Pripyat was a city of happy people. However, the happy life of an ideal city was interrupted on April 26, 1986. The city was preparing to celebrate May Day and Victory Day throughout April. People cleaned, cleaned, painted, put things in order.
A recreation park with a Ferris wheel, swings, and children’s attractions was built for the holiday. On May 1, a stadium was to open in Pripyat. It was one of the best in Ukraine. The amusement park was built on the eve of the fall. However, the authorities decided to postpone its opening until spring in order to combine it with other objects … The park did not work for a day. So, the Ferris wheel became a symbol of the ghost town.
Residents were informed that they must temporarily leave the city, taking the most necessary things. A disaster took place a few kilometers from Pripyat, but no one thought that they were leaving their hometown forever.
There is silence in the city today. A large city in which there is no city noise, no signs of life. Its streets are overgrown with trees. However, we cannot call the city absolutely deserted. For example, there are many excursions, and interest does not fade away. The accident at the ChNPP became the tragedy of not one city, but the tragedy of the whole country. Chernobyl victims dispersed to cities and villages, carried with them a longing for their native land.
Drivers, doctors, military men, mobilized through military enlistment offices, went to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant from all parts of the USSR to eliminate the consequences of the accident. No one knew that their national duty to the Motherland in Chernobyl would become fatal for them. As a result of their inhuman efforts, they managed to do the seemingly impossible – to localize the consequences of the accident. And although the global consequences of Chernobyl still affected almost all continents of the earth, it was possible to avoid a human catastrophe.
Living dead Pripyat
The workers are completing the renovation of the main checkpoint. Now, the entrance looks like a modern checkpoint on the state border. It seems that it is enough to be on the other side of the barrier. You really feel yourself like in a can of the Soviet period. An LED sign on the entrance frame warns in red: “RADIATION DANGER”. And then, it calms down with crafty hospitality: “Welcome to the exclusion zone!”
Alexander Sirota, a former resident of the city, says that Pripyat is not only the epicenter of a tragedy, a radioactive dump or a fashionable tourist center. Almost a hundred thousand local residents left the exclusion zone 34 years ago. Among them were Alexander and his mother Lyubov. They went away from the explosion site. But it turned out that they left the hearth forever.
The opinion that Pripyat and the rest of the villages of the exclusion zone should not be to their fate did not leave Alexander for many years. Now, he is trying to fulfill the desire of many former Pripyat residents. He’s trying to revive the city again. Everyone understands this is impossible. The territory of the zone will be unsuitable for human life for thousands of years. As a result of the Chernobyl accident, millions of radioactive particles got into the atmosphere. Some of them, for example iodine-131, have long disappeared as a result of natural radioactive decay. But there are still isotopes that have a half-life of 24 thousand years. However, something helps to bring Pripyat back to life again.
The city of atomic workers
The city on the banks of the Pripyat River would have never been built if not for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The 1960s made the history of the USSR with the rapid development of nuclear physics. Nuclear power was an attractive alternative for the Soviet government against the background of the rapidly growing demand for electricity and a possible shortage of minerals. Therefore, 16 years before the accident, construction began near Chernobyl, on one of the most powerful nuclear power plants in the Soviet Union. They began to build the city of power engineers Pripyat almost simultaneously, three kilometers from the future nuclear power plant.
“… The average age of the inhabitants of the young city of nuclear scientists is twenty-six years. A thousand children are born here every year. You may see a real parade of strollers in Pripyat. In the evening, mums and dads walk with their babies. It is an amazing sight.” The author of the photo album published in the year of the accident writes and assures:
“Polesie atomic city will become one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine.”
Wide streets, designed in the best traditions of the new Soviet cities. Store shelves filled with scarce goods, a swimming pool, a stadium, bright high-rise buildings… The promising city really attracted young people.
Alexander Sirota recalls: “Before the accident, I have been at the station ten times. The Chernobyl power plant sponsored our class. We came to them for professional holidays twice a year. We were told on excursions by the station that nuclear power is the safest way to obtain electricity. They assured that the Soviet peaceful atom is the safest in the world.
However, we did not dream of a profession of nuclear scientists. All my peers wanted to become astronauts. There were semi-automatic washing machines in the backyard of a bath and laundry plant not far from the house. One of us climbed into the drum, while the other turned the steering wheel behind the washing machine. This was our simulator for future astronauts.”
From the secret note of the director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant Viktor Bryukhanov: “On April 26, 1986, at 1:25 a.m. there was an explosion at the power unit No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. There were about 200 service personnel at the station during the accident. 9 of them received burns of varying degrees. One person died at 6:00 a.m. in the medical unit. 3 people are in serious condition. “
“It was an ordinary Saturday day, not warm in April and very sunny,” Alexander Sirota recalls. My mother said that on the way to work, she saw many watering machines that washed the streets with a foamy solution. She thought that there was a serious preparation for the May holidays. She even enjoyed such a cleaning of the city.
The first lesson ended, and for the second lesson the teachers did not return to classes for a long time. One of the classmates remembered that his dad was unexpectedly called to the station at night. It turned out that the teachers were at a meeting where it they decided not to let the children go outside until the end of the day. I didn’t know about this anymore. My friend and I heard ambulance sirens and ran to the medical unit near the school. We learned from the adults that a fire had broken out at the station at night. Many people heard the roar of the night from the nuclear power plant, but they did not wonder. It became something familiar for the locals.”
The Chernobyl accident became a jackpot for a child
“I remember seeing a radioactive mushroom over the station. It looked like a real UFO. The station itself was in a haze like fog. Disappointed, we went back. Suddenly, we saw helicopters with suspended tanks over the city. One of them was landing in the area of the river port, and we ran there, hungry for spectacles. Previously, we only saw such helicopters in films about Afghanistan. In general, this whole day was a solid jackpot for the child. There were only adventures around.
Until they reached the river, we did not find the helicopter. However, along the way, we remembered an extracurricular task to prepare homemade gifts for the parents for the May Day holidays. The gift was a vase from a glass milk bottle, with clay or plasticine. You press the kernels of beans or peas into the vase, cover with varnish or paint. It comes out beautifully. We ran to dig clay. I returned home, smeared from head to toe. To my mother’s surprised questions, I answered: “We had a clean-up day at school”. Furious, she ran to school to find out why some children were not allowed out of the premises, while others had to clean up. Well, of course, I got hit from her in the evening.
The next day, the housing office workers knocked on our door. They told everyone the same thing: there was an emergency at the station, there would be an evacuation for two or three days. Instead of closing doors and windows and plugging all cracks, people with their belongings went out into the street. The background radiation outdoors was hundreds of times higher than indoors. There was no evacuation that day, but just in case I went to bed in my clothes. Mom sat all night at the window, looking at the glow from the reactor over the forest. In the morning, asleep, I asked: “Mom, when will they liquidate us?”
Evacuation of Pripyat
I was finishing school, having already understood something. I could easily admit that the Soviet government could really liquidate us. It was enough just to close the city from all sides, and then raze it to the ground. As if Pripyat had never been near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant … However, there is no information leak. So, what are 50 thousand people on the scale of the Soviet peaceful atom?
The party organs were immediately informed about the scale of the accident. But the residents of Pripyat never received any safety recommendations. On the night of April 27, a column of 1200 buses stretched from the village of Kopachi to Chernobyl. They were Lazu and yellow Ikarus taken off intercity flights. For many hours, bus drivers were waiting for the evacuation without any protective suits. What dose of radiation they received that night is anyone’s guess. The next day, people left in a transport packed with radioactive dust.
At about 12 noon, I heard an evacuation announcement through the city warning system. Basic advice: close windows, turn off electrical appliances, turn off water taps. So, there was not a word about safety measures. Employees of the housing office in the presence of residents sealed the apartments. People left their pets, confident that they would be seen in a few days. There was no panic.”
Conversation with the liquidators of the Chernobyl accident
As an adult, Alexander talked with the liquidation participants who worked in those days under the fourth reactor. Radioactive graphite crunched under their feet, but they could not believe that an explosion had occurred and adequately assess the situation. Something happened that could not have happened in principle in the minds of Soviet people.
“… The evacuation began at 2:00 p.m. We drove past the station with the windows open. Everyone perceived it as an extra weekend. People settled in the surrounding villages and towns. We also ended up in the village of Obukhovichi, Ivankovsky district, in a family with ten distributed. Therefore, my mother decided to go to Kiev, and then, on the May holidays, to her sister in the military town of Maryina Gorka near Minsk. Her sister’s husband Anatoly Kolotenko was a lieutenant colonel of the chemical troops. When we asked him about Chernobyl in those days, he joked: “Two people at my house came from under the reactor itself. Everything is fine”.
The fate of Anatoly was tragic. After returning from Chernobyl, the previously healthy former boxer Anatoly was seriously ill until the end of his life. With short interruptions, he worked for almost a year and a half in eliminating the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. 25 settlements were assigned to its part, which needed to be cleared of radioactive contamination. In addition, he carried out decontamination work on the destroyed fourth power unit. He was dying very hard, both psychologically and physically, regretted about the ineffective work at the ChNPP.
Those who in 1986 “left the city for a few days” are still not ready to accept the idea that their home is no longer there. Many former residents of Pripyat want to see their house, apartment, street, but they cannot come to the city.
In 2006, a group of like-minded people headed by Alexander Sirota created the public organization Pripyat 3D. They photographed all possible nooks and crannies of the city and restored the numbering on houses that time had destroyed. The revived Pripyat in the virtual world of the project became an interactive model of the city until April 1986. Today, Alexander is in favor of giving Pripyat the status of a city-museum. He promotes new vectors of perception of the exclusion zone – as a cultural heritage and a nature reserve.
State protection could prevent the spontaneous destruction of the city. However, even Alexander has little faith in the chances of preserving at least what remains. Sooner or later, only ruins will remain of the city. The point of no return has already been passed. But Pripyat is still not a ghost, it’ll live on film. It will live in the sounds of the virtual synthesizer of composer Vladimir Savin, who has collected the sound of dozens of abandoned Pripyat pianos. Moreover, the city will live on the canvases of artists, in the memories of tourists, especially in the hearts of Pripyat residents, who, apparently, are never former.