Archive for the Soviet Union Category

September 3: Strategic Missile Forces Museum

Posted in Russia, Soviet Union, Strategic Missile Forces Museum, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , on November 5, 2016 by Amanda

Today I spent more time travelling to and from the destination than actually visit it; it was worth it though!  I went on a tour of the Strategic Missile Forces Museum which is more than three hours south of Kiev.  The tour ended up being cheaper (75 USD instead of 110 USD) as the group increased from 3 to 6 people at the last minute which was a nice surprise.  All of the missile bases in Ukraine were destroyed after the fall of the Soviet Union expect for this one which was kept as a museum but obviously made not to function.  The United States provided much of the money for the closure of the bases; it actually cost significantly more to close them than to build them.  The scary thing is that in Russia that bases with the exact same design are still in use.  When relations between Russia and Ukraine were okay, it was not uncommon for men who worked at these bases to bring their families to show them what it was like where they worked as they couldn’t actually show them their workplaces.

We were very lucky that we arrived a few minutes before a whole busload of people.  As only three or four people can fit in the slow-moving elevator at a time to visit the command centre, we would have literally be delayed for hours had we not gone down first. If they’d launched a missile it could have hit the US in 20 to 25 minutes.  The command centre is located 11 stories down in a tube with sleeping quarters below.  These are the only two levels people can visit.  It was designed for people to stay for up to 45 days in the case of emergency but they neglected to put a shower in!  The stairs between these two levels were kind of scary.

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Part of the command centre.

Outside there were a number of missiles including the type that brought down the Malaysia Airlines flight in eastern Ukraine; I was surprised at how small these missiles are.  There were also much larger missiles there as well as museum building, part of an electronic fence, a launch pad, the guard house with windows but no door, huge trucks et cetera.

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One of the huge missiles.

This place really could improve their souvenirs though.  They had a single cabinet of souvenirs but they could only find the key for half of it and our small group probably half of what was accessible.  The prices were very reasonable too.

I had dinner in Kiev and then bought some more souvenirs before heading back to the hotel for an early bedtime as I had an early flight the next mornings.

[The flights all went well.  I felt great on Labour Day which was a rare day between vacation and work for me but on the Tuesday a cold struck.]

August 31: Chernobyl

Posted in abu dhabi, Apartment buildings, Chernobyl, Cinema, Fire Station, Ghost towns, Hospital, Jail, Jupiter Factory, Morgue, Police Station, Pripyat, Radioactivity, River port, Schools, Soviet Union, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 3, 2016 by Amanda

We began this morning by visiting the morgue.  It was a fairly small, but quite interesting, building located near the hospital.  They also did cremations here.  The morgue was very dark.  There is also a small, overgrown cemetery right nearby; so, a one-stop death experience!

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One of the morgue’s two autopsy rooms.

Then it was time to explore the rather large hospital which consisted of one main building and a smaller building somewhat hidden off to the side.  I think the hospital was my favourite place in Pripyat.  I did manage to see most of it but I moved around pretty fast.  I think one could easily spend an entire day here.  The variance in conditions between different areas of the hospital was almost unbelievable.  I saw an office with pristine medical journals and rooms with unopened, undamaged vials of medicine and perfect-looking pills; conversely, there were hallways that were barely navigable because of all the debris and rooms with grass growing through the floors.  Of course, most areas were somewhere in between in terms of their condition.

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One of the hospital’s less hospitable hallways.

There were plenty of unexpected sights in the hospital including chest x-ray film and a very new teddy bear sitting on a chair which had obviously been left relatively recently.  There was a table were abortions were performed complete with illustrations; abortions were apparently the only birth control option in the Soviet Union.  There were also some very interesting signs and what appeared to be medical records.  In a way I wished I could be read them but on the other hand that would have likely distracted me and I wouldn’t have seen so much of the hospital.

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The chest x-ray film.

The basement was sealed off at some point because it is very radioactive as that is where the firefighter’s clothes were taken off.  There was one piece of quite radioactive cloth in the lobby that we were warned not to touch but otherwise the hospital was quite safe.

Then we quickly visited School #1.  Parts of its roof have collapsed.  I never would have contemplated entering the building alone but the guide knew the safer places to go in.  Still, we were only in there quite briefly.  I was told the roof had collapsed because of a design flaw.  Nevertheless the way things are deteriorating I’m doubtful that the buildings will still be safe to enter in even a few years.

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School #1

Next was a fairly quick visit to another apartment building.  This building had an interesting design where there were a bunch of exterior doors which each led to a staircase inside which led to just three apartments on each floor.  The building also was of surprisingly varied condition.  I wasn’t comfortable interesting some of the apartment because of the state of their floors whereas others were totally okay.  When I left the building, I could still hear the floor creaking and no one was instead the building!

Then we went to see the river port.  This consisted of a terminal, a milk bar (aka snack bar), and a dock.  There were also rusted pop machines outside.  It was obviously once a really beautiful place, especially because of the stained glass mural windows.

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Part of the river port building.

Then I walked over to a building that had a cinema on one side and a music school on the other.  The cinema was very dark.  The music school was only navigable in a certain way as some of the floors were the most frightening I’d seen.

After lunch (at the power plant again) we tried to go the Jupiter Factory but there were some military-type people there so the driver very quickly turned around and we went to the police station/jail instead.  The holding cell there was well-lit but the rest of the cells were in total darkness.  There were some documents in the police station but they were apparently rather mundane (eg. accounting documents).  The important documents were apparently removed before Pripyat was even evacuated!

Behind the station there was a garage where vehicles had been driven onto the roof to prevent them from being vandalized; that was not an effective strategy though!  There were also plenty of vehicles on the ground including one that starts a video game called Stalker; this video game is apparently the impetus for some people to visit Chernobyl.

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Garage with vehicles on its roof.

After a brief stop at the fire station, we were able to go see the Jupiter Factory.  It is not visited often, by tourists at least.  Despite being there for about three hours, there were buildings I didn’t even enter.  There was just a lot to see!  The official story was that this was a factory that made radios.  However, few radios were ever produced and there was plutonium there; so, it really made weapons. The underground secret labs were flooded with water.  This place was in use long-after the disaster (until 1994).I wasn’t initially sure that this place would be all that interesting but it was fascinating and huge; there was much more than just machinery.  There were offices, what looked like at least occasional living spaces, a cafeteria et cetera.  There were also plenty of interesting signs and furniture.  I also found a lot of something called polysorbum which is a medical product used to absorb metals.

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Flooded secret underground lab.

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Some of the furniture in the factory.

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Just a few of the many, many bottles of polysorbum.

August 29: Chernobyl

Posted in Abandoned buildings, Chernobyl, Ghost towns, Russian Woodpecker, Self settlers, Soviet Union, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation, Zalissya with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2016 by Amanda

Today was the beginning of my whole reason for coming to Ukraine in the first place!  I was at the meeting point at the train station quite early as I was paranoid about somehow getting misdirected; I wasn’t the only one though!  I found the other three people in the group but we didn’t find the guide right away which was a little stressful.  On the drive to the first checkpoint (at the edge of the 30 km exclusion zone) we watched a documentary about the disaster.

There were a lot of rules that we had to sign a form agreeing to but a lot of them aren’t enforced most of the time (wearing long sleeves, not entering buildings in Pripyat etc.).

Not long after the first checkpoint we stopped at the “village” of Zalissya.  By my standards it was definitely more of a town and had housed about 2,000 people.  Its last resident, a self-settler, died only about a year ago.  Self settlers were older people who came back to their homes illegally after the evacuation but their presence was tolerated; there were once thousands but as many have now died (of old age) their numbers have dwindled to maybe a couple hundred.  We visited her house that still had clothes in the closet, pictures on the way and such.  There were obviously many buildings to explore here including many houses, two grocery stores, a health clinic, and a school but my favourite was definitely the culture house (basically a community centre).  It had originally be a family’s house (more like a mansion) but had been repurposed by the Soviets; they even changed the founding date on the building!  I think we could have spent close to a whole day here but we all knew that there were much better things to come so we moved on by lunchtime.

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Entrance to the culture house with its Soviet founding date

The town of Chernobyl is actually still pretty active as workers as still housed there; they stay for 15 days and then leave for 15 days. This is where our hotel (more of a hostel really) was; it also has a functioning church and a (very small) store along with quite a bit of housing and some offices. There are also some memorials here including signs for all the communities in both Ukraine and Belarus within the exclusion zone; there are so many!

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Just some of the signs of the former communities with the exclusion zone.

We then headed to Chernobyl’s port where there are some rusting boats.

After that we headed to a huge formerly secret Duga radar station. It was called Chernobyl 2 or by its nickname, the Russian Woodpecker. It is about 900 metres long. It was officially a summer camp. It was down a bit of a rough road and not too close to anything else. While it didn’t take long to look at the radar itself as I wasn’t interested in climbing it, there were lots of other places to explore at the site. I especially enjoyed looking through the medical centre. This was place was the first of a number of places I encountered that had signs of the Olympics back in 1980; the Olympics were clearly a big deal for the Soviet Union. While we were there one group member wandered off and we couldn’t find him for some time which was quite distressing to our guide; it seems that she would have been in big trouble if the police had to search for him. We did end finding him eventually and got through the 10 km checkpoint (our first experience with the radiation detectors) before the 7 pm deadline.

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Just part of the radar

My feet once again felt pretty terrible at the end of the day. After dinner, we headed to a bridge with a nice view of the power plant in the distance.