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The Great Man-made Famine in Ukraine
The Horrible Story of Pripyat in Ukraine - Tales from History
107    Dibyendu Banerjee    31/08/2022

Located near the border with Belarus and named after the nearby Pripyat River, the city of Pripyat was founded on 4 November 1970 as a nuclear city in the Soviet Union to accommodate the builders of the city, as well as the employees of the Nuclear Power Plant in the adjacent city of Chernobyl. Eventually, it was officially declared a city in 1979 and soon it became one of the most beautiful and luxurious cities in the Soviet Union with a cosmopolitan population of around 49000, consisting of people of 27 nationalities.

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With the projected population of around 75 to 85 thousand people, it had an annual population growth of more than 1,500 people during its prime time, among which about 800 were newborns. Apart from 15 primary schools for 4980 children, a large hospital complex, 4 factories and 25 stores and malls, it also had 10 parks, several cinema halls, three indoor swimming pools, 10 gyms, an amusement park, cafes, restaurants and all the other marks of a thriving community. It also had 10 warehouses that could hold around 4430 tons of goods. The Janov railway station, a pier on the Pripyat River and the modern highways turned Pripyat into a convenient transport junction for the Polissya Hotel, one of the tallest buildings in the city.

horrible story of pripyat
An abandoned School

In the Soviet Union, Nuclear Power Plants were presented as achievements of Soviet engineering, harnessing nuclear power for peaceful projects and the slogan of the ‘peaceful atom’ was popular during those days.

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Unlike the other cities of military importance, access to Pripyat was not restricted, as it was maintained by the authority that the nuclear power station of the Soviet Union are safer than other types of power plants in the world. Initially, it was planned to build the plant only 25 km from Kyiv, but due to the concern of the Ukrainian Academy of Science and some other bodies about the nearness of a city from a nuclear plant, the power station was built in Chernobyl, about 100 km from Kyiv.

horrible story of pripyat
An abandoned School library

Unfortunately, disaster struck on 26 July 1986, during a test to see how much power was needed to keep reactor no 4 operating in the event of a blackout, the reactor exploded. The explosions ruptured the reactor core and destroyed the reactor building, immediately followed by an open-air reactor core fire, releasing extremely dangerous amounts of radioactive chemicals into the air, which lasted until 4 May 1986. Over time, the airborne radioactive chemicals into the air contaminated millions of square miles and deposited in dozens of European nations. The explosion killed two engineers, severely burned two more and during the immediate emergency response, 237 workers were hospitalized, of which 134 exhibited symptoms of acute radiation syndrome and 28 of them died within the following three months.

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Later, The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimated that approximately 30 people were killed by the explosion and related radiation exposure, while over the long term, several thousand additional died of cancer, due to overexposure to radioactivity.

horrible story of pripyat
Inside an abandoned hospital

In response to the initial accident, an exclusion zone of 10 km was created after 36 hours of the disaster and approximately 49,000 people were evacuated from the area, primarily from Pripyat. Located only about three km from the explosion, the entire city was forced to completely evacuate on 27 April within just three hours, which was possible as the city was founded as part of the building plans of the plant. From 1986 until 1988, a new satellite city of Slavutich was constructed to replace Pripyat and accommodate the evacuated employees of the plant, while the abandoned ghost city of Pripyat remained as a freeze-frame of the Soviet Union in 1986.

horrible story of pripyat
An abandoned Swimming Pool

Even more than three decades after the disaster, there is still a lot of radioactive dust in the city, consisting of relatively long-lived radioactive elements. The dust has accumulated in the ditches and has firmly ingested in the soil, trees and houses. The city is now mostly covered with unwanted vegetation and the overgrown trees have turned it almost into a forested area. While the Communist propagandas in tattered condition still hang on walls and discoloured hammer and sickle banners decorate lampposts, personal belongings littered the streets and toys are strewn about a schoolhouse, where they were last dropped by the children. All the clocks in the city are frozen at 11:55, the moment the electricity was cut and the structures in the town are becoming increasingly dilapidated due to the lack of maintenance.

horrible story of pripyat
Bumper cars in an amusement park

Today, the city of Pripyat is turned into a Soviet city museum under the open sky. As the Zone of Alienation is considered relatively safe to visit, several Ukrainian companies offer guided tours around the area. However, to visit Pripyat, Chernobyl and other surrounding villages, one must get a day pass from the government, which can be obtained through those touring companies located in Kyiv.

The Great Man-made Famine in Ukraine
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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