The Abandoned Town of Pripyat

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October 2nd 2010
Published: January 10th 2011
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When I tell somebody, especially a girl, that I’ve been to Chernobyl and Pripyat, there is immediately a reaction that, don’t I want to have children, and it’s always the same thing, as if I cannot think for myself and choose for myself and what do babies have to do with someone’s trip to Pripyat? I don’t even have a girlfriend, and doubt so much it’ll change in the nearest future, so should I care that much about unborn babies? If I am father to a mutant-baby, that’s another story, though… I’d rather not dwell on the scientific approach to the radiation dose one receives during the 4-5 hour stay in the Zone, because I do not know how to calculate all the stuff and neither I am able to use a dosimeter. But I do hope for the better. As for babies, we’ll see. Pleasures of the hour seem more important for me now than something so vague and remote...

It was in July 2010 that I encountered a very short passage about Pripyat and learned that trips are organized there. I took a mental note of it and decided to visit it, when there is an opportunity. I myself would never think that it’s possible to go on tourism to such places, you know, radiation, and secrecy and that sort of things.

There’s a film by BBC, I suppose, and there are images from Pripyat used to show how the earth might start to like if the humans disappeared from the planet. I did happen to come across that video again several months ago, and it was in the end of September that I decided to visit Pripyat as a side-trip on my way to St. Petersburg. I decided to go to St. Petersburg all of a sudden; there is a girl – a friend of mine, so I hoped we would spend some time together.

The trip to Pripyat was scheduled for October 2, and on October 3 I would be in St. Petersburg. On October 1, me and my two friends went to the bar and spend a good time, and that’s why I overslept in the morning and had the very good chance to miss my flight. The airport is located in Ufa, and it is generally some 4-5 hours of drive there, if one goes by intercity bus, and then takes the bus in Ufa to the airport; so I felt very bad and had to think very quickly of a possible way to get to the airport as soon as possible. My salvation was the fact that it’s not that long drive if one goes bypassing the city of Ufa, taking the direct road to the airport, and it was only 1.30 hours. I took a taxi and was very happy having reached the airport.

In Moscow I changed the airplane for a train and the next morning I was in Kiev at an early hour. The trip to Pripyat would start on a bus from the Kiev Bus Station at 8.00. There was a whole bus of males and only three females (among perhaps 25 people). Yes, men seem to be more ready to sacrifice their health in search of emotions. However, it’s generally a matter of personal choice.

The organizational core of this trip is a website where one registers, finds all the necessary information and can effect payment (about 100 USD) for this unusual trip. I did so. When I made my mind to go to Pripyat I did not concern myself with any health issues. I would rather be sure it’s not as dangerous to stay there a couple of hours as it was in 1986 when the nuclear power was unleashed.

Okay, the journey has begun and we made several stops to buy snacks (not in the polluted zone, of course) and passed the guard post where our identity cards were checked. You perhaps will be puzzled to learn that the current population of Chernobyl is several hundred people, and several thousand people come there to work on a regular basis. There is an information point in Chernobyl and a man told us much about the town. People work and live there.

Then the bus took us to the area of the power plant itself. It’s rather a peculiar feeling I had of being in some forbidden and godforsaken place. It’s prohibited to take photos from some strategic points, and they can even arrest you for that. There were a couple of foreign men among us and a Ukrainian guy interpreted to them the speech of our guide. There is a river (or a pond) and it has giant catfish in it; unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of them. Mutants, of course.

Our guide was a reliable source of information, because he spent many years organizing the trips and himself, as a child, was a resident of Pripyat and witnessed the evacuation.

We had the opportunity to see the power unit from two points, and it was allowed to take pictures at the second point. It looks … I don’t know how it looks. In front of it there is a monument and inside – well, it’s radiation ‘hell’ inside.

Having seen the power unit, we went to the town of Pripyat. I wonder can one call it a town in the full sense of the word – it’s no town now, but it was a town two decades ago. It was a privileged town and people had good lives there. It hurts to see the actual state of the town and pictures and videos from the 1980-s when it was in bloom. The nature slowly swallows the town, the buildings, everything; boars roam its streets and paths and various men roam its buildings in search of heating radiators which are treated and then sold or otherwise made use of. From time to time, one can hear the loud bang of the radiators being thrown out of buildings on the ground.

Now that turns our attention to an ethical side of the thing. Is it very ethical for us, tourists, wishing to see the abandoned and disappearing town, or not? It is wise to disturb the past and let one’s body absorb radiation, no matter how small it might be? Is it reasonable to leave the heating radiators where they are, or is it more reasonable to reuse them? I can fully understand the man, our guide, who’s soul is nowhere but in Pripyat and who was born there and spends there a time now and then. He does organize those trips for people to see and feel the Pripyat. Now, look, what’s your attitude to making money out of the, let’s say, past tragedy? On the other hand, people do visit old monuments like pyramids or what not, and those also might have something to do with people’s tragedies like sacrificing etc. I’ll not give an answer to the question of making profit out of Pripyat.

Our group being large, we split into two smaller groups, and our guides were two. We went different ways. The guide took was to various buildings and told many stories of what they used to be like before the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. It’s sad. Actually, the town is already half swallowed by wood and plants, and conquered by boars who feel very comfortable here. Also, other wild animals may be spotted, but they may prey on you if you happen to be alone. Generally, most of the buildings are quite all right still, but the signs of destruction are seen everywhere – broken windows, doors, several fallen walls, cracks everywhere and mould and broken furniture and dust and dangerous staircases etc… Don’t go there for fun. But our company told jokes and laughed, however I did not feel like joking or laughing.

There are many remnants from the Soviet Era. No wonder, because 1986 was still the era of Soviet Union. Most things are in disorder in buildings and flats. There are some areas where the radiation rate is higher than the usual. In some places, the dosimeter readings are several thousands.

We walked a long way in Pripyat and I managed to capture the feel of it. That passage I’ve read in a booklet, saying that it’s one of the most peculiar places for tourism, is not wrong. It’s a trip where one can go once in a lifetime at the cost of several hours of increased exposure to radiation. But don’t you start teaching me about health care and babies, please.

You most surely know some computer games exploiting the topic of Chernobyl and Pripyat. If you happen to be in the Ukraine and are not afraid of exposure, consider visiting the abandoned town (anyhow, put on protective clothes and things). It’s a place not comparable to other places. Because time will come when there will be no more Pripyat on this planet.

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