Pripyat is a ghostly atomic city
Pripyat is a ghostly atomic city

The Soviet leadership tried to hide the consequences of the explosion of the fourth power unit of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant not only from its citizens. The international media were also in the dark and collected any information about the Chernobyl accident bit by bit. On April 29, 1986, The New York Times published a map of the movement of the Chernobyl radioactive cloud with comments from Scandinavian nuclear scientists. It turned out that a nuclear power plant located not far from Stockholm was evacuated due to the increased background radiation in Sweden.

The Swedish leadership worried about the situation. The investigation of the incident of the radiation leak did not give any results. Subsequently, they realized that the reason for the increase in the radiation background should be sought not at home, but at the nuclear power plants of the USSR. The Swedes connected their diplomatic mission to the USSR, warning that they would not keep silent about the incident. On the same day, the Soviet press published a note of six sentences:

“From the Council of Ministers of the USSR. An accident occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, damaging one of the nuclear reactors. The authorities are taking measures to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Assistance is provided to the victims. A government commission has been created.”

Panic was growing like a snowball in Kiev. Party officials were the first to try to get their children out. People bought iodine and gradually added it to food and water. The next to disappear from the shelves was red wine, which, according to rumors, saved from radiation. The information blockade ended only on May 15. Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on television and announced the scale of the Chernobyl disaster. However, the worst thing for the victims of the accident was just beginning.

Pripyat: an example of a happy life

Ghosts are cities and villages where human activity, man-made or natural disasters has destroyed life. City sidewalks overgrown with weeds, demolished roofs, broken fences, devastated buildings and mystical stories. In addition, all these are saturated with cities that have been erased from the map of Ukraine or from which people had to leave. According to official data, 641 settlements have ceased to exist since Ukraine’s independence.

Pripyat has been the most popular ghost town not only in Ukraine, but also in the world for 34 years. It was a city of the first category, considered an example of the happy life of a Soviet person. The government spent millions of rubles for city needs. Foreign delegations visited the city. New schools and sports complexes were actively built in Pripyat.

This was a wonder for a typical Soviet city. The rapid development of infrastructure was absolutely justified. As of 1985, the population exceeded 47 thousand people of different nationalities. Moreover, the city really had every chance to become the most progressive young atomic city, until in 1986 a terrible accident canceled all plans.

On April 26, 1986, the fourth power unit exploded at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. As a result, life in Pripyat stopped due to the “temporary evacuation of the population.” Today, Pripyat is a “dead city”. Modern schools, hospitals, a cultural center, a cinema have turned into dilapidated buildings. There is emptiness instead of people in parks and on the streets. Forbes magazine recognized the territory of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as the most exotic place for tourism on the planet.

People evacuated from the Chernobyl exclusion zone are everywhere today. Fate has thrown some of them to other nuclear power plants. You know, nuclear engineers are a profession in demand. Others radically changed their lives and left thousands of kilometers from radiation, changing both their home and profession. However, no matter where fate has thrown people, no one can burn Chernobyl from memory.

“Chinese Wall” of Pripyat

From the memoirs of Roman Vodyanoy, a former resident of Pripyat. He was 15 years old at the time of the accident:

“… In the fall of 1986, I got to a hospital for the second time in my life. I spent about 2.5 months in a hospital. Suddenly, the doctor diagnosed me with a number of chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, nervous system, problems with the liver, kidneys, thyroid gland, and blood vessels. Doctors couldn’t associate illnesses arising in victims of the accident directly with radiation. They said that radiophobia, that is, fear of radiation, aggravated our illnesses. Then, people from hospitals lied to us so much that I still do not trust the doctors.

From the recommendations of the USSR Ministry of Health: “Persons who have been exposed to ionizing radiation, who are in the hospital and do not have signs of acute radiation sickness, should be diagnosed with vegetative-vascular dystonia at discharge”.

My older sister literally died out before our eyes. Due to the high dose of radiation exposure she received, her hair began to fall out. Doctors ordered to cut her hair. The general physical condition deteriorated so much that it was difficult for her to get from home to the store. Mom, too, immediately somehow aged sharply. I think, she held out with all her strength, for the sake of my sister and me. Despite the grave condition, my mother could ensure that the authorities gave us an apartment in Kiev. The Chernobyl people took up residence in Troyeshchina and the Kharkov massif of the Darnitsky region. We met New Year’s Eve 1987 in an apartment with a cot, a gas stove and a small TV.

Our nine-storey building of 16 entrances was popularly called the “Chinese wall”. Most of the residents were evacuees from Pripyat. There was almost no floor in our entrance where someone would not die of cancer, heart attack, leukemia. Also, a new school had opened near our house, where most of the students were children from the exclusion zone. This school had a 5-day education system, long breaks, lunches. Due to illness, I missed one year. After that, there were no more places at that school.

Then, I went to the school opposite. There were almost no children from Chernobyl. We studied there six days a week. There were no lunches, and the breaks were shorter.

“Chernobyl hedgehogs” of Pripyat

Who was blamed for this social injustice? Of course, “Chernobyl hedgehogs”, as people called us then. We got hit pretty hard at school. As a result, at parent-teacher meetings, the mothers of other children complained why the Chernobyl victims studied next to their children.

Those evacuated from Pripyat are like a linguistic diaspora in a foreign country. The refugees communicated mainly with each other. Moreover, they created their own club of Chernobyl victims “Compatriots” in Troyeshchina. We celebrated almost all the holidays there. Perhaps this was the only thing that helped.

Throughout the 10th grade, I dreamed of going to Pripyat. I often dreamed of the city alive. It seemed that some time would pass, and we could return there again. Such an opportunity appeared in the winter of 1992, when my work colleagues, who were traveling to Chernobyl, dropped me off near Pripyat itself.

At first, I just cried. However, when there was nothing to cry with, I walked around and memorized every detail. The streets are overgrown with bushes. Looters broke places dear to me. After this trip, I realized for the first time: there is nowhere to return. I still dream of the city, but in a different way. “