Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chornobyl Adventure, Part 3: "The Health of the People is the Wealth of the Country"

Chornobyl workers lived in Pripyat, a cookie-cutter, model Soviet city. The ironic slogan, serving as the title of this entry, was proudly displayed on the roof of one of the hundreds of abandoned buildings. Well after the explosion and loss of radiation containment, residents received an almost matter-of-fact announcement, part of which you can hear below in the video of contemporary Pripyat that Erik shot from the bus.

"...It is recommended that you take with you documents, indispensable items, and also, in the first case, foodstuffs. Directors of businesses and other institutions should identify a group of workers to stay in their places to assure normal functioning. All homes under evacuation will be guarded by the militia. Comrades, temporarily leaving your home, don't forget, please, to close windows, turn off electrical and gas appliances, and close water pipes. You are asked to keep calm [unintelligible] ... and order during the course of the temporary evacuation."

The people of Pripyat left their apartments assuming they would be back soon, not knowing that most would never see their homes again (save for the lucky few Sasha has helped). Pripyat is now a real Ukrainian ghost town. Abandoned vehicles, too irradiated to leave the zone, are strewn about. The hottest vehicles are in grave sites outside the city. While looters and scavengers have ravaged the town, some evidence of daily life remains.

Pripyat was readying itself for the May Day holidays; a warehouse still houses large portraits of Party leaders for the celebration. Other evidence of the celebration-to-be is scattered about town. Some objects have been placed in unusual locations, like this musical instrument in a phone booth. Trees grow everywhere, from the pavement and even from the top floor of the local hotel. Climbing to the hotel's observation deck led us through debris-covered floors and stairwells, with peeling paint, broken furniture, wires, and other detritus. I have posted several Pripyat photos below.

post-apocalyptic landscape was dominated by the sounds of nothing. The eerie silence was broken only by our footsteps on shattered bits of glass and wood. It was also broken in a surreal moment when Erik's phone rang with a call from Victor. It is hard to believe, but in an abandoned city ravaged by a great catastrophe 21 years ago, Erik got a cell phone signal.

Pripyat was our last stop on the Chornobyl adventure. After eating a meal together in Chornobyl - with food imported from outside the Zone - we returned to Kyiv. Erik went
to the train station for his second consecutive night on the train, arriving in L'viv on Tuesday morning.


Plaplen said...

These are really great posts on Chonobyl! Would you mind if I put up a post on my blog encouraging my readers to visit your's?

Sam said...

Wow. These pictures and your account of the city are gripping.

Lea's Dad said...

How anyone could manage a positive spin out of Chornobyl is beyond me. That people have so little chance of anything that they would move back into contaminated areas and then be left there says so much. Anyone who even thinks nuclear weapons should be continued in development and potential use should have to see a modern day mess left by a nuclear accident, much less purposeful use of nuclear weaponry. If any world leaders need a lesson in the outcomes, maybe they should have to meet at Chornobyl.

A note: there are species of crossbills in Ukraine, just as there are in the US...

Erik, Lea, and Carter Herron said...

The mutated birds were barn swallows (chosen for study because they return to their nests and are thus easier to track). Sergey was also making the argument that nuclear disarmament was moved along because of Chornobyl. In his view, the tragedy had this positive externality.