There are still areas in the alienation zone, which indicate high level of radioactivity. Thanks to cleansing efforts, these areas are small and located mostly near the NPP itself, which means the rest of the territory is open for visiting. There are always more than enough people wishing to see the consequences of the deadly blast and to visit the dead town Prypiat - evacuated residents, foreign tourists, media, movie-makers, fans of the "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." game or ordinary curious inhabitants.
ForUm, however, got there not out of idle curiosity. Some days ago, the officials came here to fill a foundation capsule for "Nagasaki Bell" memorial in Minsk with Chernobyl soil. The guests of the ceremony included officials, journalist, representatives of various public organizations and former residents of the area.
Our first stop is the checkpoint of Dityatky. The alienation zone starts with this very place. Officers checked our passports to make sure there are no minors in the group and handed trousers and boots to those, who thought of coming here in shorts and flip-flops. Officers also warned us to walk only on asphalt and avoid stepping on moss, as it absorbs radiation and its background radiation intensity usually exceeds the norm.
Before Prypiat itself, we passed numerous deserted villages with ruined houses and mutated nature. Autumn comes early in the alienation zone - tree leaves get yellow and start falling. If you look closer, you will see the trees are not common - pine trees have growing branches even near the bottom, and the majority of trees are covered with yellow moss and have curious shapes.
Finally we arrived in Prypiat. The bus brought us to the former Palace of culture "Energetic" - its empty hall is now occupied by brushwood and to the right there are concrete walls of "Polesie" hotel, standing in solemn silence. This is the central square, in the middle of which there is a small table for speakers.
It's weird to watch and listen to the former mayor of the dead town, delivering a speech in the deserted place. It feels like the time turned back and Prypiat is celebrating some event.
Unfortunately, Oleksandr Yesaulov speaks about other things:
- Every time I come to Prypiat I realize this town must be preserved. We must open a museum here and bring atomic scientists, developers from all over the world and all others who work with "atom for peace" for them to see what can happen to a city if they press a wrong button or make a mistake in calculations. What do we see now? Jungles are 'eating' a beautiful city. This is the price we pay for one man's mistake.
However, the future of the dead town is doomed. The idea of turning the place into a museum is difficult to accomplish - radiation inside the buildings is higher than outside. Abandoned buildings are in emergency condition - heat and frosts gradually make them fall apart. Visitors are asked not to come close to the walls and windows, as a tile or a piece of wall can come down at any moment.
The State agency on alienation zone control is now considering what to do with Prypiat. Deputy head of the agency Dmytro Bobro told journalists that the majority of buildings would be demolished and buried. The open museum has maximum ten years of life - for this time all houses will completely collapse.
However, for today these are only talks, and Prypiat continues its existence and keeps attracting people, who often damage the town more than natural processes.
Last year the authorities banned people from visiting the place not for nothing. President of the public organization "CenterPrypiat.com" Oleksandr Syrota told the press that evacuated residents of the area used to be allowed to visit the place during the period from April 29 - May 9 (commemoration days). The entry procedure was simple - show passport and go. Obviously, anyone who would take the trouble used the opportunity, including teens, whose presence in the area can be characterized only as "orc invasion". Last spring drunken teens sprayed the walls, burnt fires and broke everything they could reach, thus the authorities decided to stop visiting practice.
Accompanied by Oleksandr Syrota and some former residents we took a walk across the town. Our guides shared their memories about the town it used to be - perfect soviet place with schools and kindergartens, a shooting range, pools and a stadium. The Palace of culture still keeps the portraits of formers leaders.
Many 'rarities' have been brought here on purpose for effective pictures, while the true ones have been removed from the floor and fixed so nobody can take them.
One of the former residents refuted the myth on that Prypiat's amusement park was never opened. According to him, children were riding Ferris wheel and carts long before the official opening and even after the catastrophe, when people still did not know about the accident.
After the cross section of Kurchatov and Lenin streets we entered the territory of jungles, where the nature had taken full control over the men.
26 years ago, these bushes used to be large streets, full of life. Now it is the realm of wild pigs, foxes, moose and horses. In the winter the territory is taken over by wolfs.
On the premises of this school our guide Oleksandr Syrota once found a journal with his school grades. The journal though disappeared later. However, it turned out that Prypiat's 'rarities' do not vanish in thin air.
Some years ago, users of forums and blogs dedicated to Prypiat reported that various objects from the alienation zone appeared on Ebay at costly prices.
The users learnt about it from the very administrators of the auction, who were concerned about the lot of three exercise books dated April 1986 and the risks it may bear. The further fate of the books is, unfortunately, unknown.
According to Oleksandr Syrota, the things allegedly from Prypiat keep appearing on Ebay anyway, and nobody knows what drives those people.
However, writing this article the author came across real people, adventurers who visited the zone recently.
Oleksandr and Hryhoriy (names are not real) are fans of the series of books S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (events of the books happen in the post-Chernobyl alternative reality). They admitted to breach the perimeter twice. They took backpacks with food and water, sneaked through a hole in the fence and went travelling across abandoned villages, sleeping in ruined houses and recording sounds of the night. The young stalkers also admitted they could not take sufficient amount of water and at the end of their journeys were taking water right from the local springs and even ate local apples. One of them got poisoned after all, though he does not know with what.
Both men do not worry about legal consequences - maximum what they face is 400 hryvnias fine for illegal breach. But this year they have found photos of evacuated residents and intend to put them on Ebay.
It looks like similar actions are the question of moral. Social psychologist Oleh Pokalchuk explained us what drives these people. "If there is a product, there is always a buyer. Craze around Chernobyl is of dangerously mythical character, and motives of the buyers are various, including occult interest. Stealing things from the alienation zone is the question of moral and law, not psychology. People are attracted to anything unguarded. As far as there are no victims suffering from such activities, I don't think it is serious."
Nevertheless, it's not nice to realize that people consciously harm the image of the country for the sake of money. Why don't they sell embroidered national shirts or musical instruments? The image of our country has suffered enough because of the Chernobyl.
At the exit from the territory our clothes underwent double examination for radioactivity. It happens sometimes that clothes and shoes must be left right at the checkpoint forever.
The bus underwent the examination as well.
Farewell, dead town!
The visit to Prypiat raised a number of questions. Do we need to keep the real evidences of the nuclear blast horrors for our descendants? Should we let people on the Chernobyl territory? How to control people who bring things out?
However, not so much time left for thinking. Town-museum Prypiat will soon disappear off the face of the earth, leaving these questions unanswered.
Anastasia Pika, photos by Maxim Trebukhov
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