The nearby town of Pripyat was founded in 1970 to house the Power Plant workers and families. Despite the city's proximity to the plant (3km), Pripyat was not immediately evacuated following the accident. It wasn't until high radiation levels were detected in Sweden that the USSR admitted an accident had occurred, and even then, authorities attempted to downplay the scale of the disaster. Nearly 36 hours passed before evacuation was ordered. To speed up the evacuation, the residents were told to bring only what was necessary, as authorities said it would only be temporary and would last approximately three days. As a result, the residents left most of their personal belongings, many of which can still be found today in Pripyat.
The Zone is safe to visit as the radiation danger is considered low - about that of a chest x-ray or cross-country flight per day - but the waiver visitors are required to sign prohibits the removal of any items from the Zone, and advises against touching the trees or ground (or as my guide put it, "just don't lick the trees!"). The Zone contains approximately 400 residents, mostly in the Town of Chernobyl (military and other plant workers), but with other Samosley (illegal residents who either refused to leave or resettled in the Zone) spread around the area. With the removal of most of the human population, nature and wildlife is flourishing with a large population of wolves, boars, lots of cats, and wild horses among others - the Zone has even been designated a wildlife sanctuary. Of course issues and dangers still remain - the sarcophagus around Reactor 4 is failing, and the entire area is still contaminated and must be treated appropriately.
There were some differences between my expectations and what Pripyat really is. For one, with an entire town suddenly abandoned I expected it to be much more intact than it was. I was expecting apartments with dinner on the table, closets full of clothes, rooms full of furniture - a complete picture of Soviet life in 1986. I wasn't expecting room after empty room, everything of value scrapped as if it was any abandoned building in the US. My guide, Sergei, explained the situation many were in under Communism - you had to wait in lines for hours to get what you needed, 4 hours for a toilet - so people disregarded the danger , snuck in, and took everything they could (radioactive toilets, all across the area, he said!) But on the other hand, there were many small artifacts left behind - schools full of toys and supplies, stores full of books and ovens and other household items, lots of pianos (too heavy to carry I guess!) And of course there were relics of the Soviet regime - portraits of Lenin and Stalin, the hammer and sickle, and propaganda posters can still be found around town.
It's hard to explain the feeling one gets while in the Zone. The desolation and emptiness is overwhelming at times. The rebirth of the contaminated area is encouraging. The clean-up job that remains is mind boggling. When asked about my 3 days spent in the Zone, I mentioned how the weather was gloomy, but looking at my photos there are clear blue skies! I guess "gloomy" is just the feeling you get being surrounded by empty Soviet-style highrises. But even if it is inexplicable, it was an incredible experience.
Pripyat in 1986
Average age: 26 years old.
Total living space - 13,414 apartments in 160 apartment blocks, 18 halls of residence could room up to 7,621 single males or females, and 8 halls of residence for married couples.
Education: 15 primary schools for about 5,000 children, 5 secondary schools, 1 professional school.
Health care: 1 hospital that could accommodate up to 410 patients, 3 clinics.
Trade: 25 stores and malls; 27 cafes, cafeterias and restaurants
Culture: 3 facilities: A culture palace, a cinema and a school of arts, with 8 different societies.
Sports: 10 gyms, 3 indoor swimming-pools, 10 shooting galleries, 2 stadiums.
Recreation: 1 amusement park, 35 playgrounds, 18,136 trees, 249,247 shrubs, 33,000 rose plants.
Industry: 4 factories
I took over 1300 photos. This is clearly just a small selection.