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An Atomic Vacation in Chernobyl – Part 4

The final part of our Chernobyl nuclear disaster tour is the most chilling. We get to wander around Pripyat, the atomic power plant’s support city. It that once had a population of about 50,000. Today it’s zero.

Back in 1986, Soviet officials told residents that the evacuation was temporary and they should bring enough belongings for just a few days. As a result, most people left everything behind, unaware that they would never be back.

Pripyat was a modern city prior to the disaster. Today, it lies abandoned, a surreal place where empty boulevards are lined with street lamps that will never light. The only traffic is the occasional bright yellow dump truck adorned with atomic warnings. Dennis cautions us not to breathe as they pass by. The dust could be dangerous.

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In the shadow of Chernobyl, Pripyat lies abandoned

It’s in the main square where I feel Pripyat’s emptiness. Dennis informs us we’re free to wander through the city’s skeletons: A food store filled with rusting carts and moldy signs. A hotel waiting for visitors that will never come. Disconnected public telephones.  Empty swimming pools. And overgrown walkways that wind past faded signs touting the achievements of a country that has ceased to exist.

Photographs and books are scattered about, the forgotten remains of 1980s Soviet life. A child’s ballet shoe here, a trumpet case there. A old strip of film, perhaps touting the bright future of this atomic city?

chernobyl film pollution environment radiation fallout

The past haunts the present in Chernobyl

There has been a lot of looting and vandalism over the years since Chernobyl blew.  Many buildings have been torn apart, their windows smashed, valuable bits stolen and sold – despite their radioactivity – for salvage. No one knows what became of the car parts, the cooking utensils, and the doorknobs. Are they slowly killing people in Kiev? Minsk? Moscow?

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A rusting Ferris Wheel has become the iconic symbol of Chernobyl

Chernobyl’s children must have been filled with excitement in the days before the disaster. A new play park was scheduled to open May 1, 1986 in honor of May Day. It never did.

Instead of a place filled with the laughter of children, this amusement park is silent, a heartbreaking reminder of lives ripped apart. The big rotting Ferris Wheel has become a famous icon. A few steps away, I spy a rancid stuffed toy wedged in the broken window of a ticket booth, as if caught in mid-escape.

It feels like the set of a zombie film, but the area around Chernobyl is not dead. It is undergoing renewal. Nature is returning. You see it everywhere:  In the grass growing from cracks in the crumbling roads or in the shrubs and trees that have found root in the contaminated soil.

And are people slowly returning to the area, in the form of visitors like me.

chernobyl environment abandoned ecology pollution

Nature is slowly taking back the site of the Chernobyl disaster

It may be centuries before the area around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is safe enough for habitation. Until then, the site of our worst nuclear disaster remains one of the world’s most chilling tourist attractions.

The End