I can’t say too much about the glory days of Mother Russia, but it did seem like when I went to Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the schools were far better equipped in terms of both scientific and athletic equipment than they are in the west.
Now I have another place I want to visit in the former USSR: Oil Rocks
In the late 1940s, in order to jump start oil production again, an entire city sprang up in the Caspian Sea, 42km from the nearest shore. The complex had a population of 5000 people. There were hotels, schools, even grass fields there. It is still in existence today, though parts of the complex have sunk into the sea. It also continues to produce oil to this day.
There are some great pictures on this site about Oil spills (scroll down to the Baku, Azerbaijan section: