Welcome to Chernobyl

At 1:23AM the reactor #4 alarms first went off to signal what was soon to be the most disasterous nuclear accident in human history. On 27 April 1986, 30 hours after the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had occurred, the city was under federal orders to be evacuated. The state-of-the-art power plant was within the Chernobyl Raion district, sitting on the Pripyat River. Pripyat, a city larger and closer to the power plant than Chernobyl, had been built as permanent housing for the numerous power plant workers. After the accident, administration of the Chernobyl Raion district was transferred to the neighboring Ivankiv Raion. After the accident, with mass evacuations underway, the city of Slavutych was constructed to accommodate those evacuated. It would take two days to relocate the 49,400 citizens.

Welcome To Pripyat

Named after the nearby Pripyat River, Pripyat was founded on 4 February 1970, as the ninth nuclear city in the Soviet Union, to serve the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. 

It was officially proclaimed a city in 1979, and had grown to a population of 49,360 by the time it was evacuated, on the afternoon of April 27, 1986, the day after the Chernobyl disaster.

In late 2016, 30 years after the disaster, a huge protective steel and concrete sarcophagus was completed over the blast site at Reactor 4. The original structure placed over the ruined reactor had worn away over the years, and there was a danger of lethal radiation venturing out into the wider area once again.

Reactor 4, The Sarcophagus

Reactor 4, the sarcophagus 

The Chernobyl disaster, was a catastrophic nuclear accident. It occurred on 26 April 1986 inside reactor number 4, light water graphite moderated reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, a town in northern Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic which was part of the Soviet Union (USSR), approximately 104 km north of Kiev.

The event occurred during a late-night safety test which simulated a station blackout power-failure, in the course of which safety systems were intentionally turned off. A combination of inherent reactor design flaws and the reactor operators arranging the core in a manner contrary to the checklist for the test, eventually resulted in uncontrolled reaction conditions. Water flashed into steam generating a destructive steam explosion and a subsequent open-air graphite fire. This fire produced considerable updrafts for about nine days. These lofted plumes of fission products into the atmosphere. The estimated radioactive inventory that was released during this very hot fire phase approximately equaled in magnitude the airborne fission products released in the initial destructive explosion. Practically all of this radioactive material would then go on to fall-out/precipitate onto much of the surface of the western USSR and Europe.

Reactor 5, The Entrance to the Cooling Tower

Reactor 5, A Lone gas mask inside the Cooling Tower

база отдыха Изумрудный
Children’s Camp Emerald

Residing in the forest between Chernobyl and Pripyat lies the Emerald Summer Camp. The scene that the children of Pripyat would long for all winter and spend their entire summer holidays at. A quiet place, calm and docile in the forest along the cooling pond of the nuclear reactors, clean air flowing through the trees contraire to the chemical danger that lies just next-door. 

Emerald Summer Camp has many wooden huts adorned in bright coloured murals displaying cartoon characters from the popular television shows at the time. There is also an open-air movie theatre and in the centre, a large metal water tower responsible for supplying the entire Camp.

Shadowed by abnormally large trees and a coat of fog lies the remains of what was once a fun and exciting destination for the children of Chernobyl. Animals roam through these woods and frequently venture into the buildings, the deer and wolves, both reclaiming this land with nature on their side.

Children’s Camp Emerald summer camp   

Children’s Camp Emerald summer camp


детский сад Копачи



Kopachi Kindergarten

The village of Kopachi is buried, house by house. It was located 7 km from the Chernobyl reactor that housed the control room and decontamination area in the months after the disaster. A bulldozer would dig a large trench in front of each house before burying the building and covering it with earth and flattening the soil. This kindergarten and one other brick building are the only architectural structures that remain standing.

энергоблоки 5 и 6
Reactor 5 + 6

The completion of the first reactor in 1977 was followed by Reactor 2 (1978), 3 (1981), and 4 (1983). Two more reactors, 5 and 6, capable of producing 1,000 MW each, were under construction at the time of the accident.

Reactor 5 was about 70% complete at the time of the accident and was scheduled to start operating on November 7, 1986. Furthermore a 6th reactor was planned in a new block of buildings scheduled to be completed in 1994.
The first construction and installation work on reactor 5 began in 1981. Construction continued throughout the night of the explosion. Construction work was soon stopped but resumed again on the 10th October 1986. Six months later on the 24 April 1987 work was once again halted and the decision was made not to complete the reactors.

Reactor 5


Reactor 5, the entrance to the cooling towers

Плавательный бассейн «Лазурный» 

Swimming Pool

The Azure Swimming Pool is one of the indoor swimming pools in the abandoned city of Pripyat. It was built in the 1970s and was used until 1998 (12 years after the Chernobyl disaster); the pool reeks of chemicals, ice cold from the constant draft flowing through the areas that once housed the window panes. All 22 Metres and 8 Lanes ache for a drop of water, dehydrated and dry, the Azure Pool is now completely alone and left behind, for nature to take its toll.

Our elder guide, Serj aka Grandpa Former citizen of Pripyat

Our elder guide, Serj aka Grandpa
Former citizen of Pripyat

Музыкальная школа
Music School

Wading through the snow and up the steps to the Pripyat Music School, I can almost hear the final bell ringing and the kids stampeding out of the front entrance. 

The rehearsal rooms and large auditorium still smell of the musky soundproofing that once covered the walls. This particular school was not obvious to recognise when walking around, the rooms are empty and there is just one grand piano left to remind us of its former use.


Дворец культуры «Энергетик»  
Palace of Culture ‘Energetik’

Palace of Culture ‘Energetik’

Palaces of Culture were large community centres during the Soviet era, each had their own name. This one being “Energetik“, a play on words, since it means both energetic (as in vigorous and healthy) and power plant worker. 

Entering this building, the first thing I noticed was the large colourful adorned wall running along the whole length of the lower and upper floor, featuring paintings of people, stars and happier times. 

The theatre, with a sinkhole for a stage and 3 lone seats remaining upright resides on the upper level, towards the basketball court overlooking the famous Amusement Park. Its hard to imagine that anybody was once happy and creative in this shell of a community centre. The atmosphere was empty and the walls exhausted.

Pripyat police station

Pripyat Police Station - An overturned school bus in the courtyard

Pripyat Police Station - An overturned school bus in the courtyard

Although Pripyat was a city predominantly inhabited by educated and privileged people, of course no city of that size could exist without a police station. It sounds so cliché, but most of the arrested people were accused of alcohol related deeds: making home-brew liquor (samogon, самого́н), driving under influence or being drunk in public. Pripyat’s police station was located at the western end of the town, right across the street from the fire department and in close proximity of the famous Jupiter factory.

Городской парк
City Park

Like most cities, Pripyat also has an amusement park. It is mostly known for the ferris wheel and the bumper cars behind the Palace of Culture, featured above. It should have been opened on May 1, 1986, just 4 days after the disaster at reactor 4, in time for the May Day celebrations, but its fate was sealed when the Chernobyl disaster occurred a few kilometres away. 

The park was opened for a couple of hours on April 27 to distract the city people from the plumes of fission products piercing the atmosphere on their doorstep. The announcement to evacuate the city was made just a few hours later. Today, the park, and in particular the Ferris wheel, are a symbol of the last happy moments the people of Chernobyl would ever experience.

Pripyat Hospital

"Здоров’я народу – багатство країни”
“health of the people – riches of the country

The roots of Hospital MsCh-126 are firmly ground on “Friendship of the People street”.
The large letters on the roof read “Здоров’я народу – багатство країни” or “health of the people – riches of the country”.

The hospital could accommodate up to 410 patients and had a further three clinics. The hospital is a large complex of buildings of five interconnected buildings of 6 stories each.

MsCh-126 has a cellar containing the forsaken suits worn by the first responders who attended the scene at reactor 4. The responders were taken to Pripyat Hospital by ambulance after being exposed to such high levels of radiation that even after 28 years their suits still emit a lethal dose of radiation. The orderlies has taken all clothing down to the cellar for cleaning and a day later the city was evacuated, abandoning the highly radioactive clothing forever.

We were told we would not be allowed to go into the basement, we didn’t challenge it either.

A lone bassinet in an otherwise empty room - Pripyat Hospital MsCh-126

A lone bassinet in an otherwise empty room - Pripyat Hospital MsCh-126

горком партии  

Pripyat City Administration

Prior to the accident this office building housed the executive committee and city committee of the party. After the Chernobyl disaster the offices were not abandoned. It was used by a specialized enterprise for radioactive waste management and decontamination. The building has been abandoned since 2001.

Школа #3 міста Припять

Pripyat School 3

On Sportinaya Street, lies Middle School No. 3. This is one of five secondary schools in the area. Middle School 1 collapsed in 2005, but this decaying school still remains relatively intact Creaking wooden-framed windows away in the wind, and doors lay torn from their hinges by decades of looters. Ruined classrooms and long empty corridors and peeling paint encircle the large overgrown central courtyard. Metal thieves have stolen radiators and anything of value, leaving the classrooms devoid of valuables and littered with discarded scraps. Several classrooms still contain original desks, drawings and tattered text books and occasional photos of school children can also still be found.

The Gas Mask Room

There have been many rumours about how the gas masks found their way to this room, were they fake? Planted there for a photograph?

Children in the USSR were forced to join the military at 18 to complete their national service. At the time of the disaster the authorities gathered all items including military clothing and put them into separate rooms around Pripyat. The idea was simply to keep all items together. Between the Russian government and the looters, the gas masks are the only remaining items.

The floors of the side rooms and halls of Pripyat Middle School No. 3 are littered with crates, with their contents strewn on the floor. Hundreds of Russian-made gas masks from the cold war era were stored at the school to protect against biological, nuclear and chemical attack. Most are small, mid-sized versions. Looters has ransacked this gas mask store in store of precious metals inside the filters.

Pripyat Middle School No. 3, and the town of Pripyat, were evacuated in the weeks after the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster (26th April 1986).

Next-door is a well-known sports facility, housing sports halls and the Azure Swimming Pool.

Standing proudly on the beautiful shoreline of a vast lake, Cafe Pripyat, or “the Dish” as it was affectionately known by locals, was naturally a popular destination. A place where young city dwellers (the average age in Pripyat was 26) would gather to chat and drink on the round sun drenched terrace that overlooked the water. From the stone clad terrace a wide stairway leads down to the boat dock and on to the water’s edge. Sail boats would use the lake during the summer months and BBQs would be a common sight along the tree-lined shore. In winter when the lake froze children and families would ice skate and men would cut holes to fish.

Barely standing sorrily on the now overgrown and frozen shoreline of a vastly toxic lake, Cafe Pripyat, or “The Dish” as it was affectionately known by locals, decays. A place where tourists rarely visit and rarely understand the significance of. The walls are wet, the tiles are cracked and the art work that once covered the glass, smashed. From the overgrown terrace a wide stairway leads down to what was once a boat dock, now a view for the once popular river boat that has seen better days. There is no activity on and above the water anymore, everything is silent.

Дуга - Duga Radar Station

Duga was a Soviet over-the-horizon (OTH) radar system used as part of the Soviet anti-ballistic missile early-warning network. The system operated from July 1976 to December 1989. Two operational Duga radars were deployed, one near Chernobyl and Chernihiv in the Ukrainian SSR (present-day Ukraine), the other in eastern Siberia.

The Duga systems were extremely powerful, over 10 MW in some cases, and broadcast in the shortwave radio bands. They appeared without warning, sounding like a sharp, repetitive tapping noise at 10 Hz, which led to it being nicknamed by shortwave listeners the Russian Woodpecker. The random frequency hops disrupted legitimate broadcasts, amateur radio operations, oceanic commercial aviation communications, utility transmissions, and resulted in thousands of complaints by many countries worldwide. The signal became such a nuisance that some receivers such as amateur radios and televisions actually began including 'Woodpecker Blankers' in their circuit designs in an effort to filter out the interference.

The unclaimed signal was a source for much speculation, giving rise to theories such as Soviet mind control and weather control experiments. However, because of its distinctive transmission pattern, many experts and amateur radio hobbyists quickly realised it to be an over-the-horizon radar system. NATO military intelligence had already given it the reporting name STEEL WORK or STEEL YARD. While the amateur radio community was well aware of the system, this theory was not publicly confirmed until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Школа Чернобыль - Duga School

Duga school, or should I say, Duga Prison? But not for people..

Empty and abandoned, propaganda posters for the children of the military workers peeling off the walls and litter the floor, along with the paint and plaster. School books, written by Duga students strewn across the corridors by the looters. Gym clothing left hanging on the hooks, still stained with bodily fluids.

'Duga Prison of Time' houses the darkest of soviet secrets.

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Alex Zach
The Urban Diaries