Founded in 1970, Pripyat was a model Soviet city built for the Chernobyl power plant workers and their families. It contained all the conveniences that a modern Soviet family could desire: high-rise apartment buildings, schools, a cultural center, hospital, swimming pools, theaters, stores, restaurants, cafes, playgrounds, and a stadium.
This picture of Pripyat was taken in 1986, just before the disaster that made “Chernobyl” a household word:
On the morning of April 26, 1986, the citizens of Pripyat awoke to the sound of helicopters buzzing overhead and a column of smoke rising from Reactor # 4 off in the distance. At noon (48 hours after the explosion) on April 27, 1986, the Soviet government finally informed the citizens of Pripyat that they had two hours to gather their essential belongings and board a bus for mandatory evacuation. They were told that their evacuation was only temporary, for perhaps three days at the most, and so the residents left most of their clothing, photographs, toys, and family pets behind. The 50,000 citizens departed Pripyat on a line of Kiev-bound buses that stretched for miles, all of them expecting to see their hometown again in just a few days. They would never return.
Pripyat is what the world will look like if humans are ever wiped out overnight by a plague or some other such disaster. And without humans, nature is thriving. There is now a growing population of wolves and Mongol ponies, and wild boar roam the thoroughfares of Pripyat.
Today, the entrance to Pripyat is guarded by a soldier who sits in a run-down shack for hours, waiting for the occasional visitor. After exchanging a few words with our guide, and checking papers, he waved us into the “ghost city.”
This was once one of the main streets in Pripyat – Prospekt Lenina.
We pulled in and parked in this parking lot – right in the heart of downtown. Try finding parking like this in any other city.
The building closest to us was either the Communist Party office in Pripyat or an office connected to the power station. I heard both answers. So, you decide, dear reader…
Here’s a closeup on the front of the building:
This is a view toward the main square in the center of the city of Pripyat.
This hotel, the Hotel Polissya, sits on the edge of the main square. It was the first building I explored extensively.
This is the Hotel Polissya before the Chernobyl disaster (courtesy Pripyat.com).
A view inside the hotel on the way up to the top floors:
This was taken from a window of the hotel and that’s Reactor # 4 in the distance, so you can see how close Pripyat was to the disaster site.
Continuing up the stairs to the top of the hotel:
This is the view over the main square from the top floor of Hotel Polissya. That’s the Cultural Palace “Energetik” otherwise known as the Central Culture Club on the right.
You never knew what you’d find if you opened a door…
You might find something like this…
Or something like this… Or even a wild pig.
Back on the ground floor of the Hotel Polissya…This TV has seen better days.
A night club on the ground floor of the Hotel Polissya.
The hotel kitchen.
My Italian walking out of the front entrance of the Hotel Polissya.
This was an elite apartment block – right on the main square (opposite from Hotel Polissya).
The logo still on top:
In the main square. That’s an old supermarket in the background.
The view out from the front of the supermarket – Inside it is mostly just rusting refrigerators and shopping carts.
Another view of the Pripyat main square:
And yet another:
And a view of the square before the Chernobyl disaster (Again courtesy of Pipyat.com). The tower block in the background is the one I featured above with the insignia on top.
The cultural center overlooking the main square – Remember the Cultural Palace “Energetik”/Central Culture Club?
Exploring inside the Cultural Palace:
I’d love to know what is on this film inside the Cultural Palace…Too bad its radioactive.
One floor of the cultural center was a library. All of the books were heaped on the floor and to get around, my Italian and I had to slip and stumble over the books. I felt guilty trampling over the books, but it’s not like someone is going to come back and read them or reclaim them, you know?
A doorway to somewhere I didn’t have time to explore.
An apartment block in the downtown area. It almost looks normal from a distance.
Decorations for a May Day parade and celebration that never happened.
Another once busy road:
Wandering around Pripyat – nature reigns supreme – even in radioactive wastelands.
There were so many inviting entrances like this one below. So much exploring, so little time…
In the derelict buildings everything is decaying. Water damage is rampant; the ceilings leak; floors are mushy; paint is peeling in clumps.
In the classrooms, blackboards are still covered in writing, the chalk faded but still visible. Desks are scattered haphazardly, bleached white with age. Exercise books lie open on the last lesson; in the hall lie dozens of unused gas masks next to piles of jump ropes.
I thought this was a great find – a relic of the Cold War or a leftover from the “liquidators” sent to clean up the worst of the radioactive areas?
And the view out from inside the theater:
The entrance to a mysterious underground facility:
A short walk from the center of Pripyat is the city’s amusement park – cleaned up for use as a helipad after the accident.
Bumper cars sit in piles or strewn about like this:
The Ferris wheel stands silent except for eerie creaking generated by the breezes.
An obligatory picture of me in front of the Ferris wheel.
Another ride in the amusement park.
As we pass out of the exclusion zone we are all checked for contamination. We are fine. I ask our guide if he is worried that he might one day regret his job?
“If you ask people who work here about health and radiation, they will not answer,” he says. “If you talk about it, if you are afraid, you will be in trouble. If you are not afraid, you will be OK. Trust me, it works.”