Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A City Without People - Prypyat, Ukraine

A City Without People
View from one of the rooms in Hotel Polissya in Prypyat

Yesterday I went on a trip to the city of Prypyat and the nearby Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station, formerly known as the V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station. Edna arranged it all for my birthday/Christmas present because she knew that I have been fascinated by what happened there ever since working at a nuclear power plant in California when we first got married. It was an amazing opportunity to visit the city that had once been the jewel of the Soviet Union, but had to be completely abandoned with only a two hour notice. (It was replaced by the city of Slavutych, an engineering feat in itself. You can see my post on Slavutych by clicking HERE.)

Over the years the city of Prypyat has been looted and vandalized, but you can still see that it was a beautiful city at one time. Even though it stands in ruins, I can imagine how life there must have been a relative paradise compared with other Soviet cities before the Chornobyl disaster. The true tragedy wasn't the actual accident, but the failure to inform people of the accident and the high levels of radiation they were being exposed to. The 43,000 plus residents of Prypyat weren't told of the danger for almost two days when they were finally evacuated. Had they not been evacuated they would have suffered a lethal dose in four days.

The accident at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station and the lack of government intervention to protect the people affected by it is very personal to us. We know so many people who were physically affected by the immediate fallout and children who would later be born with birth defects attributed to the radiological release from the accident. Our neighbor Olya told us how people here in Bila Tserkva, including herself, were outdoors breathing in radioactive particulates because they weren't told about the accident. Even after the accident was made public, people were told that there was no danger to their health. She told us that the doctors suspect that a bone disorder she has is related to her exposure.

City of Prypyat founded 1970
The road into Prypyat with the name of the city and its founding year of 1970

Prypyat before the accident in 1986
Then: The palace of culture "Energetic", shortly before the April 26th, 1986 accident.

Prypyat - 4 January, 2010
Now: January 4th, 2010, almost 23 years later.

Map of Prypyat and Chornobyl
Not to be confused with the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station, the town of Chornobyl is 18 kilometers south of where the accident occurred. It had a population of 14,000 people at the time, but now it is home to 250 security, fire department, and monitoring personnel. They work on a 15 day rotation to reduce their exposure. The city of Prypyat is only 3 kilometers from the site of the accident.

Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station
Although the reactors have been shut down since December 2000, it still serves as an active power station to control the distribution of power.

Unfinished reactors 5 and 6 at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station
This is the site of reactors 5 and 6 that were due to be completed in October of 1986. After the accident the construction was immediately halted and the cranes haven't moved since.

Reactor Number 4
Standing in front of the structure containing reactor number 4 that exploded on April 26th, 1986. Reactors 1, 2, and 3 continued to operate until they were shut down in December 2000.

A City Without People
View of reactor number 4 from the roof of Hotel Polissya in Prypyat

A City Without People
This amusement park was due to open on May 1st, 1986 to coincide with the International Day of Worker's Solidarity, but the city was evacuated just a few days before. Children never got to go on these rides.

A City Without People
Never to be used

A City Without People
Hedgehog in the Fog

A City Without People
The palace of culture Energetic and Hotel Polissya in the city center

Hours of Operation
This is a snack bar on one of the floors of the hotel. The last people to stay here were the scientists, radiation experts, and Soviet government officials who were assessing the damage after the city was evacuated. They later realized that they had been exposed to lethal levels of radiation.

A City Without People
One of the many abandoned apartment buildings

A City Without People
Frozen in Time: a view from an apartment window

A City Without People
A Soviet Russia newspaper from May 6th, 1984

A City Without People
A symbol of power

A City Without People
A crumbling hallway in the sports complex

A City Without People
The high dive above a pool that will never see swimmers again

A City Without People
City restaurant and the palace of culture Energetic

A City Without People
The entrance into the palace of culture where community activities were held including sports and theater.

A City Without People
The gym inside the palace of culture. "Strong - Bold - Agile"

A City Without People
Ironically, this mural inside the palace of culture seems to be of people mourning.

A City Without People
As I left Prypyat, the sun broke through the clouds just as it was setting on the Soviet hammer and sickle atop this apartment building. The disaster here began a series of events that would eventually lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

My time in Prypyat was a surreal experience. At times it was so quiet without the normal sounds of automobiles, electric appliances, or bustling crowds of people that it gave me a very eerie feeling. Most of the buildings and fixtures inside were familiar to me. Not much has changed in the last 23 years and several times I found myself thinking about the thousands of people who should have been there living their lives. Prypyat is a memorial to all those who died, are suffering, and have yet to suffer from what happened on the 26th day of April, 1986.


Jake Knotts said...

Excellent post.

How long was the excursion in all? Where there a lot of folks with you?

Greg and Edna Silva said...

We left Kyiv at 9:00AM and got back around 7:00PM. It was about a two hour drive each way. They fed us a huge meal at a yidalnya in Chornobyl where the workers eat before driving back to Kyiv. There were seven of us on the trip. They pretty much let us go and do whatever we asked. They were very accommodating. Great excursion.