Ghost Towns: Prypiat, Ukraine

“For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 p.m. each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food…..”   (evacuation note to the citizens of Prypiat, issued April 27, 1986)

The Chernobyl Disaster in the Kiev province of the northern Ukraine on April 26, 1986 is still considered the worst nuclear accident in history.   It all began with a systems test to check Reactor Number Four, which was located right next to the city of Prypiat.  All things seemed to be going according to plan until there was a power surge that caused the reactor to spike dangerously.  An attempt for an emergency shutdown was made, but to no avail.   There was a rupture in the reactor vessel leading to small explosions, which in turn exposed the graphite medium in the reactor to the environment.  Once it ignited, the fires that came about spread the radioactive smoke and subsequent nuclear fallout as far as parts of Western Europe.  Hardest hit  was the town that had been designed to house the many people dependent on the nuclear power facility–the town of Prypiat.

Prypiat was founded in 1970 but did not become an official city until 1979.  It was originally founded so that the people who were working at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant would have homes and communities to live in close to the facility.  When it became established in 1979, it was one of nine atomograds or nuclear cities in what was then the Soviet Union.  The name itself is taken from the river that surrounds the area.

The population of the city at the time of the accident was upwards of 50,000 people with many different backgrounds and nationalities.  This population was expected to increase, and there were many places of interest in the area.  It was also seen as a potential river and train port for cargo.  With many malls, shopping centers, parks, schools, restaurants and businesses, Prypiat seemed destined to join other cities as being a major center of activity for the Ukraine.

That is, until that fateful day in April of 1986.

Within two days of the nuclear disaster, the entire town of Prypiat was abandoned and declared a “Zone of Alienation”.  Children were pulled out of their classrooms, families were given hours to grab their most precious belongings and told to move out of the highly radiated area.  Most telling of all are the pictures that have been taken in the many years since the accident.  An amusement park that was set to open the following May still stands with its carnival rides slowly rotting away and becoming one with the elements.  A Ferris Wheel, looking from a distance as though it could start up at any minute sits silently, never knowing any passengers to sit in its seats. 

Schoolbooks that were left behind in classrooms that were quickly abandoned lay in tatters while the whole area has become a monument to the now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.  A lone statue of Lenin stands in the center of the city, and many of the former buildings still have the portraits of former Soviet leaders.  While the area is still considered uninhabitable, there are guided tours through parts of the city today.  Many people have taken that opportunity to record this ghost town that stands stark and alone among the other cities that sprouted up in the wake of the disaster.

For further reading and pictures of today’s Prypiat, I invite you to check the following links:

Chernobyl 1986
Pripyat City history
Pripyat Ukraine city