Present-day radioactive Galapagos Islands to the biologists working in the area, Pripyat was once home to about 50,000 people who had dedicated their lives to the possibility of a working nuclear power plant. It is situated nearly 60 miles north of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. A cultural center, a musical theatre, and various abandoned schools now populate the ghostly town. Apartment buildings have given way to botanical wildlife as they climb ever higher to reach the sun, giving the empty homes a very Hollywood-Scary-Cabin-In-The-Woods atmosphere.
That is too insensitive a take on the reality on-ground. This closed town housed several young, thriving families, none of them prepared for the horrifying turn their fresh lives would take. Evacuated in the course of two days, many Pripyat dwellers succumbed to radioactive illnesses, and rescuers died from burns that the doctors did not have the resources to treat. The disaster of Chernobyl is one that remains in the hearts, and skin cells, of many alive today.
The Myth, The City, The Legend
Pripyat was the ninth of its kind. Planned as a closed city, only for use by those authorized to work in the nuclear stations, it was founded in 1970 and officially proclaimed a city in 1979. It was home to many educated individuals, all of them eager to use their skills towards employment in the various opportunities that the town had to offer. As small as it was, Pripyat was a very successful city. Not only did the city boast more than enough schools, but it also ensured a smooth transportation system with the Yanov railway station, and more than a hundred and sixty buses operated around the city.
One of the most iconic Pripyat pictures features an abandoned Ferris wheel and comes with its own tragic back story. A park meant to be opened four days after the disaster, the Pripyat Amusement Park was sadly never used, although manufacturers responsible for the rides have created other similar parks around the once Soviet Union.
Not all of Pripyat’s buildings hold innocent, upsetting tales – the Jupiter Factory is an intriguing instance of military mystery. Designed to cater to the educated folk dwelling in the area, it was built as a branch of the Kyiv factory and apparently manufactured cassette recorders and other home appliances. Keyword: Apparently. What the larger public was not aware of, though, was that the factory was in fact used for experimental semiconductor components for the army.
The factory continued to be of use even after the Chernobyl incident when scientists used the building to test decontamination methods and the like. In 1996, the Jupiter Factory was abandoned and has remained so. With radioactive levels soaring through the roof – quite literally – it’s probably better off on its own.
The Brutalism of Pripyat
When analyzing the buildings of the city, one cannot help but notice the very cold, very Russian, use of hard concrete. The Palace of Culture Energetik holds a playful façade with piloti-looking mullions framing the fenestration, almost as if the structure is being bound together and held tight through the use of these solid elements. The Azure Swimming Pool betrays similar intentions; there is a strong exterior keeping the pool in place. A sharp angle visually dissects the outside, converting the window panels into a collective opening that threatens to devour the outside.
The kind of architecture on display is referred to as Soviet Modernism and was designed on the dreams of Ukrainian engineers advancing in the technological sciences, especially with the need of outdoing their worldly rivals. The apartment towers were created using prefabricated concrete blocks and promised residents the hope for a greater meaning to their existence. For a Greater Russia, for want of a better phrase.
The existence of cities such as Pripyat is a testimony to the extremes humans can go to when they aim to achieve bigger goals. Built solely to serve the nuclear power plant, allowing entire families to live in a town deliberately planned far away from normal cities seems slightly reckless. There are, however, still people who choose to live in the Zone of Alienation, with a few novelists daring enough to sneak into the city for illegal documentation.
All is not as bad. The site of our Roaring Reactor no. 4 is now soon to be home to Ukraine’s first solar farm. Scientists and researchers continue to use the site for explorations regarding the aftermath of the explosion, as well as the healthy natural habitat that has grown around the buildings, absorbing radiation from the soil. The humid, continental climate seems to collaborate with the high radioactive energy levels to give the flora an interesting spice for life, and there have been reports of plants that seem to “glow” during certain times of the day.
As comical as Homer Simpson downing a nuclear bar looks, Pripyat has proven that nuclear instability is no joke. So, while one of the biggest disasters of humankind – and an incredibly daring experiment at that – gave us more problems than anyone foresaw, it also instilled in humans a more empathetic outlook. Where the 1900s were mostly about an unethical means to better the rate of production, the new century has helped many move on from the obsessive capitalist tendencies that ended so many beautiful lives.
As we move forward, we learn that the placement of a structurally unsound dome over the remains of the Chernobyl mistake is no solution, and that, sometimes, there really is such a thing as having gone too far.
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