Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Prypyat: The Chernobyl ghost town, Ukraine

Before April 26th, 1986, Prypyat was a model Soviet town. It was the place where dignitaries were taken to see how well the system was working, and was full of young families and high-tech workers.
And then came the Chernobyl disaster. Everything changed.
Prypyat was the town built to service the massive Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, and when the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred, it was rapidly evacuated.
The town’s 35,000 – 50,000 residents (as with everything about Chernobyl, numbers are disputed) were rushed out of the city within two days.
Their belongings remained behind, as it was thought they would return.
They never did – the radiation levels from the Chernobyl reactor just 2km away still remain too high. And now the model city is overgrowing with plants, weeds and radioactive moss.
On a tour of the Chernobyl nuclear exclusion zone, one of the ‘highlights’ is visiting Prypyat.
The visit takes in a fairground that was scheduled to open shortly after the Chernobyl explosion – the iconic big wheel and rusting dodgems are still there.
It also takes in a derelict hotel and swimming pool.
But most heart-wrenching of all is walking around the school. Like the other buildings it is overgrown, crumbling and vandalised. But some clear remnants remain.
Library books are spilled over the floor, other books with rudimentary drawings in remain on tables, while the sports hall is still full of rotting basketballs and footballs.
It’s an altogether eerie experience, and the over-riding impression is that humans will never return to Prypyat on a full time basis.

Getting to Prypyat

Nearest international airport: Kiev Borispol
Using public transport: It’s not going to happen. Special permission is needed to enter the 30km-radius exclusion zone around Chernobyl, and the only way to get it is joining a tour group. Solo East Travel is the best bet. The zone is approximately two to two-and-a-half hours north of Kiev.

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