It's A Blast!
Chernobyl Travel Blog› entry 79 of 94 › view all entries
The room was completely empty except for a table in the middle with maps and photographs lining the wall and there was complete silence as the people who had joined the same tour walked around the room, unsure of what we were meant to do, or why we had been taken to this part of the building. This was my first introduction to Chernobyl - the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident and after having been dropped off there as part of a day trip, with no instruction I felt like I was in a strange B Grade Movie.
Driving through the security checks earlier that day, I had spent my time sitting with baited breathe hoping to see, well I wasn’t sure, after all I had never been to a nuclear power plant before, let alone one that had a meltdown.
All the maps on the walls were in Russian, and although I can make sense of the Cyrillic letters when I think really hard about it, I did not immediately turn into a superhero with superpowers with the ability to read Russian even though I was being exposed to radiation*.
* The radiation you are exposed to here is minimal and it is on par with a trans-Atlantic flight, but there are areas that have more radiation than other areas – for example Pripyat or by Reactor Four.
After five or so minutes of wandering looking at maps, unsure what I was looking at, or even where in the world this map was showing, we were greeted by Yuri, our guide for the day.
The four-course meal provided was a delicious traditional Ukrainian food with produce brought in from outside the contamination zone – still all the while I was eating, I kept thinking back to the 3-Eyed Fish episode from The Simpsons.
First mentioned in historical records 1000 years ago, Chernobyl had always been agriculturally important and during Stalin’s reign, the area had undergone collectivisation. But the town of Pripyat was new. Established in February 1970, this town was set up to house the workers of the Chernobyl Power Plant. This town did not get to last long, as residents were evacuated forty hours after the explosion.
It is a strange thing to walk around a place which was clearly lived in, people were educated here, laughed, married, had children and died here and now there are just remnants to their experiences. Perhaps this is why so many people were unwilling to leave their farms after Reactor Four exploded, they were part of this place, it was home. Like trees the middle aged and elderly that got uprooted struggled to take hold in their new homes in Kiev – the city suited the younger generation who could adapt easier.
After the explosion four towns and 93 villages were evacuated, 130,000 people had to be resettled. Yet this is where the story gets a little strange – although locals were removed, the Power Plant continued to function until 2000 when it was finally closed by the Ukraine government. (The Ukraine was formed after the collapse of the USSR in 1991). Today 4000 people are still employed within the site, testing and checking on levels of radiation.
Driving around Pripyat, I got to go up close up to Reactor 4, the Amusement Park, the Hotel, the High School, I saw the cranes standing idle on the Reactor 5 and 6 which were being built at the time of the explosion.
It was while walking around the school that captured my imagination the most – in all the shambolic chaos that you can see with tables and chairs strewn around the place, there is a chair that had been put up on the desk. It is almost like the student was packing up for the day and not forever.
I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to leave my home at a moments notice and never to return and even if I could return, what then? Live in a zone that is acknowledged to have radiation and can cause harmful effects to one’s health.
I was lucky I got to see this for a day and think it was an interesting and surreal experience, but I think having to deal with the reality wouldn’t be such a blast.
Prosh-chavay from Chernobyl