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Archive for the ‘Pripyat’ Category

After sunny visits to the Jupiter Factory and the Kindergarten “Golden Key” we had some time left before we had to leave the Zone Of Alienation, so Maxim suggested to go to another rooftop. Of course he had to guard the car again, so Sebi, Michi and I went up on our own.
The construction of this building in the city center close to Lenin Square was interesting in that regard that for the first couple of floors the staircase was inside the building, but for the top half we had to go outside on a balcony and then get in again to climb more stairs. Quite weird… and nasty when it was raining, as we experienced on the way down. Furthermore I’m sure sooner or later one of those balconies will crumble (hopefully at a moment when nobody is standing on it) and then the floors above won’t be accessible anymore. Considering the state of the building in hindsight I’m actually not sure if I would go up there again – especially since the roof had huge puddles of water, which I’m sure contribute to the demise of the whole construction. The view was stunning though, no matter in which direction we looked. Seeing how the kindergarten was indeed swallowed by nature was as impressive as seeing the Amusement Park, the Palace Of Culture “Energetik” and Lenin Square at the same time. On the way down I took a quick minute to have another look at some apartments and actually found one with some interior left – in bad shape, but nevertheless interesting. When I left the apartment house at Lazarev Street 1/14 I saw a graffito on a wall at the building next to it – the black show of a girl… and the last photo I took in Pripyat.
Although now as I am writing these lines most nuclear experts agree that what happened in Chernobyl and what’s going on in Fukushima these minutes have barely anything in common, it’s still a weird feeling being only 550 km away from the events that shake the world these days. And I’m actually kind of glad that this is the last entry of my “Chernobyl & Priypat” special. I seriously hope Fukushima will turn to the better and that you, dear reader, will continue to follow this blog when I’m going back to my main topic: abandoned places in Kansai and the rest of Japan.
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)

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It’s a weird situation. Here I am, living in Japan, writing a series about Chernobyl 25 years after the catastrophe – while the nuclear power plant in Fukushima is getting out of control. I actually don’t have anything to add to the discussion as the media and their experts are all over the topic anyways. But since I got many, many messages, not only from family and friends, but also from readers of this blog, I just wanted to say that I wasn’t affected by the quake directly and that my thoughts are with the people suffering from the aftermath of this disaster – especially with everybody involved in trying to save Japan and the rest of the world from another nuclear catastrophe.

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While we were exploring the Jupiter Factory the clouds broke up and the sun came out, changing the atmosphere in Pripyat from gloomy-spooky to “Let’s enjoy a picnic on this wonderful day!”. Sadly none of us brought any food, but I guess there wouldn’t have been time anyways – “Zolotoj Kluchik” (Golden Key), one of Pripyat’s many kindergartens, was waiting for us…
Although quite close to Lenin Square, Golden Key was surrounded by apartment buildings and at the time of our visit, in late August of 2010, mostly overgrown – we even had to push the green aside to get into the building. A building that was in terrible shape.
One of the staircases was blocked by… I actually forgot, some kind of construction that once was screwed to the wall. The place was seriously vandalized, dilapidations were visible everywhere and I’m sure the mold does one last thing to make this kindergarten one of the next buildings to collapse. Dripping water was audible in a lot of rooms and I generally had a bad feeling about the Golden Key. Furthermore I was getting pretty tired, so I was slowly moving from room to room, taking pictures rather randomly here and there.
I remember taking the picture of a doll in one of the rooms, but it was not until I saw it on a computer screen that I realized how powerful the subject was: A naked plastic doll with grey hair, the arms connected to the body only by a thread, wearing a gas mask. Obviously set up by some really weird photographer – a week ago, a month ago, a year ago? Who knows… The scene was definitely staged, but not at all shocking – not anymore, not after 1.5 days in the Zone Of Alienation. Same with the tea party and the rotten piano for kids. Just the metal tank and truck… I knew that picture would look good! Although I actually didn’t realize there was a gas mask lying in the background when I pushed the shutter release.
I strongly recommend visiting the kindergarten early on a tour, not in the evening of the second day – it was an awesome location I didn’t fully appreciate when being there and I’m really happy how good the pictures turned out to be. But I didn’t even take a video. So we left the Golden Key after just half an hour – and at that point Sebi and Maxim were sitting on the sunny terrace for 20 minutes already…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)

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“The next location will be even better!”
Those were the words Maxim used to lure us away from the absolutely amazing Hospital No 126. We hopped into the van and drove to the other end of Pripyat to see… an abandoned factory. Wait. What? A factory? Seriously? A factory? Better than a hospital? No way!
Please don’t get me wrong: The Jupiter Factory was awesome! I’ve never been to an electronics factory that big. But in the end it was just a factory… one of the most common abandoned places in the world. And not even nearly as fascinating to me as Maxim hoped it would be. But I’m not into First Person Shooters whereas a lot of people visiting the Zone Of Alienation are. And for them the Jupiter Factory is one of the highlights since it was a setting in the game “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat” by GSC Game World – one of the most popular FPSs of the last couple of years.
We entered the Jupiter Factory, one of the biggest employers in Pripyat, through the main gate and passed by some administration buildings. Since the site is located at the western city limit of Pripyat nature is taking over the area rather quickly. The streets on the premises were partly overgrown with climbers, some of them even seemed to be some kind of grapes. None of us tried them though, for obvious reasons.
The assembly halls were absolutely impressing – huge constructions with all kinds of machinery still in there. The walls displayed dozens of warning posters and the workbenches were covered with tools and instruction manuals. But like with so many other places in Pripyat there is hardly any reliable information about the Jupiter Factory. It’s known that the plant produced tape-recorders and other consumer products under the label “Mayak”, but of course there are also unconfirmed speculations. Rumors about secret military research and stuff like that in underground laboratories. But since the basement is flooded nowadays it only adds to the mystery…
Which makes me wonder why nobody really tried to write a comprehensive book about Pripyat, at least not in English. Every tiny town in Europe has a local historian that knows every little thing about the surrounding 25 km2 – but Pripyat? It’s surprisingly hard to find reliable information about the city… (I’d love to do it, but with no knowledge of Russian / Ukrainian I don’t think I’d get far.)
Anyways, if the Jupiter Factory would have been my first urbex exploration ever I’m sure I would have been completely blown away and could have spent hours there. Even now that I’m back home I wish I had a place like that nearby. It would be worth to write several postings about it and I could come back at different seasons and during different weather conditions. But when I explored the place I was rather underwhelmed, especially since I had to leave the hospital in a hurry…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)


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Abandoned hospitals are creepy places. It’s kind of in their nature. Like abandoned amusement parks. Hotels, spas, mines… they don’t really get under my skin. Amusement parks and hospitals do – but none of them even nearly as much as Hospital No 126 in Pripyat!
When Maxim asked us on the first day which places we wanted to see, a hospital appeared on top of my priority list instantly. Hospitals are generally hard to find and even harder to access (since they usually are in easy to reach locations and filled with expensive equipment), so this was a great opportunity to explore one in a more relaxed atmosphere. At least that was my hope… sadly it wasn’t fulfilled. Nevertheless Hospital No 126 turned out to be my favorite location in Pripyat.
Although it was still morning we already “lost” quite some time on the Cooling Towers and the Przewalski’s Horses, so we arrived at the hospital way behind the schedule our dear guide has planned for us. As a result Maxim gave us half an hour since “the next location will be even better”.
So there was the time pressure… and then there was the atmosphere that was everything but relaxing. Of all the real places in Pripyat this one was by far the most real. The basement is actually one of the most contaminated places in the world and holds the suits of the first six firefighters that died within a couple of weeks after the accident. Maxim told us that he went down there once with full protection gear, but had to leave after about 30 seconds – something he never wants to do again.
At that point Maxim knew that Sebi, Michi and I were reasonable and responsible-minded people, so he just quickly entered the hospital with us to guide us to one of the interesting floors and then returned outside to wait with our driver. My fellow Swiss explorers headed their own way and so it took about two minutes until I was all by myself. In the maternity ward of an abandoned hospital. In Pripyat. Almost 25 years after the accident. Without the shadow of a doubt the highlight of this trip. We’ve all seen a horror movie or two, played video games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. The hospital felt like being the star in one of those works of fiction. On a very irrational basis – because the place was perfectly safe. It just didn’t look and feel like it…
Thanks to the time restraint I was only able to see one of the floors of one of the departments, maybe a tenth of the building, but it was nevertheless amazing. Almost every room, every corner had something interesting to offer. There were surgical instruments, bedpans, gynecological examination chairs, bathtubs, whole boxes of medicine, posters and signs with medical explanations (including explicit pictures) and much, much more. At the end of the hallway were several rooms with rusty baby beds, a really uncomfortable sight. The lighting that day contributed a lot to the atmosphere and made it very difficult to take pictures – never before I wished more that I had a tripod! Since I was in a hurry I cranked up the ISO and took photos while quickly exploring the rooms along the hallway – and on the way back I filmed about two thirds of the floor with my video camera. Sorry that parts of the video turned out to be a bit blurry, but there was no time for re-shooting; just consider it part of the atmosphere…
Looking through the photos from the relaxed comfort of my home, one of them caught my eye and gave me the creeps, although it’s quite unspectacular at a first glance. It shows an opened up register lying on top of other documents. There are lots of handwritten entries and even without speaking any Russian / Ukrainian I guess it’s pretty obvious what it is: Hospital staff logging in for work at 8am and 8pm on April 24th 1986, April 25th 1986, April 26th 1986 – and on April 27th nobody cared to log in at 8pm anymore… (EDIT: Well, obviously I was wrong – Greg let me know in the comments that it’s actually a checklist for people making sure that locked medicine is still where it should be. Thanks again, Greg!)
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*. If you don’t want to miss the latest postings you can *follow Abandoned Kansai on Twitter* and *like this blog on Facebook* – and of course there is the *video channel on Youtube*…)


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The Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii, Dzungarian Horse), named after the Russian explorer and geographer Nicolai Przewalski, is a rare and endanger kind of wild horse and was first described in 1881 by L.S. Poliakov. The current world population of about 1500 animals are all descendants from nine horses kept in captivity in 1945 (total population then: 31). At one point extinct in the wild Przewalski’s Horses have been reintroduced to their former native habitat in Mongolia as well as to Hungary, China and Ukraine; the latter one offering space for the wild horses in Askania-Nova and the Zone Of Alienation.
On the first day, on our way from the 30km checkpoint of the Zone Of Alienation to Pripyat, Maxim told us how scientists returned several dozens of Przewalski’s Horses to the wild in the late 80s. The Exclusion Zone was already kind of a natural preserve, so the horses did well and their number raised to about 120. Nowadays, Maxim told us with some sadness in his voice, they are a rare sight since their number is down to about 60. Officially they migrated to the Belarus part of the Zone Of Alienation, but Maxim had a different explanation that involved bored militia and rifles…
On the second day, when we were driving from the monument at reactor #4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to do some more exploration in Pripyat, Maxim and our driver all of a sudden had a quick conversation in Ukrainian. Close to a building in the middle of nowhere they stopped the car, got out and pointed to the road in front of us. Przewalski’s Horses. At first I had no clue what they were talking about, but then a horse’s head appeared behind a tree about 80 meters in front of us. The horse was carefully stepping on the street, followed by about half a dozen more. Maxim and the driver (sorry dude, forgot your name!) were really excited, taking pictures with their cell phone cameras. Luckily I had my 18-200mm lens mounted, so I was able to take some quite nice shots of those shy creatures. I’ve never seen wild horses before and it was very interesting to see how they behaved – they kept us under constant surveillance. While some of the horses nibbled on some grass now and then, at least half of them always had their eyes on us, making sure that we didn’t get too close.
Having urban exploration as a hobby I ran into all kinds of rather unusual wild animals before – snakes, boars, monkeys… but the Przewalski’s Horses were by far the most impressive ones. Another experience that took me completely by surprise.
After we got back into the van to continue our way to Pripyat Maxim told us that he hasn’t seen any Przewalski’s Horses in more than three years – and he spends half his life in the Zone Of Alienation as a guide…
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)


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Although Pripyat was a city predominantly inhabited by educated and privileged people of course no city of that size could exist without a police station – it sounds so cliché, but most of the arrested people were accused of alcohol related deeds: making home-brew liquor (samogon, самого́н), driving under influence or being drunk in public. Pripyat’s police station was located at the western end of the town, right across the street from the fire department and in close proximity of the famous Jupiter factory we were visiting the next day. After visiting rather well-known touristy spots like the Swimming Pool “Azure” and Middle School #3 the Police Station was the last destination in Pripyat on the first day.
The Police Station was in as bad shape as the rest of the city, just with more books and files. We were only able to see the ground floor since time was running out and Maxim tried to keep the little group together to guide us through the prison part of the police station which was pitch black; and that’s why this time I’ll have to post some photos taken with flash. When I show people some pictures of my visit to Pripyat I often get reactions like “I would expect screaming zombies charging at me at any time!”. I actually never had that feeling, the whole city reminded me more of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. Especially when walking through the dark prison hallway… You could almost see Winston Smith being interrogated in one of the cells and being tortured in another one. To my surprise I was the only one with those associations: My fellow Swiss travelers had only heard about the book, Maxim had no idea what I was talking about.
The door leading to freedom at the other end of the cell hallway actually released us to the backyard of the Police Station, once used as a repair shop for automobiles. There we found the remains of all kinds of trucks, broaching machines and even small reconnaissance tanks. Being contaminated too much to be used anymore, but not enough to be brought to the official vehicle graveyard, these wheels and chains were left behind to rust away. And that’s what they were doing. At least what was still left after looters removed the actual wheels as well as doors, headlights, wipers and even motors!
(If you would like to know more about my trip to the Zone Of Alienation please *click here* to get to the “Chernobyl & Pripyat” special. For a map of the area please *click here*.)


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