Well. I went there.
Chernobyl and Pripyat! Unbelievable. I’ll have more to say tomorrow, after I actually go inside the plant and get to see some restricted areas. I absolutely cannot wait. Today was good, but it sort of felt like… a prelude to the big event.
I wasn’t disappointed today, but it didn’t feel as impactful as I’d expected, and I think that’s partially because I opted for a group tour the first day, and a private tour the second day. We had to keep to a strict schedule today to ensure we saw everything, which was good, because we definitely saw more than we would have if I’d been allowed to linger like I wanted to. And I think having to “share” the experience with other people kind of took away from it–it’s so meaningful to me, but I didn’t get to really ponder and let it soak in, and so tomorrow will be much more of a chance to experience like I wanted to today.
That being said, the whole experience was utterly surreal. It didn’t feel real. It felt like… looking at pictures of the place, instead of actually being there. Like I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I was really here. After all this time, it just wasn’t possible.
We began at 8 this morning, driving an hour and a half to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (ChNPP). We made a few stops at eerie places along the way; abandoned villages and towns and homes that were left behind literally overnight.
We visited the Duga-3, a massive, over-the-horizon radar installation built in the ’70s that caused the West no end of annoyance with it’s loud clicking noises on radio frequencies. I want to go back and see if I can climb to the top. We’ll see how that goes tomorrow. It’s 150 meters high…
Then we arrived at Chernobyl. I’ll keep this brief and down to first impressions, since I’ll be going into it in much greater detail tomorrow. It was astonishing. I first caught sight of the massive “New Safe Confinement” shelter, or the new “sarcophagus”–a silver dome that looks like nothing so much as a huge airplane hangar. Then Chernobyl itself came into view. The unfinished cooling towers for reactors 5 and 6 were visible first, and then the ventilation stack. The original red and white one was removed in 2013, but this new one does the same job.
The place looked like a dream; like I was looking at a just a model of Chernobyl, and not the real thing. It was beyond belief, literally. We circled around and arrived at the famous area where most people take their pictures, with the memorial to the men who died there putting out the raging inferno on April 26th, 1986.
Construction crews crawled over the structure, hastily (but carefully) putting together the final tomb of the monster reactor that claimed so many lives. We didn’t stay long.
We then moved into the town of Pripyat. It’s a ghost town, quite literally. I felt the ghosts of the old inhabitants all around me, haunting the decaying structures they once called home. Peeling paint, crumbling bricks and mortar, grey hallways filled with brown leaves and magazines and newspapers and all the trappings of a life once rich and now totally forgotten. Well, nearly forgotten.
Pripyat didn’t feel real either. We just sort of showed up, and there it was. But it’s not like the pictures you see. The sprawling apartment blocks and huge communist styled buildings are totally obscured by a forest overgrown its boundaries, reclaiming what man was too careless to keep. Seriously–the buildings are like ghosts themselves now, slowly disappearing into the wilderness. You can’t see them from more than 20 feet away, the trees and undergrowth is so thick. If you were out for a stroll, you might very well miss them all. Tomorrow I’ll be going back for a better look, to check out some less famous places than the “gas mask” and “book” room.
What an amazing, crazy, upside down world this is.