Cities are almost like people. Sometimes they have an exact date of birth. However, they rarely have a date of death. Some of them live happily ever after. Others are destined to be born, get a passport and die. This is Pripyat. On February 4, 2020, it had to be 50 years old. But this did not happen. The anniversary of the atomic city of power engineers wasn’t celebrated.
Pripyat had a different fate. The ghost town has become an open-air museum. Sometimes journalists, fulfilling their interest in imagery, call it the “Museum of One Mistake”. However, this image is unlikely to be directly related to Pripyat. This is rather a museum of a system, frozen in the realities of 1986. The following material is about legends and facts in the history of Pripyat.
There was a decision to build Pripyat made on February 4, 1970. It is a well-known fact. Originally, the city had to become an accommodation for the personnel of the ChNPP. On this day, the first peg was hammered at the construction site. So, physical work began. But from a technical point of view, this could not happen. The Order on the Organization from 01/01/1970 of the Directorate of the Chernobyl State Regional Power Plant got a sign in December 1969. So, it turned out that they couldn’t start building the city before the signing the order.
The history of Pripyat began with the construction of the Lesnoy village, intended for the builders. The construction of the settlement began at an accelerated pace only in the spring of 1970. And the winter that year was extremely snowy, with melting snows leading to flooding. The area where construction began was partly swampy and overgrown with a dense forest. According to the recollections of the first inhabitants of Lesnoye, the marking of the territory for building Pripyat began only at the end of the summer of 1970 …
In addition, a considerable number of sources differ from the exact location of the city relative to the ChNPP. Some sources claim that it is two kilometers from Pripyat to the station, others that it is three. But in fact: how much?
Pripyat didn’t immediately become Pripyat
According to the Order mentioned before, the construction site of the new city should be located near the Yanov railway station. It is two kilometers from the railway station to the ChNPP. The road from Yanov to Pripyat takes almost a kilometer. The “health trail”, along which Pripyat residents went to the station, was almost three and a half kilometers. But, of course, it didn’t stretch in a straight line…
A distance from the Belarusian border to Pripyat is no more than two dozen kilometers, and to Kiev – 94 kilometers. So, 2 years after the start of construction, 04/14/1972, the new settlement of the Chernobyl region got the name Pripyat. On April 24, 1972, the village received the status of an urban-type settlement. And only 10 years after the start of construction, 10/20/1980, Pripyat was classified as a city.
Pripyat became the 9-th Soviet atomic city. Its design took into account the accumulated experience in building such settlements. However, there were significant differences in the Pripyat construction project. Nuclear cities are always single-industry. They have to accommodate personnel “tied” in one city-forming enterprise. For example, a number of cities nearby nuclear power plants and other large enterprises: Slavutich, Yuzhnoukrainsk, Varash, Netishin, Horishny Plavni.
Pripyat was somehow different. On the eve of the accident, 4 industrial enterprises with a total production volume of 477 million rubles appeared in the city. The Jupiter plant was the most famous of them. This plant began operations in 1980 as a specialized enterprise for the production of components for household electronic devices. It was the official version. However, nobody disclosed the real specialization of the plant. In fact, this was a closed military facility and worked for the military-industrial complex of the USSR. The plant employed about 3,500 people, which is not much less than at the Chernobyl NPP itself.
Jupiter was subordinate to the Kiev plant Mayak. After the Chernobyl disaster, the plant officially stopped working like most of Pripyat’s facilities. However, the enterprise soon resumed its work, but as a laboratory for testing various methods of decontamination. In 1996, the enterprise was finally closed and subsequently liquidated.
Building “for a full due”
Building of Pripyat was a large-scale program. There was a hope that at least 80 thousand people would live there. But to fulfill it, the city needed an appropriate network of infrastructural institutions. Moscow and Kiev architects worked together on the city project. They tried to make this city as simple as possible and at the same time, comfortable for its inhabitants. Actually, these joint efforts made Pripyat an atypical “atomic” town.
Subdistricts were located in a circle from the city center. In addition to administrative buildings, there were places for cultural recreation in the center. Moreover, there were located the cinema Prometheus, the palace of culture Energetik, the hotel Polesie, the city park and a large supermarket. The leadership assumed that the number of ChNPP power units would increase in the future. Therefore, the Jupiter plant also had to broaden.
3 polyclinics, 5 schools, a technical college, a specialized art school, 3 swimming pools, 2 stadiums, 27 canteens, a cafe, a restaurant and 35 children’s sports grounds appeared in Pripyat. An amusement park with a Ferris wheel and Czechoslovak attractions, fashionable at that time, was almost ready for launch. In addition, 18 136 trees, 249 247 bushes and 33 582 rose bushes were planted on its city streets.
The construction of Pripyat was proclaimed the All-Union Shock Construction Project. On the eve of the accident, builders were working on the second stage of social facilities. Among other things, there was a plan to create the Pripyat Star shopping center, the city palace of pioneers, and a new two-hall cinema. Moreover, there was an idea to build the Yubileiny Palace of Arts, the Oktyabr Hotel, and two sports complexes: Chernigov and Pripyatchanin. This is an obvious fact that Pripyat had to become not just a satellite city of ChNPP. Fate prepared for this city the glory of an industrial mega-center on the territory of a not very developed agrarian Polesie.
Ivan Litovchenko: a monumentalist ahead of his time
There was one more feature in Pripyat, which, in fact, created its external uniqueness. One of the most famous Ukrainian monumental artists, Ivan Lytovchenko, took part in the design of urban space. He created all the mosaic bas-reliefs, stained-glass windows, tapestries, which are worth visiting Pripyat even today. Litovchenko is an artist-philosopher, but in the culture of the Ukrainian SSR he was a “dissident”. He embodied his own philosophical and artistic vision of the world in his metaphorical, sometimes semi-abstract works.
The difficulty of knowing his works lies in the eternal conflict of material and spiritual, contemporary and past. Creating of the artistic space in Pripyat became an unconditional take-off and at the same time, a tragedy in the life of Ivan Semenovich. Litovchenko devoted more than 10 years to embody the idea of the artistic organization of bas-reliefs in Pripyat. He created a number of giant sculptural reliefs and decorative-spatial compositions not only of metal.
Decorative composition Energy
Newspapers wrote about him: “The talent of Litovchenko as a monumentalist served the idea of a figurative-plastic organization of the urban environment. The master embodied this idea in a monumental ensemble in Pripyat, near the Chernobyl NPP. Decorative composition Energy, three panels on the central street of Pripyat (“Towards the light”, “Dawn”, “Creation”) are the height of Litovchenko’s creativity. The relief-panel Music on the facade of the Pripyat Musical School is the crown of the sculptor’s work, which has become a classic of monumental Ukrainian art.”
The directness of the artist, a categorical nature of his judgments, intransigence to compromise and amateurism in art multiplied enemies. They took revenge with systematic slander. In the end, after the creation of the abstract and decorative panel Music, a masterpiece that was ahead of the decade, Litovchenko unexpectedly suspended work in Pripyat. The author’s “dissidence” consisted in the fact that he departed from the principles of socialist realism. The Pripyat bas-reliefs were too far from the Soviet aesthetics of “a worker and a collective farm woman”.
An unbearable grief for Ivan Litovchenko became the loss of his works, which remained in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. In addition to mosaics and metal-plastic, wooden sculptures, wall paintings and tapestries made by the master left there. The tapestry Inspired by the Muses, placed in the Energetik culture house, was buried after the accident. However, there is no information about when and how this happened.
So, the fate of many Pripyat sculptures created by Litovchenko is similar. Today, we have already known how the “burial of values contaminated with radiation” sometimes took place. Therefore, we may assume that some samples of the author’s creations aren’t buried at all in the long-suffering Chernobyl land.
Preservation of monuments in Pripyat
Today, the question is extremely relevant: how to preserve the incredible open-air museum city? Saving of the monuments in Pripyat is a separate problem, determined by necessity. Nowadays, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has a huge tourism potential. In particular, the tourist flow in Pripyat is increasing annually. The zone needs a strong government support to preserve the monuments that attract visitors.
Numerous stained-glass windows require a separate discussion and research. Of course, time is merciless to such fragile things as glass mosaics. However, people are sometimes even more ruthless. It took dozens of years to understand that time is inexorable, but values remain eternal. Today, enthusiasts are trying to save a part of the former colored stained-glass variety at the expense of their own free time and funds. But, unfortunately, a significant number of Pripyat stained-glass windows are lost forever.
Only few people speak about the cultural and historical value of the objects located in the zone. There is no conservation program for priceless art objects that have miraculously survived to this day. And such factors as nature, time and people destroy them. It’s a pity, but with this approach, tourists in Pripyat will have nothing to observe in ten years…
The current, rather conditional, anniversary of Pripyat is an occasion to remember something important in our history. It is to recall and draw attention to little-known facts undeservedly erased from our history.