September 2011, Marije (s0y) and I finally took the trip we wanted to do for so long, visit Ukraine, Kiev and in particular, the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl, with the ghost town of Prypiat. When I saw the bumper carts, I almost cried. Afterwards, we were exhausted; there was so much to take in. And bringing too many cameras is never a good idea. ;)
April 26th 1986, workers at the Chernobyl power plant near Kiev, Ukraine, made a fatal error. While testing a more effective system, a power surge occurred in the nuclear reactor, leading to an international disaster. There was a sudden power surge, emergency shutdown failed, the reactor vessel of reactor number 4 ruptured, a series of explosions followed, resulting in a fire. A smoke plume drifted over the Soviet Union and Europe, spreading radioactive material, but the Soviet Union (of which Ukraine then was a part of) did not spread the news about the accident. Thousands of people in the nearby town of Prypiat, hundreds of thousands of people in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and other countries, were exposed to radioactive material without even knowing it.
April 27th and 28th, finally Prypiat was being evacuated. People were told to pack for three days, later to find out that they would never return to their homes again. It is so sad to walk around in this city. Everything is either trashed, falling apart, ransacked or all of the above. People used to live here, children went to school here…
Twenty-five years later, nature is taking over. The schoolyard, streets, the squares, even the buildings are overgrown by plants. We were told by our guide that we should avoid the moss, as this sort of absorbs radioactivity, which made it sometimes really hard to walk around. At one point, I was trying to get a good angle for a shot of the Ferris wheel, when I realised I was standing at a huge swath of moss. When leaving the exclusion zone, everyone is checked for radiation contamination, but fortunately, s0y and I were clean enough to keep our shoes.
The best (and worst) part is the amusement park. May 1st is a big holiday, International Workers’ Day. This is being celebrated with an annual parade and other festivities. In Prypiat, an amusement park was built, but it never opened. The Ferris wheel, sticking out above the trees and visible from the top floors of the hotel, and the bumper carts emphasized even more the disaster that took place.
In hindsight, we should have booked a private tour. Everything was so hasty that we literally ran around. We were panting racing up the stairs, it all happened so fast. A day is over before you know it. And of course, the day group tour is a lot cheaper, but we instantly decided we would be back here. There is so much more to see.
In short: it was exhausting, bizarre, extreme, beautiful, eerie, intense, and so definitely worth it.