On Tuesday we decided to take a drive out to the city of Slavutych with Jake and Anya Knotts. What makes Slavutych so interesting is that it was a planned Soviet city built to house the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station after the city of Prypyat had to be abandoned. Prypyat had formerly been the newest city in the Soviet Union when it was constructed in 1970. Its 50,000 residents were evacuated 36 hours after reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Plant suffered a meltdown on April 26th, 1986. With the aide of 1,200 buses, the residents were removed from the city, minus their belongings. They were told it was temporary, but no one was ever allowed to return.
In October of 1986, construction began on the city of Slavutych, the old slavic name for the Dnipro River. The first residents began moving into the city in October of 1988. The city was literally carved out of the forest and this was very obvious when we drove into the city. The city has a population of about 25,000, but it feels more spread out for a Ukrainian city of that size. The first thing we noticed were all the homes that resembled American track homes all built alike and in straight rows.
The layout of the city and even the style of some of the buildings reminded me of several U.S. Army Posts I've been on in the past like Fort Benning or Fort Lewis. It just seemed to have a very deliberate and planned feel to the whole place. The city was also unusually flat compared to other Ukrainian cities we've seen. I learned later that this was because the land had been leveled so that two meters (six feet) of uncontaminated soil could be brought in to build on.
Slavutych is architecturally unique as a city. It was built with eight different distinct sections. Each section was built with workers and architects from the Soviet Republics of the Armenian SSR, Azerbaijan SSR, Estonian SSR, Georgian SSR, Latvian SSR, Lithuanian SSR, Russian SFSR and Ukrainian SSR.
Slavutych is located 45 Km (28 miles) from the ghost town of Prypyat and 50 Km (31 miles) from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station. Although the plant was shut down in 2000, about 3,000 (down from the original 9,000) workers still work there to monitor and maintain the spent fuel stored there. A train travels from Slavutych crossing the border of Belarus twice to transport the workers to Chernobyl. The city of Prypyat is located in the Kyiv Oblast and while Slavutych is considered part of the Kyiv Oblast, it is completely surrounded by the Chernihiv Oblast. The best comparison I can think of would be if Los Angeles was considered to be part of the State of Arizona although it is located in the State of California. Interesting.
Each of the eight kindergartens, like the one above, have their own indoor swimming pools. The quality of life in Slavutych is much better than most cities in Ukraine and it has a significantly high birth rate and a low mortality rate. We didn't notice any wells for water like we're use to seeing in other cities, with good reason, but it left me wondering where their water does come from.
It was just really strange to see so many straight, well maintained roads and sidewalks. It's just not something you normally see in Ukraine. About 20% of the people live in one to two family style homes and most of those had green lawns complete with sprinklers rather than the usual vegetable gardens. Some of the homes looked similar to ones we might have come across back in our home town of San Luis Obispo, California. It was definitely strange to see some of these neighborhoods in Ukraine. It was even stranger to know that all of it was built by the Soviet government a mere twenty years ago.
There were no trees planted earlier than twenty years ago in Slavutych except for the pine trees that they left when they cleared the forest. This gives the city a strange look as you survey the neighborhoods and town square. Jake said it reminded him of the movie The Truman Show where the main character unknowingly lived on a movie set. That's exactly what it felt like.
Near the town square is a memorial to the victims of the Chernobyl accident with pictures of those that died immediately following the accident. The murals on either side of the memorial had an eerie, "Soviet denial" feel to them especially since they were in English.
We all enjoyed the time we spent in Slavutych especially since the overcast skies gave it an even creepier feel than normal. I was fascinated by the whole concept of a planned city and the determination of the Soviet Union to build its Utopia despite the devastation of the first. Slavutych was the Soviet Unions newest city and also a symbol of its downfall and global embarrassment. I can't think of anywhere I've ever traveled that comes close to the mystique of Slavutych. The next city I want to visit is Prypyat, where guided tours are available.
"We value calmness, security, and comfort in Slavutych!"
Just don't pick the mushrooms or berries in the surrounding forest because they still contain high levels of radiation.