Touring The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident Site In 2010
The city of Pripyat was not officially evacuated after the 1986 accident until a day and a half later. The Soviet government attempted to conceal this accident until radiation detectors were set off by this accident in other parts of Europe (Sweden was reportedly the first country to notice the increase in airborne radiation) and news began to spread. Following this, the Soviet Union continued to downplay the nuclear incident and said to the Pripyat citizens that this would be a temporary evacuation. Even when they were evacuated, government and military officials told the civilians that they should be back to their homes within three days. Pripyat was only founded in 1970 as a place to house Chernobyl employees and then forever abandoned following the 1986 disaster.
While a young city on the border with Belarus, at the time of its evacuation, there were roughly 50,000 residents and this number was expected to rise much higher by the early 90's. Pripyat's economy was built around the nuclear power plant, but at the time of the disaster, it was also becoming a hub for railroad and waterway transportation for northern Ukraine. Following the abandonment of Pripyat, the town of Slavutych was founded less than 50 kilometers away to house many of the Chernobyl survivors. While not visited on this trip, Slavutych is now going through its own set of social and economic challenges in recent years since the final shutdown of the Chernobyl plant where many of its citizens worked and much of the town's revenue having come from the power plant. There are still some Chernobyl plant engineers living in Slavutych working towards decommissioning the power station that take the train daily to and from the station.
As Pripyat citizens were quickly evacuated once told to do so by the government, the citizens' belongings are forever left there. Nearly two dozen schools, a hospital, shopping centers, gyms, and many other buildings were all left abandoned. Walking through the town was a surreal experience. Most of the abandoned building you are permitted to walk through as the radiation levels have dropped to more reasonable levels with most doors being jarred open and windows being smashed to avoid pockets of radiation.