Pripyat is a modern day Atlantis. The inhabitants of the Soviet town had to run from the nuclear disaster and therefore it has been preserved more or less in the state of 1986. I made my way up to the North of Ukraine thirty years after the catastrophe. This is the second part of this adventure.
Life was busy in the Soviet Union. Besides school and work, everybody was ought to play a role on a cultural and social level.
In the mother of socialist countries, cultural associations and sports clubs for kids were of high importance. These activities were free of charge, but also kept the children under tight control in the ruling belief system. Sports were also a great display of power to the outside world, a show of how strong the Soviet Union was. Almost all the major buildings we saw in in Pripyat had a big sports gym, whether they had been educational or military and even in the hospital.
I was personally very happy when I saw Mishka the bear (the mascot of the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow) on one of the windows. I guess that's the communist kawaii side of me ...
I liked very much the public pool of Pripyat. I got so lucky with the light. The sun was shining through the broken windows and laid some great shade onto the jumping board and the old tiles. Many of the sports structures are falling apart. The roof and a few buildings were broken and constantly dripping rainwater.
Besides the nuclear energy, there were a few other industrial branches active in Pripyat. One of the big players was the typewriter factory Saturn (see the space reference!?).
Quite an interesting place. I saw an early version of a computer keyboard. Remember it was the mid-eighties, and in the socialist block, computers were solely used in specialized state companies, never at home.
Our guide Igor took us to a storage room with a lot of test paper strips, which were used to check the typewriter. There were so many, that he gave them as a present to us. There ought to be no radiation remaining. But I better keep it in a sealed envelope. Right in the Saturn Factory is a chamber with no windows. There is a safe with the radioactive warning signs on the door.
It's said that the Saturn factory had a secret side project, but nobody really knows what it was. But it must have been radiating. To take a shot of the safe I asked a few guys to light their phones for at least half a minute. Thanks again to the lads!
Of course, Pripyat also had a law and order and a prison. I consider myself lucky to get an insight into such structures, that are normally not accessible. It's not a commodity to look behind bars. The cells were really simple and very dark, I refrained from shooting them.
In the backyard, there were scrapped old Soviet trucks. In the periods of the cleansings, premises such as the police department were still in active use and later served as a garage for repairing the heavy machinery.
All the cultural institutions of Pripyat had more or less a relation to the main source of income and their workers. It's not surprising that the Dvorez Kultury, the palace of culture, has the smashing name "Energetik". We arrived at a perfect time in the evening. The sun perfectly set their rays at the name-giving letters. Timing means so much, especially if you are in a rush.
There was a big library in the palace, another sports gym and a grand theatre stage. After the metal was removed by liquidators all that remained were two sole chairs. I found this a great motif, especially with the light from the backlit window. The cinematic power of never-ending entertainment.
So what happened to the citizens of Pripyat? Many stayed in the new cities they were evacuated to, with their relatives and new jobs. But as the three remaining reactors of Chernobyl were running until 2000 there was still need for a nuclear workforce, who had to find a new place to live, as they couldn’t do it anymore in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. So shortly after the catastrophe, a substitute city with the name Slavutych was built north of the zone. More than 25.000 people lived there, I wonder how the city looks like now after the main business has shut down...
Pripyat was altogether the highlight of my trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. It gave me a taste of life in the Soviet and had so many stories in store. Every building we entered was interesting for me and gave me great possibilities to express myself through photography. And I still have the feeling I have just scratched the surface. I kind of have the feeling, that I will be back in the last city of the CCCP.