Friday, April 26, 2013

Pripyat,Chernobyl And Exclusion : 27 Years Of The Dead Zone

City of Pripyat,the once closest populated region near the Chernobyl plant,is now an abandoned ghost town.'

               An extraordinary event occurred 27 years ago today on Saturday April 26th, 1986 at 1:23 AM at the Vladimir Iliyach Lennin Nuclear Power Planet which,of course is now known to most people as the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant,in what was then known as the Ukraine SSR, or Soviet controlled Ukraine. And what happened was a test was run at reactor number 4 of the facility which shut all the power down in the reactor which,unlike nuclear reactors in the Western world, used graphite rods rather than water as part of the cooling mechanism. Someone made a mistake.  And a massive surge of power caused the cap of the reactor to explode and an enormous plume of radioactive energy,which from eye witness testimony was an enormous cloud of brilliant colors,to rise into the atmosphere above the plant. The nearest city to this region was Pripyat,which is approximately two kilometers away from the plant and whose residents would've largely been asleep at the time of this disaster.
         Pripyat was what would've been considered in America to be an urban planned community-constructed in 1970 for the employees of the Chernobyl power plant and their families. Because it was not financed by the state, it was somewhat different than other soviet cities. Though similar in construction to typical USSR architectural design of that time frame-consisting mainly of housing projects all built at equal size in accordance with Soviet construction laws of the era, there was also a very whimsical atmosphere in this place. Red and yellow flowers were planted in many parts of the city,as were a number of trees. There were also playgrounds for the children and a park in the center of town with benches-which many of the residents apparently referred to as "Broadway". Only one young woman waking up with her child has seemed to remember seeing the plume as it occurred.
         Firefighters were call in from Pripyat and the area directly around the power plant in order to put out the blaze at reactor 4. These men wore only the standard protection of any fire fighter in a situation with such a massive amount of smoke and dust in the air. By dawn, at least two of these men were taken to the hospital having likely already died of intensive radiation poisoning. What they were not informed of at the time of the fires was that the radiation being put out by the blaze was likely in the area of 3000 to 6000 roentgen units per hour-which guaranteed extremely fast death to human beings. Since radiation decreases some with the distance and time from its release, the local government were not fully convinced on during the morning of the 26th that Pripyat or any of the nearby areas,including the relatively distant town of Chernobyl itself (which is entirely separate from Pripyat) were in any danger.
          What happened then is that lead lined tanks containing government personnel were sent into Pripyat during that Saturday. Families and their children were outside playing in the bright mid spring warmth and sunlight. And a local man asked two soldiers why they were walking with gas masks. He was told because they were having training. Non of the government personal could figure out what they were seeing. Their Geiger counter readings in the city of Priyat were off the scale-registering in the neighborhood of 1 roentgen per hour,which is 1,000,000 times normal back round radiation  The Soviet government  had to make a fast decision on how exactly to act. During the day of the 27'th,enough evidence had been gathered and an announcement was made to Pripyat residence that read as follows: 

          For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating. The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast. For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. 
        It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you. The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order. All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.
         Its been 27 years since these events. Over the years a number of citizens of the Ukraine-in particular residents of Kiev and the outlying towns in the massive exclusion zone evacuated in the days and months after the incident have a high incidents of cancer and other problems attributable to radiation. Many liquidators,a name for the miners and others sent on a massive cleanup mission at the reactor and "biorobots" as they were called,a couple of whom were journalists sent in to document the disaster, where lethally exposed and often died. Due to the awkward flow of information in the Soviet area, a full disclosure of all those who were contaminated and/or killed by radiation from the Chernobyl disaster . Chernobyl apparently derives from a Ukrainian phrase referring to wormwood grass,from which the hallucinogenic beverage absinthe is made. Due to its negative biblical portrayal, some people today apparently associate that term with a curse or a degree of bad luck.
          Since the disaster, the town of Pripyat remains a ghost town in a perpetual state of decay-where trees and other fauna have taken over the area,even to to the point of growing out of the floors of old residences.  Even though a number of looters have plundered the city over the years,including a graffiti artist duo who are no longer allowed into the zone due to being accused of defacing the buildings in Pripyat, the city remains a time capsule-the majority of people's belongings still left where they were on the day of the evacuation. It provides an uncomfortably haunted glimpse into the Soviet era in that country. In 2000 the entire Chernobyl plant was closed down. And plans are underway to earn money for a new protective enclosure for the still highly radioactive reactor 4-to replace the unsafe and aging sarcophagus built there in the late 1980's. A group of residents have even put together a website about Pripyat-offering its visitors a virtual tour of the area and offering a chance for former residents-displaced and scattered all over the Ukraine,Russia and the rest of the world after the disaster, to locate each other.
          Elana Filatova ,an Ukrainian photographer and allegedly (depending on who one talks to) bike enthusiast has created a website based on her journeys through the exclusion zone. This includes many of the villages abandoned,some of which contains a few scatter shot residents of the area,including places such as the village of Chernobyl herself. Her personal testimony highlights an enormous (and mostly rural) region containing both areas indicating normal back round radiation on her Geiger counters,as well as others right nearby that are lethally radioactive in the roentgen range. Because of this indication that fallout fell unevenly in this region,a scientifically curious and interesting phenomenon has occurred. Hundreds of wolves,wild horses,bores and numerous bird species-heavily hunted when humans populated this region,have returned en masse in into this area that will be excluded to human beings for millennia. 
          As for myself,and I'm sure many people reading this, I knew little of the particulars of the Chernobyl disaster and the lost city of Pripyat until a random YouTube search for famous ghost towns. Through the cult video game Stalker and the recent horror movie Chernobyl Diaries,there has been some attention towards it. But the more I learn about the Chernobyl exclusion zone, the more I feel people could learn about the preservation of our planetary environment from further study into this region of the world rendered uninhabitable due to human error and arrogance as to our ability to harness an energy far beyond our comprehension-even for peaceful means as was intended in the Chernobyl plant. And of course this is dedicated to the selflessness of the firefighters and liquidators, who sacrificed their good health,often their lives, to help save Europe and much of the planet from further contamination from Chernobyl's compromised reactor 4, on this 27th anniversary of this very significant event of human history.

          This captivating film made in the late 1980's actually showcases how radition in Pripyat in the day of the evacuation was strong enough to be shown on the film as white burn marks and spectral "ghosts" in the sky behind the abandoned buildings of the city.

           Touching musical tribute to the firefighters who sacrificed themselves following the explosion at the power plants reactor 4.

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