The first time we ever heard about Chernobyl and the horrible accident was at the Texas Tech Museum visiting Lubbock, Texas over Thanksgiving in 2011. The exhibit was Chernobyl, 25 years later: Biological Legacy of a Meltdown. We were blown away that, first of all this incident happened, and secondly that this place exists and sits all alone in Ukraine (which is not ‘the’ Ukraine as I have learned).
A very basic rundown of this place without having to go look on wikipedia: an energy experiment was being conducting on April 26th in reactor #4, things were behind schedule and the night crew came on to take over not fully understanding the experiment taking place but going ahead with schedule anyway. There was an unexpected power surge and after a failed attempt to emergency shutdown followed a series of a vessel reactor rupture and a series of steam explosions. These events caused a plume of radioactive fallout into the air and created the worst nuclear disaster in the Earth’s history. The people in Pripyat, consisting of mainly plant workers and families, were not told about the disaster. The next day there were seven weddings in the city and people carried on business as usual just miles away from where radioactive matter is fuming out of reactor #4. It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that they were able to gather all the buses from Kiev and shuttle people to the city. They were told that they would be returning and only to bring essentials with them. Almost 50,000 people were taken out of the city, very few ever returned.
Only two workers died at the scene, four died in a helicopter accident and thirty-two died by Acute Radiation Syndrome that mainly included first responders. Citizens of Pripyat reported headaches and symptoms of radiation poisoning before evacuation and many were effected by health anomalies and cancers in years ahead. The widespread effects of the people directly in Pripyat and responders are still largely unknown.
Crazy. A horrible event that escalated and still is being felt by people and especially nature.
It’s important that people know that we respect the victims and are in no way trying to mock this horrible disaster. I have spoken with people over the last year who do not understand why we would go to such a place. I get it. I will say I have almost always had a fascination with the left behind. I remember a grocery store in the town I grew up in going out of business, closing its doors and then just sitting there. Glass windows shedding light into the past of what it was like to casually go in for bread or to buy flowers or candy. There is nothing creepier or more interesting to me than an abandoned place. For me, it’s like taking a tiny glimpse into the past. It’s feeling what it was like even just for a moment by seeing what was left behind.
Our visit was, ironically, over Fourth of July weekend last summer (2015). We flew from Paris to Kiev and gathered for our two day tour by the main train station. It was a near three hour bus ride in to the zones with three checkpoints before arriving in Chernobyl proper. Photos were not allowed at several points but we were checked at each one for radiation, difficult to say if the old machines actually worked but we went through at any rate.
All of Pripyat has been heavily vandalized. It’s been sitting for thirty years since the evacuation, being overgrown by nature season after season.
First stop was the school, lots of dolls and stuffed animals left behind. Not sure what is originally left there, probably very little but we were happy to see what we could. Other photos in this include the reactor and the sarcophagus, still being constructed by a French company to cover up the reactor for good. A main bus stop, the hotel with the iconic views overlooking the town and reactor, the main community center and the theater and, of course, a puppy.
*I will also say that I have been sitting on these photos since last summer. Today is the day I’ve worked and got them out into the world- by COMPLETE COINCIDENCE it is the exact anniversary of the Disaster, April 26th, 1986. A great way to remember those first responders and those still living with the effects of the radiation years later.
This is a long one! The next part includes what I was most excited to see the amusement park in the center of the town. Interestingly enough, the ferris wheel may not have ever actually been used. There is some kind of video somewhere that exists of it working with people riding it but it is most likely propaganda from what our tour guides told us. I loved seeing it, I cried when I had to keep up with the group and stop looking at it. I couldn’t believe I actually got to see it. Traveling is seriously the greatest thing ever.
Also photos of the Hospital, the recreational building and swimming pool, lots of puppies, the general store, boat dock, our quarters in Chernobyl where we stayed and a group shot of our amazing tour group. Very international, only three Americans- shout out to Shaun D.!
Enjoy, we had the best time seeing this place.