My visit to Chernobyl - Page 6
All words and images © Mark Resnicoff
Pripyat is located 3 km north of the Chernobyl plant and was built as an atomograd - a city to house the Chernobyl Plant workers. Construction of the city began in 1970 and continued until the disaster in 1986. The city was vibrant with life and considered such a successful design that it became a model for future cities of the Soviet Union. At the time of the accident, Pripyat had a population of 49,360 growing toward a target of 80,000. Now, Pripyat is a dead city - no one lives here, and special permission is required to enter the city limits.
Thirty six hours after the explosions at the Chernobyl plant, the populace of Pripyat was evacuated. Late Saturday night, approximately 1,100 buses were brought from Kyiv to the outskirts of the city, preparing for a possible evacuation. On Sunday afternoon, the citizens were told to take 3 days worth of clothing and necessities with them, though the government knew the people would never return to their homes.
In what can be considered an amazing feat amongst all the commotion, the entire city was evacuated within a three hour period. Children were sent to camps in the south while adults were relocated to cities such as Kyiv and Chernihiv.
A metal building and gate stand guard at the "new" city entrance, on the right side of what used to be a roundabout situated at the southern edge of town. Barbed wire now surrounds the entire city to prevent unauthorized entry and further looting.
We entered the city on Lenin Street and drove north to the city center. We turned right on Kurchatov Street and turned right again on Friendship of the People's Street. Driving through the city, I could not help but notice that it is being overtaken by nature. Trees and bushes grow everywhere, and moss covers much of the sidewalks. This was quite a surprise as most photos I had seen were taken in early spring, late fall, or winter, thereby showing little plant growth.
The first building we approached was one of the city's early grocery stores, "Firefly" . Walking into the store, I could see water seeping through the ceiling, nourishing the ferns and other plants growing out of the floor. The damage caused by nature and marauders made it quite difficult to imagine people buying groceries here.
We walked past a bus stop and came to the door of an apartment building. It was where Sasha used to live with his mother Lyubov. Near the door, a tree that Sasha had planted as a seedling in his youth now stands several stories tall.
This building was actually a hostel and the apartments were very small. We climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked down the dilapidated hallway to Apartment #10, Sasha's apartment. Sasha has been back to Pripyat so many times in the last 10 years that I think being in their apartment was more emotional for me than for him.
The night of the accident was unusually warm for late April, so the windows were open, exposing Sasha and Lyubov to very high doses of radiation. Their apartment was one of the closest in the city to the plant. They were scheduled to move to a regular apartment in the central city during the summer of 1986, but of course never did.
The hostel residents typically ate their meals in canteen/dining halls such as "Druzhba". I can't imagine anyone wanting to eat here now.
Sasha used to attend classes at our next stop, School #1. In July 2005, part of this building collapsed due to deterioration of the cement structure. This is the first building in the city to suffer a collapse.
Before entering the building (in a safer area), we stopped briefly to check radiation levels near the collapse site. The reading was 1,008 µR/h.