When the Chernobyl catastrophe happened, the Soviet government were uncertain of how to handle it. From what I could gather during our tour (taking historical and cultural bias in to consideration) they were neither prepared for nor knowledgeable of what a nuclear disaster really meant. They chose to put a lid on it, trying to hide it from the rest of the world, and their own population. The citizens of the town of Pripyat were kept in the dark for days, living in the middle of radiation and nuclear fallout. When the government finally decided to evacuate the area, the city's population of approximately 50 000 inhabitants were given two hours to collect their belongings and leave. They were ushered on to buses and driven away from their homes, never to be allowed to return again.
Pripyat is still radio active, and deserted. The Chernobyl reactor is covered in a sarcophagus of concrete, made to last "hopefully for 100 years", according to our guide. The fallout from the eruption in the reactor core is said to take at least 300 years to deteriorate to a level where the city will be inhabitable again. Thus, it is a ghost town. We walked through the debris and clutter in utter awe. Even though the city has been thoroughly plundered since it opened to guided tours in the early 2000s, much is ”like it was”. Abandoned shopping carts in the aisles of the grocery stores, shoes still on display in the shoe store. Police tour the area in black minivans, to ensure people don't wander in to the houses, where the radiation is much higher.
The most heartbreaking part of the tour was the now infamous amusement park and joining sports arena. Both of these were set to open later in 1986. But as the government of the Pripyat and Chernobyl areas tried to downplay the disaster in order not to create a panic, they decided to open the park and arena on the same day, 26 april. ”Business as usual” etc. As the nuclear fallout was invisible to the naked eye, no one suspected anything. The winds blew across Pripyat, and the amusement park is still today one of the most radioactive zones in the city. It is beyond fathomable. I walked around the park, thinking about the still present yet invisible threat. Our Geiger meters were off the charts, and still the sun shone and the sky was chrystal clear. So blue. It really put the disaster in to perspective for me. How does one fear what one cannot see? How does one not, from that, start to fear everything?
I am so happy that I got to visit Pripyat and Chernobyl. It might sound morbid, but to me it was a chance to get some fresh perspective on life. Coming out of a clinical depression, I very much take these moments to heart. And to mind. I will never forget the trip, and what a privilidge it is to live the life I do. - Emily
P.S. The source for the information in this post is second-hand, from my guide. I'm sorry if I've misremembered or forgotten details. D.S.