May 11, 2010

Ghost Towns.

The title above has a certain uncomfortable feel to it. However, it doesn't refer to actual haunted towns, but rather to abandoned cities. They exist all across the world; eerie places that once flourished and functioned like any other settlement, but are now deserted and utterly devoid of any life.

The reasons why a town becomes a ghost town are numerous. It could be due to the collapse of its infrastructure, failing economic activity due to epidemics or relocation of its inhabitants, or due to natural or human-caused disasters such as a flood, government action, uncontrolled lawlessness, or war.

One ghost town that intrigues and haunts me more than any other has to be Pripyať. It is located in the zone of alienation, in northern Ukraine. The tragic story linked to this abandon city is well known.

Founded in 1970, Pripyať was to house the workers that were employed at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, located near the towns vicinity, then in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. First officially proclaimed as a city in 1979, it was home to some 50,000 people, right until that fateful spring night almost 25 years ago.

On April 26, 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl plant had a meltdown. This incident is commonly referred to as the Chernobyl Disaster. The resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere, spreading radioactive material over an extensive geographical area, including large parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, and Northern Europe. Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated, with over 336,000 people resettled. A complete abandonment of Pripyať took place first on the second day after the incident, severely effecting the health of its inhabitants. No one was ever allowed to return, thus the city is now a ghost town.

I remember that day very vividly. Or rather the few days after. They were beautiful spring days in Sweden, coinciding with a weekend and most Scandinavians were outside, enjoying the sun. Including my family, quite oblivious to the fact that we were being hit by radioactive dust.



There are several factors about Pripyať that move me in an uneasy way. The obvious is the extend of the terrible accident, that even today is not under control. The ultimate sacrifice by the many workers who gave their life when participating in the initial clean up and the horrid conditions they had to work in. The tragic fate of their families and the effects still seen today in their descendants.

But even more perhaps it is the town itself. It reminds me of my childhood. I grew up in towns in former East Bloc, in very similar housing conditions as those seen on the many famous photographs. Concrete ghettos, the only way we knew how to live. I attended similar schools as the one that remained until very recently in Pripyať , sitting in similar school benches, attending similar activities as the children of this former communist city. Seeing that famous Ferris wheel, that now stands abandon and withered like a silent witness to a life that once flourished, sends shivers down my spine. Never used by children, it was about to be opened a few days after the incident, yet it looks so ancient today.

They say that the Chernobyl Disaster was in a certain way a catalyst to the fall of communism, which came later that decade. Today most of the countries in the former East Bloc have changed beyond recognition. New generation is growing up, with no recollection of the past and the traces of the old regime can not be seen anywhere.

In some way, Pripyať is a snapshot of a moment in time. The only city preserved in a haunting way, showing us what once was. A ruin of a not so distant past, a sad memorial to innocent lives lost, a symbol of human imperfection, a political system gone wrong and a piece of European history; all in one...

32 comments :

Sandy at Teacup Lane said...

A powerful post Zuzana. And a tragedy. Thought you may enjoy reading about a ghost town here in PA - Centralia. We drove by it one day - just on the outskirts - and saw empty home lots with the curbs and roads still there. But many roads are barricated. They fought closing this town for 47 years and spent 40 million dollars fighting it.
Link: http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm

Rajesh said...

Very interesting post.
There are instances people spread such rumors, when they think the place has hidden treasures from the past. They want to restrict the access to others, so they can unearth everything for themselves.

Brian Miller said...

an intriguing bit of history you resurface today. i have read about the town. empty towns are scary places...this one a sobering reminder

Mr. Stupid said...

I have read about the Chernobyl disaster. I even saw a documentary once. Many people lost their lives and the evacuation resulted in loss of money and family members.
Well written post.

Have a good day!:)

MelRoXx said...

A remarkable post, Zuzana. I'm always expecting something to think about when I come to your blog, and you never disappoint me. The words you used in this post were powerful. Reading your blog is like reading a history book or something! :)

What a tragic incident :(

Rustique Gal said...

Zuzana, What a touching tribute to a ghost town and its' past. I have lived with TV snapshots, but had forgotten the name of the town. We in the US were horrified by this, but I think many of us soon forgot the consequences and how widespread they were. We must never forget! It's time to nurture the earth and it's people. Time for controlling the damage we do and turning back to a healthier way.
Thanks for reminding us!
Have a great day-Enjoy Spring.
Sherry

sallymandy/bluekimonostudio said...

Fascinating and moving story, Zuzana. Thank you for sharing the story of Pripyat and your own experiences in an Eastern bloc country. These are especially meaningful to me as I have never been to the places you're describing. xo

Paul C said...

Very interesting. How ironic that it happened on April 26 as spring is blossoming. So sad about the community and the workers involved in the clean up.

Reasons said...

Yes very powerful and good for you for reminding us all of that terrible time. I remember some of the children came to the UK for holidays to help them breathe some cleaner air and my sister in law took a child in for two weeks.

GYPSYWOMAN said...

what a magnificent homage to all those innocents impacted upon! such a powerful and poignant story told so beautifully by you, zuzana - i remember the time of chernobyl - the whole world cried that day! thank you for such a gentle reminder of what we all have lost and have yet the potential to lose through our own governments - wonderful post!!!

Donna said...

Interesting post, Zuzana. Eerie and very sad.

Hugs,
Donna

Sharon Lovejoy said...

and this could so easily happen again, dear Zuzana. It is beyond sad and frightening.

We live quite close to Diablo Canyon, which sits on an ACTIVE earthquake fault. Why do I live here half a year? Because my family is here and in case of a disaster I want to be there for them.

I am so sorry for what humans have done to our precious earth and sea. Shameful, but we can all do our heartfelt best to make some changes and to make a difference.

Sending love,

Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

Jacki said...

I, too, am intrigued by ghost towns...wondering who lived there and what did they do on a daily basis. I became aware of Pripyat about a year ago, Peter came across a link with some pictures. It was extremely interesting to me, but sad at the same time to think of what those people went though.

Thank you for sharing this bit of history with us!

Zuzu said...

My heart aches from all the loss from the Chernobyl disaster and this most recent oil spill in the Gulf. My hope is that these events will help push renewable energy forward.

Here Hubby and I are, living simply with the sun and the wind providing our electriciy. It was not expensive (it couldn't be, because we live on very little) and we installed it all ourselves.

I joke about 'living backwards' - living life simply, but it's really no joke. So much of what our ancestors did is truly a better way to live life.

Thank you for this post on Chernobyl, Zuzana. If the world studies and reflects on our mistakes from the past - we'll have the opportunity to create a much brighter future.

Claus said...

I have seen documentaries about this town! It is...overwhelming? One can't help but think what would it be like if things had gone the "good" way. During the documentary, a team went back to measure radiation, and incredibly a handful of people around!It was very strange to see the emptiness of the town, yet with a feeling of "lots of people" lived here, and ran out in a hurry.
The one that strikes me the most: Plymouth in Montserrat, another ghost town due to the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano. People there had to be evacuated in the moment...very dramatic and also very touching and overwhelming.
Great topic!
have a lovely day Zuzana!

Vagabonde said...

That is an interesting post. The first time I saw a ghost town I was in Montana, in the mountains – houses left by pioneers. Last year we saw another ghost town in Alaska, left by gold diggers. I just come back from a week spent in Baltimore, Maryland, so I am catching up with your posts again. I like your mosaics and the pictures of your planters. We did the same thing, started new plants on our patio. We had some night visitors though that overturned some of our planters – you can see that on my last post, but the flowers are still growing.

steviewren said...

I remember when the meltdown happened. It was very scary to think about the terrible implications for those poor people and also for the rest of the world.

Cottage Garden said...

A powerful piece of writing Zuzana about such a sad and tragic event. I remember it clearly and was horrified by the impact it had on Chernobyl and indeed the rest of Europe. It certainly gave impetus to the anti-nuclear protestors here in the UK.

When we were in Turkey we visited a 'ghost town' that had been ethnically cleansed 60 years ago and was just standing derelict. Such a pointless exercise in the worst kind of vandalism.

Thank you for this thought-provoking post, dear friend.

Jeanne
x

Hilary said...

What a scary time that was. In some ways it feels like it was much more recent than 25 years ago.. but it also feels like it should have been much earlier than that.

sprinkles said...

I love ghost towns! We have two that we go to once in awhile. There was one we used to go to every summer but we haven't been in a long time. That one isn't really a true ghost town though. There is a very small population who still live there. I love to walk around and look at how people used to live all those years ago.

I didn't know all that about Chernobyl. I would've been in high school back then and because it didn't affect my immediate life, I probably didn't care much.

Thanks for the hug!

Phivos Nicolaides said...

Very nice and interesting to know all about this. Beautiful post as always.

jeannette said...

Sad memories for you dear friend:(

Yes, I've seen the concrete ghettos.

A reign with too much control will fail sooner or later, for man is made to be free!

Radka said...

Ahoj Zuzko. Děkuji za psaní. Já teď nemám moc času chodit na blog. Minule jsem nafotila plno fotek s Matýskem. Musím si najít čas je dát na blog. U nás je květen také velmi studený. Hodně prší. Meteorologové se přou jestli za toto studené počasí může sopka, ahoj Radka.

Stickhorsecowgirls said...

Sobering, indeed. I remember watching this news with horror. Thank you for keeping us reminded. Somethings should never be forgotten. C

Sniffles and Smiles said...

Zuzana, This is an incredibly powerful and poignant post! You have written of this disaster with such a personal touch...and the sorrow in your voice moves me by far more than any of the news reports I have ever read. Thank you for giving us such a personal perspective...Your post has forever changed the way I will remember this event! Love, Janine XO

Absolutely Ladylike said...

Dearest Zuzana...what a tragedy I remember very well like it was yesterday...

And you know what? These images are also reminds me of the place I grew up here in Budapest...

My prayers goes out to everyone who's life was affected by this tragedy...

Hope you're having a wonderful week so far my dear friend.

Cheers: Evi

Ps. We had a pretty cold spring here as well in Budapest, lots of rain...but I guess that's not too bad at all for the nature :-)

swenglishexpat said...

Thanks for reminding me, not! It was a terrible disaster. I was also still in Sweden and remember those days well. Nasty business with tragic consequences.

I realise how long it was since I visited your blog (see my blog for reasons why) because you have changed your photograph yet again! Looks good though.

Sumandebray said...

very well written slice of history. We got an insight into life behind the curtain wall. But there are a se of people now crave for that limited but secured life.....

SandyCarlson said...

Tragic and heart-stopping. Thanks for recalling this moment in history, which is not so far away. We still feel it.

Greener Bangalore said...

Ghost Towns! mmm thats interesting! i think these ghost beliefs are directly connected with our childhood days.....the place and the stories with which you grow impacts the kids thought process even in future...and some of those thoughts get registered in the brain......very nice post Zuzan

Kat_RN said...

A moving post. I remember that quite vividly too. We were living in the UK at the time.
I know what you mean about a new generation, we need to share our memories with them so that maybe they won't repeat the old mistakes.
Kat

Zuzana said...

Sandy, Rajesh, Brian, Mr. Stupid (welcome;), Mel, Sherry, sallymandy, Paul, Joanne, Gypsy, Donna, Sharon, Jacki, Zuzu, Claudia, Vagabonde, stevie, Jeanne, Hilary, sprinkles, Phillip, jeanette, Radka, C, Janine, Evi, swenglishexpat, Sumandebray, Sandy (welcome), Greener and Kat, thank you so much everyone for taking the time to read this somewhat contemplative and a bit sad post about a tragic incident in our immediate past.

I appreciate your own recollections about this part of our modern history and I always cherish your kind visits,

Xoxo
Zuzana