After leaving the Technical College I headed back towards the centre of town, I had covered most of the must see places so far so the plan for the rest of the day was to wander around the town and see what places looked appealing to me.
The first stop was the former Post office, sadly this building is somewhat past south of totally trashed, all the windows have been broken, so the building is very open to the elements and the once suspended ceiling tiles now mostly lie on the ground, very soggy and slippery. It also looks like everything worth any value has long since been taken, as there is now very little to indicate what this place once was, aside from the signs which still hang from the ceiling in areas which may once have been information desks of some form.
The ground floor was very uninspiring and very difficult to photograph as the main source of light into the building comes from where the ‘wall of glass’ once stood, so the further away from this you go, the darker it becomes, so I decided to head upstairs to see if there was anything more of interest up there. Once I got upstairs, sadly it was just more of the same, bits of metal lie on the floor wrapped around piles of soggy ceiling tiles. The only saving grace for the building was the view you got from the windows on the first floor which give panoramic views of the central square which would once have been one of the central meeting points for the residents of the city.
Still feeling less than inspired with this place I headed back downstairs and back into the main square where I checked my map to see what was close by, I found that I was several hundred meters away from Pripyat Music School & Cinema.
I started off by visiting the Cinema, I ended up missing the front door (it was very hard to distinguish between the two buildings as they seem to be technically the same building, although with no link between them) and entered the cinema via what would have been at one time some form of emergency exit and found myself in the main screen room of the theatre.
The room was pitch black, save for the bit of light which was coming through the door I have just entered. I was a bit concerned about how my photo from this room would come out, but luckily I had my flash gun on me, so I set the camera up to take a five minute exposure and proceeded to wander around the room setting the flash off at random times. I was quite happy in the end with how the photo turned out as you can clearly see all the details in the room.
The building itself was quite small and only contained one screen, so after taking a couple more shots in the main screen room, I headed back out into the main entrance hall of the theatre, where I was greeted by something I was not expecting to see, one of the external walls in the entrance was actually a big stained glass window and as I walked into the entrance of the cinema the sun broke through and the stained glass window was lit up beautifully. The window itself was not actually a picture of anything, more just a collection of different coloured triangles, either way, it was a really nice site which I stopped to enjoy for a couple of minutes.
As I was leaving the cinema building I bumped into another explorer, only2eyes who was just making his way back from the hospital site, so I had a quick chat to see what that place was like, apparently there is still quite a lot of medical equipment left in the building, but it was also a huge site and was quite a distance away, so I decided it was probably not worth heading over to see that as time was getting on and I only had about an hour and a half or so left of my time in Pripyat, so I continued on to my original destination of the Music School.
As you approach the music school from the front you are greeted by a huge stone carving on the front of the building, I am not entirely sure what the carving represents as it seems to have many different shapes and symbols on it, but the primary feature is what looks like pipes, possibly organ pipes or pan pipes, I can’t be too sure, but I imagine it took quite some time to create this and it’s a shame that its forever going to be left in this desolate place only to be enjoyed by a tiny proportion of people.
Heading into the building you are greeted with a rather plain looking entrance hall, it’s sadly not as grand as you would expect having just passed the huge carving outside. The strangest thing you see when you first walk through the door is that one of the largest rooms in this section of the building, seems to be formed out of the underside of the main set of stairs, there were several radiators in this part of the building and what appears to have been a large reception desk, so it’s clear that every part of the buildings are put to use, no space is wasted.
I decide to head upstairs as I the main bit of the building I have come to see is the main hall which has the stage and one of the most intact pianos in the whole city.
Before reaching the main hall I pass a side room which is quite bare aside from a piano which is looking quite sorry for itself as it seems to have lost its legs a long time ago. I headed into the room and make my way over to get a closer look at the piano, unbeknown to me, the floor in this room for some reason is not solid concrete like the rest of the floors and as I start to walk across I realise the lining on the floor is starting to slowly slide away from the walls and I can feel myself sinking ever so slightly. I was told that the plan for Pripyat was to never fully close it down until someone died in one of the buildings, so with that thought ringing in my ears, I made a quick retreat back to the doorway and back to safer ground, a picture of the piano from a distance would have to suffice.
I headed down the corridor and entered the last door which lead me into the main hall, right at the top of what was once the seating area, the set up was very much like you would find in any lecture theatre/hall anywhere in the world with levels of benches which got lower down the closer you got to the stage area.
The benches in this area were all made of wood and it was quite clear they were in quite a bad way, all the way down there were signs of where people before me had apparently partially fallen through, so I was very careful whilst making my way down to the stage area to get a closer look at the grand piano.
The piano appeared to be quite a good state of repair, considering some of the others I had previously seen, it had all its legs and the keyboard was still all present. The only problem with the piano appeared to be that the lid had long since been removed and it was covered in dust and plaster from the walls and ceiling.
Sadly the piano overall was long since past being able to play any recognisable tune, but a couple of keys were still in working order. Having the silence of the hall broken by the sound of musical notes was quite odd and made me think again of times gone by in this place, concerts which may have been performed by the students, or people spending many hours rehearsing or learning to play instruments.
It’s sad that all the items which are still left in the area are simply going to slowly rot away, there is no way they can safely be taken away and re-used due to the levels of radiation they have been subjected to, but hopefully the time people spent using these items before they were evacuated has not gone to waste and they have managed to put their talents to use in some way.
The last place I decided to visit was Cafe Pripyat. The cafe sits on the banks of Lake Pripyat and is one of the most visited places in Pripyat (even though it lies outside of the perimeter fence which you are supposed to stay within) due to the fantastic stained glass windows which look out onto the lake.
Although now very overgrown you can still imagine the hustle and bustle around this area before the evacuation, couples meeting up on the deck at the back of the cafe to watch the sun set over the lake or families walking around the lake through to people gathering for a quick drink before attending a football game at the stadium which was just up the road.
Much like many other popular areas within Pripyat, the cafe seems to have suffered its fair share of damage and vandalism over the past twenty five years, a lot of the windows are now smashed and much of the floor is now lined with moss (moose..must not lick!) and a lot of the furniture left in the building lies scattered around in pieces.
Strangely though, whoever has caused this vandalism over the years has, for whatever reason decided to leave the stained glass windows alone as they are all still in one piece. Sadly I was not able to appreciate the full beauty of the stained glass as the sun had once again been replaced with a constant drizzle, but I am still glad I got to see the windows in person.
Time was quickly running out now on my last day in Pripyat, so I decided to make my way back towards the centre of town and eventually back to the coach for the trip back to the power plant. As I was walking back towards the centre of town I had a real odd feeling of Déjà vu, although I had never been to this part of the city before it still seemed very familiar, then it struck me, the place where I was standing was the site of one of the levels featured in the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R, in the game this area was portrayed as a big car park (it was one of the later levels just before heading to the power plant where there is a lot of activity from helicopters in the air).
As I was making my way through this area I noticed a number of odd drawings on some of the walls of the buildings, the drawings appeared to be like little silhouettes, about three feet tall, portraying people doing things, like playing with balls, running, or just casually leaning on railings, I am not sure who the artist is who drew them, but there loads of them, as soon as you start to notice them and start to look out for more of them, you start to see that they are on almost all of the buildings in and around the central area of the city.
The last places I went to on my way back to the meeting point were firstly the amusement park as upon reviewing my photos the night before, I discovered that my initial set of photos of the Ferris wheel were somewhat ruined by the whitewash that was the sky of the previous day.
After re-shooting the amusement park I returned to the centre of culture as on my first trip I had not been able to find the old boxing ring, again I was unable to find the boxing ring, but I did manage to see some areas of the building I had missed on my first visit, including another room with a sea of books on the floor.
As I was leaving the centre of culture for the last time, the silence of the city was once again broken by the familiar honk of the coach calling us all back to the meeting point for our final journey back to the power plant.
As I got to the coach and was about to board, the guard looked up and across at me, pointed to my clothing and waved me off, I looked down and it still looked like I had collected half the contents of the floor from the ‘gas mask room’ in the school and was trying to take it onto the coach, so I dusted myself off and after a couple more attempts I was finally (and by the look of it reluctantly) let back onto the coach.
It was only when we sat down that we realised just how big the city was and how much walking we had done over the past eight or so hours. We were told a story about a group of people who were allowed unprecedented access to Pripyat a couple of years previously, they were allowed into the zone from 8am until around 7pm one day, but by about 5pm most of the group were back at the meeting point wanting to get back on the coach for a sit down! The only way I can describe it is to say, think about constantly walking around your town centre for eight hours straight, whilst having to constantly walk over debris of one form and another on the floor, it soon takes its toll on your feet.
The last stop for us before we headed back to the power plant was a quick five minute photo opportunity at the now very famous 1970 Pripyat sign, then it was time to board the coach once more, to face the radiation checking machines at the power plant and then our last trip with the power plant workers back to Slavutich.
The five days I spent in the Ukraine will be five days which I will never forget, the sights and sounds were sometimes breathtaking, other times very thought provoking but when combined will forever hold fond memories.
It was not just the time spent in the zone which made for a memorable trip, it was also the ‘down time’ spent with 39 likeminded people and the associated friendships which were made with people from all over the country, friendships which I hope will carry on for many years to come both in person where possible and also via the forums and social media sites which we are all part of.
So, a big thank you to my fellow explorers, including The Littlest Jellyfish, Tweek, Hidden, HappyShopper, Fishbrain, Konio-nt (our fantastic translator and guide throughout the trip), SarahShaw, Ghost, 2wid, WB, Revelation_Space, Sho, Muttley, only2eyes, Oldskool, The-Plethora, tablets, SeveredFrequencies, Liam, f/b, Keitei, Suffolkbha, greenhac, Louko (apologies for the names I have missed off!)
Last but by no means least, Ric, Marec and the guys at Strefazero for organising this experience.
See you again in 2012 Pripyat!