Chernobyl and the once thriving community of Pripyat. (Ukraine)

A brief history

Pripyat was a model Soviet town and even had an “A” status normally only afforded to country capitals like Kiev. Moscow or Minsk. This meant that the residents enjoyed a higher standard of living and this became obvious when we were shown round.

On April 26th at 1.23am most of the residents of Pripyat (who worked at nearby Chernobyl were asleep). They were peacefully unaware that the worst nuclear accident in living history had just occurred three kilometers away at the Chernobyl Power Plant. This “atom city” as it was known was home to 52,000 residents. The next morning many of them  carried on with their normal lives. They were even looking forward to the May Day celebrations which would launch the towns new funfair. 

The Evacuation notice

Thirty six hours after the accident the following evacuation notice appeared. “For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm. each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Tovarishchs (“Comrades”) leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water off and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.”

A convoy of 1200 buses, forming a line 15 miles long arrived at 2pm and within 3 hours all the residents had been evacuated. One woman asked her husband for how long should she pack for. His answer “Forever”.

They never returned.

The fairground

One of the most eerie sights is the fairground that stood ready to celebrate the mayday celebrations a few days later.

The children and the schools.

Prior to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster the town of Pripyat, had 21 schools, which included 15 primary schools. 5 secondary schools and 1 professional school.  The number of children in Pripyat was estimated at 16,000.  Today the school we visited on the tour is simply an empty shell with rotting window sills and broken glass.

Keeping fit

The residents who once lived in the Soviet Paradise, had many opportunities to keep fit. They could keep fit at no less than 10 gyms, three swimming pools They could enjoy shooting at 10 galleries and there was even a boxing ring.

You can easily find agencies in Kiev that run tours. Its a three hour bus ride close the border with Belarus that suffered immensely from the disaster. You will be shown a movie on the bus and a further induction before you reach the town.

memorial at Chernobyl

You will be advised not to lie on the grass as this is much more likely to maintain radiation then concrete. You are in fact in no danger of radiation and there is a very nice meal included. They will check you for radiation when you leave.Incidentally there are a few people that never left, mostly very old people and we were told they have thrived there. We also heard that wildlife is now returning. Sadly a lot of people who once lived there and those in neighbouring countries developed radiation related illnesses. One can only wonder what happened to the child who once wore this slipper.