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UFOs over Kazakhstan, Central Asia

UFOs hovered over the USSR throughout the nation’s history, despite the secrecy of the country’s Communist regime, and its desire to reject the presence of mysterious guests. The sharp increase in UFO activity in 1977-1978 in the Soviet Union (especially, after the famous Petrozavodsk Case) had caused appropriate departments within the USSR Academy of Sciences “to agree” with the Soviet leadership and create a research program for anomalous atmospheric phenomena. The code name for this program was SETKA-AN (Akademii Nauk Set’–Academy of Sciences Net, or AS-NET.)

Kazakhstan (Credit: Google Maps)
Kazakhstan (Credit: Google Maps)

The Soviet Ministry of Defense embarked on a similar program, dubbed SETKA-MO (Ministerstva Oboroni Set’). Purportedly, it was the Military-Industrial Commission that had ordered this research. The powerful Military-Industrial Commission decided to create two UFO research centers, one in the USSR Academy of Sciences, the other in the USSR Defense Ministry. Both centers aided each other’s research and exchanged information.

According to Russian UFO expert and author Mikhail Gershtein, those in charge of the academic research of the SETKA program basically weeded out and cast aside the genuine enthusiasts of the UFO research involved in the SETKA-AN. Only the debunkers, together with military specialists from secret military institutes, remained in the program in the later years.

A photograph depicting the Petrozavodsk UFO. (Credit: The Moscow Times/Michael Heseman)
A photograph depicting the Petrozavodsk UFO. (Credit: The Moscow Times/Michael Heseman)

Enthusiasts of ufology were to be controlled, and were allowed to work only on the assigned projects, and no leakage of information to be tolerated. But in 1979, some of the devotees and enthusiasts were still involved in the research of quite intriguing UFO cases that the SETKA-AN came across…

UFO building in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Credit: http://urbnstyle.blogspot.com/)


Kazakhstan, a vast country in the Central Asia, was one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union until 1991. At its western end, Kazakhstan borders the northeastern quadrant of the landlocked Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake. Located between Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, locked between two seas, in the Caspian Lowland (south of the lower reaches of the Emba) and on the western Ustyurt Plateau, is the Mangyshlak (aka Mangystau) Peninsula, land of the ancient tribe of Aday…

The sun-drenched land is largely devoid of trees, and endless winds blow over vast steppes covered with scant vegetation.  The Mangystau (“Eternal”) Mountains run from northwest to southeast on the Mangyshlak Peninsula. Located in the extreme southeast, the Ustyurt Plateau falls precipitously to the plain in a steep scarp. The northwestern part of Mangyshlak Oblast adjacent to the Caspian Sea is covered by vast solonchak  (light-colored soils rich in soluble salts)  regions  This land is full of mysteries, and some of them have paranormal undertones. We will look at them later.

Landscape of Boszhira Tract on the Mangyshlak Peninsula, Kazakhstan. (Credit: aboutkazakhstan.com)
Landscape of Boszhira Tract on the Mangyshlak Peninsula, Kazakhstan. (Credit: aboutkazakhstan.com)

In the late 1970s, it was called the Mangyshlak Oblast (region), part of the Kazakh SSR. The size of the Oblast was 167,000 square kilometers. There were three cities and 11 urban-type settlements in Mangyshlak Oblast. Its administrative center was Shevchenko (today, Aktau).

On August 7, 1979 a scientific expedition group of research workers from the IKI (Russian abbreviation for the Space Research Institute; a participating entity in the SETKA-AN program) was dispatched to the Mangyshlak Oblast. The group had operated there until August 31. It consisted of the following four people: the SETKA-AN scientific secretary I. G. Petrovskaya, N.F. San’ko, Y. G. Lifschitz, and S. Yegorov. For the period of ten days, B. A. Feshin of the NII-4 had worked with the group. The secretive Scientific Research Institute (NII-4) Number Four controlled development, production, and integration of strategic missile-space technology in the Soviet Armed Forces; maintained and serviced satellites and spaceships.

The report, produced by this group, has been mentioned in Mikhail Gershtein’s book Tayni NLO i prisheltsev (Secrets of UFOs and aliens), Saint Petersburg, 2007. The researchers stated in their report of the expedition that the group was intended to be the first exploratory and methodical step with the goal of ascertainment of expediency of dispatch, output of activities, and efficiency of a small group…The group was dispatched rapidly so as to determine by the summer of 1980, whether such steps are necessary, what is the optimal quantity for an expedition, and how it is to be organized, should there be a need.

The goals were modest, but the “output of activities” was impressive, because the group had received 85 UFO reports, and conducted the “maximum possible” analysis of the reports. The scientists determined that 35 UFO reports actually described rocket launches; convergence of satellites accounted for 5 reports; gunnery was responsible for 4 UFO reports; one report actually described a bolide; 36 UFO reports were of unidentified objects (of them, 10 cases were presumably scientific and technical experiments, and the remaining 26 were genuine anomalous phenomena). Most likely, B. A. Feshin of the NII-4 helped the team separate the “scientific and technical experiments” from other sightings.

Mangyshlak Peninsula
Mangyshlak Peninsula

The report mentioned that attention was paid to the data collected from pilots, especially Report # 44 that described the detection by radar of unidentified target with anomalous features.

The scientific expedition group had several investigations in Mangyshlak in the hot month of August, 1979. They included possible UFO sightings; the research involved interactions with the local KGB and the military units. Their explorations and findings in the Mangyshlak Peninsula are subject of detailed study, outside the scope of this article. Suffice it to say, this remote land of bleak lowlands covered with wormwood and filled with saltwort deserts with areas of scrub vegetation on brown soils, rich in petroleum and natural gas, was one of the territories where UFOs had been sighted frequently during the Soviet era.


UFOs have been sighted over this part of Central Asia for thousands of years, and those who had observed them have etched their impressions in petroglyphs, legends, manuscripts, photos…

The Mangyshlak Peninsula has many unique land formations that cannot be found elsewhere in the world. The first of these attractions is the lowest point in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, the Karagiye Depression, also known as “The Black Mouth”, and happens to be one of the most anomalous areas in Central Asia. It is 132 meters below sea level, forty kilometers long and ten kilometers wide, and acknowledged as the fifth lowest portion in the world. Locusts, scorpions, snakes, moving sands of the rocky desert, dwarf trees…such are the features of this land.  Once, many centuries ago, the Great Silk Road passed here.  There are hundreds of ancient necropolises that remain in the area…

This is where unidentified flying objects that resemble red spheres have been sighted repeatedly.

Rock formation on the Karagiye depression. (Credit: http://kazakhstan.travel)
Rock formation on the Karagiye depression. (Credit: http://kazakhstan.travel)

Apparently, something attracts them to the Depression. One relatively recent report is from the spring of the memorable year of 1979, when Soviet engineer Valery Rozhkov observed a red sphere flying at low altitude but at great speed. The case was investigated by the SETKA-AN group while they worked in the area. …There was a hypothesis that the UFOs have been attracted to Karagiye because it is located forty kilometers from Aktau, where a unique nuclear power plant has been in operation since 1973. In any event, there have been a number of reports of UFOs over the “Black Mouth”.


The Mangyshlak Peninsula is not an easy area to access, the exploration there is quite dangerous and expensive, and many sightings are not recorded.  Not all of the reports found their way into the SETKA-AN files.

On April 10, 1992, Russian newspaper MOLODYOZH TATARSTANA published several articles about UFO investigators of the Mangyshlak Peninsula. The local researchers had been studying the local UFO phenomenon for over ten years, since the early 1980s.  They had observed different UFO types over the Peninsula: in the 1960s-1970s the “garland”-shaped objects; in the 1970s-1980s, the “silvery spheres”; and in the early 1990s, the “black giants”. Let us look at their research in greater detail.


The most intensive period of the sightings of the “garlands” in the Mangyshlak and Ustyurt Plateau areas was at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s. At the end of the decade, there were scant sightings. In the 1980s, there were just a few verified sightings, and mostly in the Ustyurt. The last sighting, as far as Gruppa Fakt knew, took place in 1986.

They assumed some of the sightings were of ball lightning. What about the rest of the sightings?

Such very unusual UFOs usually look like chains of lights, seemingly hovering in the air, sometimes slowly floating. The lights are usually red-colored. Investigators in Gruppa Fakt discerned (after studying reported sightings) that the median number of lights varied from three to six. Most often, the “garlands” were sighted in the nighttime, and the glow of the spheres was dull, not glimmering. Only two cases were reported of the UFOs in the twilight hours, when the sky was still somewhat light. The spheres that comprised the garland in such cases resembled “objects made from metal of dark color, with reddish hue, each 7 -8 meters in diameter”. There was no visible construction that connected the spheres. Nevertheless, the spheres, as if tied together by invisible threads, very smoothly and synchronically performed various maneuvers. The invisible coupling has two functions: in once case it was a rigidly fastened system, while in the other case it was flexible. In the first case, all of the spheres of the garland UFO started moving at the same time, in one designated direction, keeping the distance between them unchanged. The mutual layout of the spheres assumed correct geometrical shapes: triangles, rectangular, and polygon. In the second (flexible) case the movement was started by one of   the spheres, and the rest repeat its trajectory. The investigators noted that the leading sphere can be any of the spheres in the “garland”.

Ustyurt Plateau (Credit: www.voxpopuli.kz)
Ustyurt Plateau (Credit: www.voxpopuli.kz)

The flight of the “garland UFO” was absolutely noiseless. They did not react to the light signals, and there was never a case when technology was effected by the UFOs (as well unaffected were devices that were used for photography, but there were never clear pictures, due to the nighttime hours, and lack of quality film.

Local ufologists believed that the famous Belgian Triangles were typical examples of the rigidly fastened “garlands”, consisting of three spheres. Probably the objects that were of large size, with color range from yellow to red, and sighted a single entity or in pairs, are also of the same variety. They were characterized by quite low flight altitude and noiselessness.

One case was of special interest to the researchers. It took place in the heat of summertime, when three geologists parked their vehicle at the edge of the precipice. They climbed to the top of the vehicle to sleep. Half an hour later, a yellow-colored sphere (they initially mistook it for the Moon) smoothly moved into their direction along the shoreline. Having approached them, the object hovered, a blinding white light flared up, and the vehicle was inside a cocoon. The eyewitnesses described that they physically felt the light. The ray formed a brightly colored ring (around ten meters in diameter) on the ground. The vehicle and its passengers were in the middle of the ring. The geologists were very scared. Not so much of the event, but of its suddenness. One of them recalled that he had only one thought in his mind: they will shoot at us, they will shoot…He tried to climb out from the sleeping bag, tearing off fasteners. But most interesting was the fact that none of them screamed; everything took place in the absolutely thick silence. And then the light was gone. The next day they woke up, and none of the geologists remembered what happened. This story resurfaced in the memory of two of them (and at the same time) only three years later, when they read (independently of each other) the famous Soviet newspaper report of a very sinister 1984 case*.

UFO photo taken in the Caucasus region, published in the Soviet Military Review.
UFO photo taken in the Caucasus region (on the western coast of the Caspian Sea), published in the Soviet Military Review.

The memories came back at once, as if they always existed in the back of the mind, as if they remembered something they always knew, but did not pay attention to, due to the insignificance of the fact, its commonness, lack of real interest…When one geologist read the article, he rushed to his former place of employment, found one of the other witnesses, and was convinced that the event (phantasmagoria, as he described it to Gruppa Fakt) was not a dream. Both of them quickly recalled the details. Quite amazing was the explanation that, itself, appeared in the minds of the geologists after the UFO departed. The explanation was similar even in the smallest details, and calmed them to such a degree, that they were able to peacefully lie down and sleep; and in the morning, and subsequent days eve mentally not recall the events of the amazing night. The explanation was this: “this was a helicopter of the Border Guard troops; it illuminated us to check the vehicle license number on its roof…”It was as if this logical explanation was “given” explanation was to all participants. But there no numbers on the roof, and they never before encountered such helicopters. The explanation could not be logical, passionately told the researchers one of the geologists, because such spot checks was impossible.  One important detail: if a helicopter could reach the altitude where its engine would be noiseless (for the UFO was noiseless) it would not be able to illuminate such plot of land; there were no such floodlights. But the light that the geologists reported was tight, as if one could touch and feel it…

*This was a very poignant and well-known case of an alleged UFO encounter with an aircraft (described it in an earlier chapter. An article titled “At exactly 4:10” was written by V. Vostrukhin, and published in the Soviet newspaper “TRUD”. The date of the publication was January 30, 1985).


In the early 1980s, the UFO investigation team Gruppa Fakt had learnt of strange rumors pertaining to silvery spheres. They waited for years for some government disclosure about the events, some news of a foreign reconnaissance satellite that was shot down over the peninsula…but nothing really was reported. But we need to remember that the MOLODYOZH TATARSTANA article was published in 1992, when the SETKA program was still unknown to the population of the former Soviet Union (the Communist nation had disintegrated in 1991). It is possible that the sightings of the silvery spheres were the same that had attracted attention of the Soviet UFO researchers of the SETKA.

UFO Case Files of Russia by Paul Stonehill and Philip Mantle
UFO Case Files of Russia by Paul Stonehill and Philip Mantle

The Gruppa Fakt team learned of the strange rumors that circled in Shevchenko: its residents carefully mentioned incredible, every day events that involved silvery spheres. One case involved a sighting outside of the city, by Caspian Sea. The spheres were too far from the observers, and it was impossible to determine their size.  The report was not taken seriously until confirmation came from geologists. The latter not only observed the spheres, but also attempted to approach the objects. And here is where the strangeness really began: the vehicle they were driving in could not approach the UFOs, despite the fact that they drove for five kilometers in their direction. It is as if the car was immobile. Finally, the spheres vanished (“… they burst like soap bubbles”) .From that day on, many witnesses described sightings to others in the city. But all their accounts were similar. However, the size of the spheres was mentioned, usually around thirty meters in diameter. Another interesting trait: the spheres appeared only in groups. Soon, local geologists stopped paying attention to them. There were actually photographs of the objects. The quality was poor, as it was difficult to make a photo of a silvery object over the desert. What cam through were inexpressive white blots. Yet, one photo did help determine that the spheres do not vanish, but very rapidly ascend. As the events unfolded very close to the border, the matter was made public. The team found out that some commission arrived in the city, rented a vehicle from a governmental entity, and left for some unknown itinerary. The commission returned, but without the equipment they brought with them, and quickly departed. The spheres were observed for another month, and then they disappeared.

The unnamed author of the MOLODYOZH TATARSTANA articles, member of the Gruppa Fakt team, mentioned that those who observed the spheres reported that the most amazing feeling they had after the encounters was the sensation of alienness of the objects to the environment. While the author did not personally observe the spheres, he did work in the desert at the time, and made interesting discoveries. He found round sites of completely dead soil; the diameters ranged from three to five meters. He also discovered small circles of approximately ninety centimeters. The sites had perfectly round shapes, and even alhagi (camel’s-thorn) did not grow there. Supposedly, these were landing sites of the mysterious silvery spheres. There were witnesses who encountered here, jelly-like mush in the desert, in the areas of reported sightings. Perhaps, this mush was the cause of the absence of life inside the sites.

The team never did find out (as of 1992) what commission had visited the area, where the equipment was placed, and whether there was any connection between the departure of the commission, and the disappearance of the silvery spheres. And still, the mystery did not end there. The unknown author was told by his acquaintances of their experience on the Moscow-Krasnovodsk flight in 1990. They observed similar spheres, flying in the single file along the shoreline. Today this city in Western Turkmenistan, a harbor at the Caspian Sea, has the name of Turkmenbashi. Similar sightings, dating to the period of 1988-90, were reported the Turkmen media. Another confirmation the author of the MOLODYOZH TATARSTANA articles had received from his acquaintance, who had served in the Soviet border guard troops, in the Caspian flotilla. He had observed the same similar spheres over the shallow waters through binoculars, from the distance of several kilometers, during one of the patrols. The sighting was in the area of the Kara Bogaz Bay.

Turkmenbashi Port (Credit: www.dredgingtoday.com)
Turkmenbashi Port (Credit: www.dredgingtoday.com)

The team of local ufologists wondered as to what was covered by silvery shell of the spheres: secret foreign military technology; alien technology; some illusion that caused massive hypnosis; manifestation of multidimensional life form…or something else?


This encounter took place in the summer of 1990. That Saturday the five researchers of the Gruppa Fakt team were on their way to study the legendary depression of the Kara Bogaz Bay. Unfortunately, they missed the chance to observe a tremendous UFO sighting elsewhere other part of the desert, where they actually stopped earlier in the morning.

A column of vehicles came to their own stop in the afternoon, waiting for one of their vehicles that lagged behind. The geologists had a field meeting in the staff vehicle, and one of the younger scientists tried to abscond. When he slumped down toward the wheels, he felt something inexplicable above him. The feeling was that behind his back was something huge and frightening. He slowly turned around, clinging to the vehicle, and saw above, about two hundred meters away, a black colossus of a thing…

It seemed at first to cover half of the sky. Later, he was able to determine that IT was about 150 meters long. The black, metallic object that hovered over the geologist was spindle-shaped; it looked velvety, and did not have any sunlight on its surface The UFO was hovering right over the geologist, at a very close distance. Actually, it floated over him, leaving behind slight silvery haze. While the object’s movement was very slow, it was visible. His first thought that no one would believe him. According to his colleagues, he jumped inside the staff vehicle yelling something incoherent. They ran outside and became witnesses to the most unforgettable scene.

Kara-Bogaz Gol and Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan seen from space. (Credit: NASA)
Kara-Bogaz Gol and Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan seen from space. (Credit: NASA)

There were ten of the observers. The conditions were very appropriate for the observation: a short distance to the object, ideal visibility, absence of clouds and wind. The object slowly departed to the distance of one and a half kilometers, and suddenly vanished.  All that was left behind was a slight trail resembling contrail of an aircraft flying at high altitude. Some witnesses heard popping sound when the UFO disappeared.

When it became dark, the vehicle that lagged behind finally joined the column, and its team of geologists told the main group that they, too, observed the UFO. The “spindle” accompanied their vehicle for twenty minutes; it flew over them on a parallel course. It disappeared without a sound. Everyone agreed that the UFO resembled an aircraft without wings and tail. One interesting detail that was reported was the presence of apertures in the hull; light burst out from them. There was no consensus as to the actual number of apertures; usually it was reported that there were four… Some reported the light to be of green or blue colors. The rays of the light were short; more like cones of light. The author of the MOLODYOZH TATARSTANA articles mentioned that we should not forget: the sightings took place during the daylight hours.  That very same day three observers saw a spindle-shaped UFO at a distance of two kilometers from the sea shore. It was black-colored and huge, and landed in the area of a freshwater lake. The witnesses visited that area, but found no traces. The Gruppa Fakt researchers had more reports of “black” UFOs that had been observed only during the spring and summer in the area bordered by Mangyshlak Peninsula, the Kara Bogaz Bay, and the Ustyurt Plateau.

There is no further information about the Gruppa Fakt researchers, despite the attempts of the author to locate them…The SETKA project documents are inaccessible, locked away in impenetrable archives of the Russian State Archives.

Paul Stonehill

Paul Stonehill is the author of The Soviet UFO Files (1998), Paranormal Mysteries of Eurasia (2010), and co-author of several books with Philip Mantle.

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  1. Any article opening with the Petrozavodsk medusa UFO is giving fair warning it will be full of nebulous rumors of events that have no known date/time/location/direction info needed for basic validation. More random ramblings of gossip, just as useless.

  2. Once again, as the old Turkish proverb tells us: The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.

    But to give respect to those who had attempted to research the mysterious anomalous aerial phenomena to the best of their abilities and the meager funds allocated by the State, here is an interesting episode.This will show Open Minds readers how some of the SETKA researchers investigated UFO cases. I am sure we will be amazed when the sealed files are open one day (the Arkhangelsk Dust, and who knows what else…)

    The SETKA Report No. 44 described the detection by radar of an unidentified target with anomalous features. On 14 August 1977, at 20:00-20:30 hours, Raisa Gopachenko, an air traffic controller at Shevchenko Airport, detected a target in the range of radar coverage. She assumed that the target was a military object. The target appeared suddenly over the town of Aksu, Kazakhstan, and for approximately one minute it remained motionless. Gopachenko reported this to the flight operations officer, Vyacheslav Irin. He checked the flight route restrictions, but there were none that day. Moreover, at the moment that the object was detected, the radar field of vision did not indicate the presence of any aircraft. No more than a minute after being detected, the object started moving along the sea in the direction of the town of Yeraliyev, following the shoreline bend. Before reaching Yeraliyev, the object turned sharply towards the city of Uzen’ and accelerated to 500 kilometers per hour. The officer immediately contacted Krasnovodsk military airport, which confirmed that it had no aircraft in the sky. The object passed Uzen’ and turned towards Muynak, a city which used to be an important logistical port in Central Asia. Now the object’s speed was close to 700 kilometers per hour.
    Its flight path did not correspond to the civil aviation flight route. The air traffic controller warned Nukus Airport in Uzbekistan that the object was approaching the range of their radar set. At the same time, one An-24 aircraft appeared from the direction of Muynak, flying to Shevchenko. The target flew in the direction of the An-24, not changing its course. The air traffic controller contacted the aircraft, whose crew responded that they had not observed anything. To preclude an accident, the air traffic controller turned the An-24 away from the course of the object when it and the Soviet aircraft were at a distance of 220-250 kilometers from Shevchenko. The object moved away, and at a distance of 300-350 kilometers it exited the range of the Shevchenko radar vision and disappeared. At that time, the flight operations officer at Nukus
    Airport reported to Shevchenko that they could not see the target, and contacted military airports in the cities of Astrakhan, Rostov, Volgograd, Baku, Tashkent, Alma-Ata and Moscow. All of the airports responded that they had no aircraft in the sky (it was a day off), and asked Shevchenko Airport about the circumstances of the sighting. The object reappeared five to six minutes later on the Shevchenko Airport radar screen, at the very site from where it had disappeared. The object followed strictly the same route, but in the opposite direction towards Uzen’ and at great speed. According to the flight operations officer, its speed was approximately 40 kilometers per one revolution of the radar aerial—about 7200 kilometers per hour
    Again the Shevchenko air traffic controller asked Nukus about the presence of aircraft on that flight course, and again the answer was negative. The flight operations officer contacted the Air Defense units at Krasnovodsk. The official response was that there were no route restrictions.
    From Uzen’, the object turned towards Aksu and disappeared at the same spot from where it had appeared—although, at a distance of 170 kilometers, it was still in the range of reliable detection by Shevchenko Airport’s radar The air traffic controller’s impression was that the object had vanished as if it had turned off its transponder beacon.
    During the time that the object was observed, the air traffic controllers performed tracking using the ground based “question-answer” interrogator system. They used the P-35 (“Mech'”, meaning “sword”) radar set, and the speed of the aerial was three revolutions per minute. The object could be detected by radar only if it possessed a device which worked like a radio transmitter tuned to the established civil aviation operating frequency. On the radar screen, the object resembled a high-altitude aircraft.. The object could be detected by radar only if it possessed a device which worked like a radio transmitter tuned to the established civil aviation operating frequency. It never established communications during the sighting.
    The Air Defense unit tried to find the target and specified its whereabouts from the flight operations officer after the target had already disappeared from the radar screen.
    During subsequent discussion of the events, the lieutenant-colonel of the Krasnovodsk Air Defense unit’s radio engineering forces stated his opinion that the UFO sighting was in reality a phenomenon generated when the lateral lobe of the radar on board the observing aircraft detected another aircraft. That second aircraft was flying from the opposite direction to Nukus, over the sea. However, the flight operations officer was not satisfied with such an explanation because of the absence of aircraft in the sky (with the exception of the An-24) and the absence of similar phenomena during his 14 years of work with the same radar
    The report concluded: . -“The described event was characterized by the following
    anomalous manifestations: presence of hovering, change of speed from 0 to 7200 kilometers per hour, emissions at the operating frequency of the ground based interrogator system.
    The nature of the UFO was never determined. However, the scientific expedition group made other investigations in Mangyshlak in August 1979, including of possible UFO sightings. The research involved interactions with local KGB and military units. Their explorations and findings in the Mangyshlak Peninsula were the subject of detailed study, outside the scope of this article.
    But 1979 was a very interesting year in terms of UFO sightings in the USSR. We have reports from a Soviet meteorological station in the Arctic Yakutia, about incredible sightings the same year; and more.

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