Our last full day in and around the Zone started much like all the previous days, with breakfast in the Slavutich restaurant, although on this morning it was not happening for me. The previous night ended up being a really late and very drunk night with some of my fellow explorers including, HiddenShadow, Oldskool, Tweek, Tablets and Sho. After enjoying the delights of very cheap beer for most of the night (around 70p for a 4 pint bottle of beer), we discovered that black Russians were also very cheap and there was much change left over from £10.
The night was thoroughly enjoyed, but the next morning I could not face even going into the restaurant and even smelling the food, never mind eat any of it. It seems I was not the only one feeling this way as the vast majority of the party from the previous night looked like the walking dead that morning. So whilst the majority were having breakfast, I was sat outside in the cool drizzle trying to feel somewhere near normal once again ready for our full day free-roam around the zone.
Supplies for the day were once again purchased from the local supermarket, the supermarket where it appears some of the group were almost barred from, due to mistakenly thinking that carrier bags being offered to them were free, the error was quickly pointed out by the stern looking shop security and things were soon smoothed over and we were soon on our way to the power plant area once again on the workers train.
When we reached the power plant area, we boarded the retro-coach once again and rather than be taken straight to Pripyat, we were first taken to a place that has not often been visited by ‘zone tourists’ in the past, this place was the Buryakovka Vehicle Graveyard.
You hear many stories about how one place or another is one of the most radioactive places in the zone, but the Buryakovka graveyard really does warrant this title. This graveyard is basically the place where all the non-military vehicles which were used during the disaster cleanup period have been taken, where the only option available is to bury the vehicles as the radiation was very quickly soaked up, but is very slow to dissipate.
There is a whole host of vehicles in this area including trucks, cranes, buses and helicopters, over time this vast area has slowly been filled and although it still seems like there is a huge amount of vehicles left awaiting their fate, it is a mere drop in the ocean.
We had been told outside the power plant to interact with the ground and surroundings as little as possible, but this place was the place you really heed these rules, as we were walking around the vehicles in varying states of rustiness and decay the silent was broken by the screeching of people’s Geiger counters maxing out at the dangerous levels of radiation.
We were only allowed to stay here for about ten minutes before the bus horn was honked to call us back. Throughout the trip so far, there were always stragglers who were late back to the bus and seemed in no rush to board the coach, when the time came to leave this place, it was the total opposite, people were literally running back to the coach, possibly at the thought of the full day we had in the zone, but more realistically it was probably down to fear of being left in the graveyard.
Once all back on the coach we were then taken back into Pripyat itself to begin our full day of free roam around the deserted town, with only three rules, the first to be back at the coach by 4pm at the latest, the second one not to go to the rooftops of any buildings (well, not within sight of the guards who patrol the area) and last but not least, our favourite rule of all to not lick any of the moose.
After that we all split up to embark on our day of exploring, based on our limited time in Pripyat the day before we had all kind of got a bit of an idea of the lay of the land and the places we wanted to see and the group I was with had decided the first port of call was the furthest building to the North of Pripyat, a building known as ‘Fujiyama’, which was an 18-storey building offering views over the whole of Pripyat and of Reactor 4 in the distance.
For one reason or another, I did not end up going here and somehow ended up getting separated from the rest of my group, which turned out in the end to have been one of the best things that could have happened as it allowed me to explore the ghost town of Pripyat for the vast majority of the time alone when often the only thing you could hear was the rustling of the trees when wandering around outside, the occasional howl from wolves which roam around the area, or the breaking of glass as you walked over it when inside the abandoned buildings.
The first building I decided to check out was one of the high schools, namely School #4. It turned out this was not actually the school I was looking for, due to an Inaccurate map, but I had a look round anyway to see what was in there, sadly this school was very empty and trashed, the only features really worth photographing were an old piano and a wall which featured a grand mural, which I assume was painted by the students who once attended the school, the mural itself featured a group of school children in traditional looking Ukrainian dress who appeared to be gathered together to watch a collection of white doves.
After I had finished in the school I ventured back over to the Swimming Pool ‘Azure’, I had found whilst reviewing my pictures the previous night there were some shots which I had missed off (namely a photograph from the top of the old diving board). Whilst in this building I bumped into HiddenShadow and Sho who had also decided to revisit this building and once we were done in there we headed back out and onto one of the most well known and most photographed buildings in the whole of Pripyat, School #3, otherwise known as ‘Gasmask School’.
Technically the room of gasmasks is one of the first rooms you would end up going in, but I ended up heading down one of the other corridors and off exploring other areas of the school (hoping to stumble across the gas mask room).
School #3 was a lot more ‘intact’ than school #4 as there is still plenty of things left as reminders of school days gone by, including abandoned desks in the hall ways, music rooms complete with pianos and discarded sheet music through to gym halls complete with gym equipment which may have been left in the same place for the past twenty-five years (sadly I doubt that very much as people like to position things when taking photographs to allow the images to tell a better ‘story’).
The stairwells in the hall all had external walls which were made of glass bricks, the sun was starting to break through which made for some very nicely lit photos with the sunlight lighting up the rusting banister rails and peeling paint falling off the walls.
I was just starting to think I was never going to find the gasmask room and was heading back to the main entrance to see if I could meet up with anyone who may be able to point me in the right direction, when I turned off a corridor and ended up in the very room I was looking for!
It was once again a very strange moment, it’s one of those places which I have seen countless photos of, but actually being there was a whole different experience. Standing alone in this room with the sound of dead leaves blowing through the door being the only sound to break the silence was quite eerie.
I could only guess at the number of gas masks which littered the floor in this room, but it must number in the thousands, rather than hundreds, each one complete with a small length of hose which came out of the nose and at one time would have attached to a filter.
Many people think these gasmasks are something to do with the reactor and associated accident, but in reality during the times when Pripyat was inhabited, there was the constant threat hanging over peoples head from the ongoing cold war which had been happening in one form or another since 1947 between the Western world and the then communist world, lead by the Soviet Union (for which Pripyat was a part of).
In the centre of the sea of gasmasks was a rather odd feature, some sort of old green till, I guess at one point the school may have once housed some form of shop for students and teachers, but why it is now lying in the middle of all the gas masks is a mystery.
I must have spent a good half an hour in this room alone, taking many shots of this room and by the end of that time, I was thoroughly covered in dust from the floor, probably not the best idea in the radioactive zone, but you really do put thoughts of radiation to the back of your mind when you are in the zone.
Next stop in Pripyat and my final ‘education’ based building was Technical College #8 (yes, Pripyat seemed to be very education orientated and they had twenty+ different schools around the town).
The college seemed to be one of the bigger education buildings in the town and again housed quite a lot of items which had been left since people were shipped out twenty-five years previously.
There were rooms full of books, paperwork on the floor, desks and a number of huge lecture-theatres and gym halls. Oddly enough the windows in this school seemed to have survived a lot of damage and most of them seemed to still have all the glass still in the frames, which made for an unexpected change to the norm in Pripyat. A lot of the corridors in the college were long and quite dark, which made for some nice photos where you would have a long dark corridor with several open classroom doors where the light was pouring though.
I did enjoy the time spent in here as there was plenty to see, but this had ended up being the fourth school based building I had been in that morning and by this time I was starting to feel a little ‘schooled-out’ and decided to head off to see some of the other buildings in Pripyat.