Chernobyl, Day 3 – the wrap-up
As this was our final day, there was no lunch break, and we had a solid day of exploring until about 2pm.
After leaving the rooftop we went to another school. This was Middle School #3. This is the school that you may have seen in other photographs before, with gas masks scattered across the floor. The gas masks are all still there. There was a beautiful old cash register in amongst them too.
The schools of Pripyat had posters on the walls in the hallways, advising students what to do in case of an attack by the United States. Fear during Cold War times was high, but I don’t think anyone would have thought that the city’s undoing would come from within it. There were also other posters, more of the patriotic nature. The next translates roughly to “There is no higher rank in the world than the working man” I think (sorry my Russian is pretty poor).
There was also a copy of Pravda (the main Soviet/Russian newspaper) from January 1986. I wish I could have taken this with me! But that would have just been wrong.
There were so many books littering the hallway of this school. It made me feel sad, that all these promising students had so much to look forward to, and had their lives turned upside down by the disaster – many of whom are undoubtedly suffering from complications to this day.
After this school, we went back to the gymnasium/swimming pool complex we visited on the first day, when we hadn’t been allowed to go inside any buildings. This time we got to see the iconic swimming pool. The bottom of the pool is littered with discarded things. It was clearly a great pool in it’s day; this would have been one of the most state-of-the-art training pools in the Soviet Union at the time.
After the pool complex we headed to the music school and cinema. The cinema was completely trashed, with all but about ten cinema seats gone; everything in the projector rooms had been looted. The place was pitch black. The outside of the music school was decorated entirely in a beautiful mosaic design, less affected by the elements than I thought it would have been. One of the upstairs rooms had a floor that was caving in; completely covered by moss and water. There was a large auditorium, with a badly damaged piano still on the stage. Imagine the concerts that they would have held here…
After the music school, we visited one last kindergarten. I believe that Pripyat had five schools. This kindergarten looked similar to the others – furniture, shoes, toys and dolls everywhere. And a happy-looking Cheburashka.
I was amazed at the number of beautiful murals that were largely intact, having somehow defied the elements. This one below was amazing, the intensity of the colours (I think being in the stairwell away from windows protected it) and parts of it were “raised”, I don’t know how you describe it.. “embossed”? Mostly the pot on the fire. If you click on the picture you can see a bigger version on flickr.
The little shoes and gas masks probably got me the most.
Afterwards we were driven back to Kiev, via the checkpoints to have our radiation levels checked one last time. This time they did a whole sweep of the car as well, to make sure it as well as our camera equipment was okay. By this stage we were used to radiation checks and weren’t nervous at all.
There were two things I regret not getting photos of. Firstly, the memorial beside the road, in between the lunch hall and our hotel, where a white cross has been erected for every person who died as a direct result of the explosion. Nearby, a building is painted with an epic mural of peace doves flying out from an atom(?), with what looks like nuclear rods following it; this is the only picture I could find online, so annoyed I didn’t take one.
So. Chernobyl. One of the places I have wanted to go to most in my life, and now I have seen it. It was moving in a way that I don’t know quite how to put into words; not just the way it affected people and families on an individual level, but how it contributed to the disintegration of the USSR, with a financial debt that has still not been pain off (and with the cost of the ongoing treatment of the site – will it ever be?) It’s a work in progress, still.
When we asked our guide if he or anyone he knew in Ukraine knew anyone who was affected by the Chernobyl disaster, he said “Yes… everyone does.”
x Kitten of Doom