August 19, 2016

Pripyat visit

Town of Pripyat
Pripyat is a small town.. or was.
The town was populated by 50 000 people, who were all evacuated after the disaster.
On the way to Pripyat, we passed the Red Forest. That part that was visible wasn't actually red.  Radiation warning signs were on the side of the roads next to the forest.
Pripyat is a ghost town, full of dilapidated abandoned buildings. The residents were given just a few hours to pack the most important belongings and then get on the buses that had arrived  to collect them.  It was supposed to have been just a temporary exile, which is why the residents left so much behind. They never got to come back, at least to live in their own homes permanently.
The nature is reclaiming the town. Grass, flowers, apple trees are growing everywhere. There are no cars, no sounds. Just the sound of your own footsteps. It was frightening, especially in some of the buildings with dark rooms and corners. Our journey was on foot, from the Cultural center to the school, where books lay on the ground rotting, paint peeling, glass shards cover the floors and trees grow in the school center-yard. One room was full of children’s gas masks. Some books that were opened, had colorful pictures, which were very well preserved.
We could not enter the abandoned apartment buildings. I think it would have been disrespectful anyway, but I think the real reason is that the buildings could collapse on us anytime. I felt that in some of the other buildings too. The reason for sensible footwear became evident soon enough: staircases and floors were covered with pieces of concrete, shards of glass and wood. The floors, roofs and stairs will be the first ones to collapse. In some buildings they have partially already done that, but after 30 years it is amazing how well preserved some buildings are. As if those zombies have been reinforcing the structures...
One of the most interesting sights was the abandoned amusements park and the famous Ferris wheel. The park had been planned to be opened very soon..  There weren't that many rides, but the space was quite limited too. 

The amusement park was just next to the palace of culture. The giant Ferris wheel,  bumper cars and merry-go-round. The park was supposed have been opened for the May Day celebrations. I discovered that radiation levels in some parts of the park are quite high. The Geiger counter started beeping even though I had not turned it on. So I wondered what was going on and had a look. I was obviously standing close to some spot where the radiation levels were higher. I walked toward the Ferris wheel, where the levels were lower. Actually I didn't even check. It was amazing to see the Ferris wheel, and it was still standing after all these years.  There are not that many rides, just three that I could see and no wild roller-coasters or game arcades. In 1980’s I think this park would have still been considered a great park.
After the amusement park we walked on a path that led us through forest. The guide pointed at the stadium seats and pointed that we had just walked through a football field. It was totally covered in grass, trees, bushes and flowers. As if we just had been out on a walk in a forest.  
The remains of the stadium
Pripyat school was an interesting place to visit. One of the rooms was full of gas masks for children.
All the windows were broken, there were lots of weak spots on the floor and the staircase into the second floor was in a bad shape. You couldn’t really hold on to the railing either in case of.. what.. contamination? Or expecting the railing to just fall off and a zombie arm reaching for your arm..? It wasn’t actually easy to walk in the grass and foliage, because some tree branches and plants always brushed against your legs and you couldn’t really be sure… of what? Contamination, again? Some harmful particles? Zombies hiding in the grass?

The school chemistry classroom. Broken windows, it was basically a mess.  Same goes with the other classrooms; furniture, books etc scattered around. Kind of a weird old damp smell. Still you would expect some kids to come into the classroom any time. These were really scenes from post-apocalyptic world, but a world that has to be preserved somehow and never forgotten.
The school corridor. Broken windows, peeled off paint, broken glass, tiles, bricks. When it rains everything turns into a sticky mess of mud, clay and plaster. Chairs and desks remain in the classrooms. Electrical wires were dangling from light fixtures. Floors decaying, dark hallways where you don’t quite know where it is safe to step.

 We also visited the river port.
The lake looked peaceful and all around us was just silence. No wind, no animals. I don’t even remember seeing or hearing any birds. On a warm day like this you would have expected to see a lot of people on the lake, but there was no sound. No weird smells, no wind, no sun either. It was difficult to believe this scene had been here for 30 years and nothing much had changed, except all the manmade structures, which were badly deteriorated. In the distance there is dark red/brownish structure, which used to be a building, but is now sinking into the water.  I’m not quite clear what it really is. On the way down to the port, there were apple trees, many of them and they looked perfectly normal. I'm sure they would have tasted just fine too, but I had my own cereal bars, chocolate, water and few other things to snack on. But green apples... they looked tasty.
 The riverport was abandoned like everything else.  There was a café further up in the riverbank and it apparently had beautiful stained glass windows.  I didn’t go inside the café, because the Geiger counter started beeping like mad and at the time I knew nothing about the stained glass and the (former) beauty of the café. I wish I had seen it 30 years ago.

The deserted public pool is probably one of the creepiest experience in Pripyat. The school had to be the first.
The photos show the pool, crumbling interior and the broken windows. If you lived in the building next door, you would have been able to see all the swimmers.I don’t like water and swimming pools anyway so I was glad to get out of there.
We did not visit the Pripyat hospital, which would have been interesting.

Then it was lunchtime and I remembered to wash my hands before eating. It was late and I was starving, but the lunch was delicious: soup (which was cold), chicken, potatoes, salad, bread and vegetables.  Outside of the canteen, was a sleeping dog. It was definitely a normal dog, four legs, a tail and one head. It was also very much alive and was obviously enjoying its nap in the sun. I don't know what I was expecting- a zombie dog? A two headed dog? No, this one would have been a keeper, a real cure friendly looking dog.

In the bus back to Kiev during the two hour drive I had a lot of time to think, but didn’t really know what to think. We were lucky to be able to enter the buildings in Pripyat and see all what we saw. Another visit would definitely need to be planned. On the way passing by the reactor 4, the Geiger counter reminded us of its existence... 
We passed two radiation checkpoints after the visit, got out of the Exclusion Zone. Neither me or my belongings were radioactive. I was both sad and relieved and I knew it would take some time to process this. At the time I thought I would probably never want to go back, but now more than a month after the visit, yes, it would be interesting to return for another visit in winter. Did I find it unsafe? No. We were very well looked after. Was I scared? No. I just found the silence unnerving at times and the swimming pool would have been spooky no matter what. I am an Aquarius and I don't like water. Did I receive a harmful dose of radiation? Absolutely not. Why do I want to go back? Because I do. I always want to learn something new. I didn't really know how to prepare for the visit, so I didn't know what to expect and what questions to ask. I think I do now.

No comments: