserk was the central hub for the surrounding military installations and in particular the Sary-Shagan (called Sary-Shagan Polygon) anti-ballistic missile testing range that is more than 20,000 km2 in size, on the west bank of Lake Balkash, spreading deep into the desolate steppes of central Kazakhstan.
The Soviets tested their ballistic missiles there but also laser weapon prototypes. After the fall of the USSR, the Russians kept control over most of the installations, creating real Russian enclaves within Kazakh territory. The vast majority of the residents, especially Kazakhs, left the area.
During the last 20 years, the land was slowly being given back to Kazakhstan. Inhabitants from neighbouring villages moved into abandoned military barracks, making ends meet by fishing and scavenging metal scraps, and try to rebuild from the shells of remaining buildings.
(Kazakhstan, April 2012)