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...
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