Countless abandoned buildings and the wind howling through the streets are the only things left in the city of Pripyat. The Ukrainian ghost town, not far from Chernobyl, forms the backdrop to a real horror film.
An abandoned amusement park: the carriages of the Ferris wheel have turned brown from rust and there’s the odd bumper car that is now overgrown with grass. When the wind blows over the terrain, it howls from all directions. Empty houses with broken window panes, some of which have collapsed, line the empty streets of the city. Every step you take echoes. Take a look at this place – decay and emptiness are the only things to be admired.
So this can’t be more than a scene from a horror film like Sledgehammer, right? Wrong! It’s just a description of Pripyat ghost town, near to Chernobyl. Not exactly a dream destination for your next holiday but since 2011, it has been possible to visit the former city of 50,000 inhabitants and it attracts thousands of tourists.
Pripyat was originally built as a workers city to house the employees of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Being situated about 4 kilometers from the reactor, it lies within the 30km uninhabitable zone. On the 26th of April 1986, as the worst meltdown imaginable happened, the city nearest to the power station was not evacuated until 36 hours after the disaster. Now it has been left to nature. It was too dangerous to let residents return to their contaminated houses. Since then, a few former residents have returned to their old home, but the majority steer well clear from here.
After the explosion of Chernobyl’s reactor 4 in 1986, dangerous radioactive radiation escaped and spread across a large part of Northern Europe (e.g the Balkans, northern Italy and Finland). Hundreds of thousands of people from the surrounding contaminated area in Belarus, Russia as well as Ukraine itself, had to be relocated. The consequences of the catastrophe are still felt by the population even today – entire areas still lie fallow.
In order to avoid panic, inhabitants were given little information. On the day after the catastrophe, a radio message requested the people to leave the city on the buses provided. They were then informed to take take three days off – a thoughtless and obviously Utopian guideline. Because the inhabitants of Pripyat were evacuatedso late, they were exposed to extremely high levels of radiation. You can probably imagine what that resulted in: Extreme damage to their health – developing every kind of cancer or death was the sad reality for many of the former residents of Pripyat following the radiation poisoning.
Pripyat is a ghost town that, despite the radiation, has attracted looters and illegal visitors over the years. The infrastructure of the city is still maintained today by constant construction work, in order to provide fast access roads should another accident happen, like the sarcophagus built around the power station collapsing, for example. That also means that about 4000 workers are employed here. The streets of the city are already decontaminated, meaning they are largely rid of the dangerous radiation. The current measurements are 0.97 microsieverts an hour. In comparison: In Germany, for example, they are exposed to a natural radiation of 2 millisieverts a year, that’s the equivalent to a daily dose of 0.23 microsieverts.The astonishing thing is that the animals and plants in the area seem to have adapted well to the prevailing radioactivity. Researchers have been studying the vegetation and the development of the regional species and look out for mutations – an exciting and almost limitless topic for science.
Excursions and trips to Pripyat
The city was opened for tourism in 2011, 25 years after the accident. Since then, Pripyat has attracted approximately one million visitors a year! Does this have anything to do with holidays? Yes! Extreme tourism are the key words; according to Forbes magazine, the contaminated city is ranked as one of the “world’s unique places to visit“. In order to access Pripyat or other villages in the restricted zone, a valid access authorization is needed and they are issued by travel operators. The organised tours of the area last about two days in the most part and have to be booked in advance as an official registration is necessary. The journey usually starts in Kiev. Educated guides lead you through Pripyat, meetings with witnesses are often offered as part of the service to give visitors an exclusive view of what went on here in the past.
Full-day tours start at €81 (£72.86), with that you visit both the ghost town itself and the power station in Chernobyl. Long since abandoned schools and kindergartens with overturned stools in the entrance and scattered sheets and shelves on the floor, are all common sights and focal points of the tour. In the hospital, the rusting babies cribs lined up along side one another and the dolls shredded up by animals complete the blood-curdling setting. The big wheel rotating as if by magic and the abandoned swimming pool give Pripyat all the requirements needed for a horror film setting. A visit to this abandoned city definitely isn’t for the faint hearted.
Safety information for the trip to Pripyat
Those who dare to take a trip to the former severely contaminated city should consider one or two things on their visit. Due to the close proximity to the reactor, some buildings and plants are still heavily contaminated thirty years on. Therefore, the picking of berries and mushrooms is strictly forbidden, as is the touching of plants and objects including the walls inside the buildings. Sitting on the floor, alongside eating, drinking and smoking, are things that visitors to Pripyat should refrain from doing if possible. However, according to the organisers, protective clothing is not necessary. Sturdy footwear and long sleeved clothing are completely sufficient in protecting against the existing radiation.
Now you know a bit more about this somewhat different type of travel experience, do you fancy a trip to Pripyat? What do you make of extreme tourism in general? Let me know, I’m interested to hear what you’ve got to say on the matter!