Archive for Ukraine

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.]

September 2: Kiev

Posted in Kiev, Pirogovo, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , on November 5, 2016 by Amanda

I got a bit of a late start this morning and didn’t leave my hotel until nearly 10 am.  I took a taxi to Pirogovo which is an open air museum of village buildings from across Ukraine; it was located at the edge of the city.  I had considered getting a driver for the day to take me to some actual villages in the countryside but the cost was more than I wanted to pay.

Pirogovo was an interesting enough place to visit though I’d been hoping that there would be English-speaking guides available at the entrance which apparently happens according to Tripadvisor but there were none.  There were basic English signs but more would have been helpful.  It was quite spread out but the blisters weren’t bothering me by this point so I didn’t mind.  Other than a handful of school groups, the place was pretty quiet.  Most of the buildings (houses, churches etc.) were from the 16th to 18th century but there was also a section of homes from the 1960s and 70s.  Only a few of the buildings were open inside.  The souvenirs here weren’t here in price than anywhere else, surprisingly.

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Inside one of the newer houses.

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An old church.

After resting at my hotel for a bit, I went and randomly walked around the city a bit more.

September 1: Chernobyl

Posted in Abandoned buildings, Administration building, Apartment buildings, Chernobyl, Ghost towns, Kiev, Parishev, Playground, Pripyat, Self settlers, Stores, Summer camp, Taxis, Train, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2016 by Amanda

This morning we again headed to Pripyat.  The first stop was a store with a yellow phone booth in front of it.  This store had several locked locks but, of course, there were other ways in!  This store still had several cash registers and a piano amongst other debris.  A lot of the ceiling tiles were in pristine condition.

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Store with the yellow phone booth.

After that it was the administration building.  I found a 1995/1996 calendar so this building was probably used to around that time.  There were also a few interesting signs but this building was mostly empty.

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The 1995/96 calendar.

I then briefly looked at a small playground near some apartment buildings and separated by a street.  One part of the playground looked a bit like a UFO.

I looked around one of the apartment buildings for a bit.  It seemed to be a less-visited one but there was evidence of squatters in one of the apartments with intact windows.  This building had quite a variety of wallpaper left in it.  There was also a fair bit of furniture and some of it was in pretty good condition.  One apartment had a chair that matched the wallpaper.  Of course, I also found a piano!  I definitely could have spent more time here as I didn’t even approach the upper floors.

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Matching chair and wallpaper.

Then it was off to the former liquor store that now holds a number of pianos from a neighbouring apartment building.  Some of the pianos still work!

After leaving the city of Pripyat for the final time, we went to look at trains.  I would have liked to have seen the actual train station but that wasn’t allowed.  There were also some tanks there but we were told not to touch because of the high radiation.  There was also some wood cut from the red forest and definitely didn’t look normal!

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Wood from the Red Forest.

After lunch, we headed to the village of Parishev to meet a well-known self-settler named Ivan Ivanovich.  To get there we had to go past a guard booth on one road where the actual gate was actually located around the corner on a different road and had to be moved manually.  This village still has an operating fire station which serves a large area and several self-settlers but Ivan is the only one who welcomes visits.  On Thursday, we were his first visitors that week but he’d had four groups visit the week before.  The village has a number of houses and a former bus shelter.  Some of the roads are getting a bit overgrown though.  The levels of the radiation in this area are the same as most places outside the zone.  He evacuated but returned about a year after the disaster.  His wife died a few months ago and he seems a lonely and sad now.  He was upset that his television wasn’t working when we visited; hopefully, he managed to get it fix as I can see how important it would be for him.  He showed us he (non-working) car from the 1950s which he keeps in his garage.  We also had time to briefly look at another (abandoned) house in the village.

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Ivan showing us his car.

We then headed to a children’s summer camp.  It clearly had been visited in a while as there was a tree blocking the road.  I think I would have loved this place as a young child.  Quite a few of the cabins were painted with children’s illustrations.  The place had a very peaceful feel and was located near the river though trees now block the view.  Liquidators stayed here during the aftermath of the disaster.

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One of the cabins.

We arrived back at Kiev’s train station in the early evening.  The taxi system is definitely weird.  It is much cheaper to call a taxi which our guide did for us.  There were plenty of taxis there but we had to wait for specific ones and it was rather chaotic.  You’d think this would be a place to have a taxi stand.  Anyway, I arrived at my hotel without incident though the driver was definitely crazy.

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 30: Chernobyl

Posted in Abandoned buildings, Amusement park, Apartment buildings, Chernobyl, Culture centre, Ghost towns, Kopachi, Post office, Power plant, Pripyat, School, Supermarket, Swimming pool, Travel, Ukraine, Vacation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2016 by Amanda

After a brief stop at Pripyat’s sign which is a bit outside the place, we had another very small checkpoint to go past and then we were surrounded by tall buildings which have become rather obscured by trees.  It is amazing how overgrown things have become.  We spent pretty much all day in Pripyat and only saw a tiny portion of it.  Until the disaster, Pripyat housed around 50,000 Chernobyl Plant workers and their families.  It is definitely different from other abandoned places I’ve visited as there were many tall buildings (some as high as 16 storeys) and facilities (eg. swimming pools) you’d never find in regular ghost towns.

The first building we entered was one of the 16-storey apartment buildings.  There was a small children’s library on the first floor.  The city of Pripyat had a children’s library in each district.  From the roof of the building, we had a nice view of the city as well as the power plant.  About half the way to the roof, you have to go outside before entering the next flight of stairs.  The apartments seemed on the small side to me but were apparently considered very large and nice by Soviet standards as each apartment had both a bathroom and a kitchen whereas it was quite common in other places for those to be shared among several families.  I explored a few floors of the building.  Of course, many of the apartments were largely empty as people have pretty much stolen everything of value over the years but I did find a few interesting things.  I think my favourite finds were a piano and a photo of a man.  I came to find a surprising number of pianos during this trip; this was probably because they were so heavy and difficult to move rather than because they were abnormally common there.  I also really liked the doors to a lot of the apartments which were covered in padding to help mitigate noise.

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A piano in one of the upper floor apartments.

Next we headed to an amusement park.  It was scheduled to open on May 1, 1986 but because of the disaster on April 26 it never opened.  I hadn’t expected it to be small and right in the middle of the city but it is!  As the bumper cars are somewhat high in radioactivity I didn’t set in one.  It looks like several of the bumper cars are missing but, other than one sitting along a road, who knows where the rest ended up.  I did sit on the ferris wheel though!

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Sitting on the ferris wheel.

A very short walk away was the culture centre.  It was quite large.  It contained a boxing ring, a small swimming pool, a gym, a small and large theatre, dressing rooms, and a variety of unidentifiable rooms.  There were lots of interesting signs and murals too.

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Inside the culture centre.

Another short walk away was the supermarket and a restaurant.  The two-level supermarket (which sounds like what is called a hypermarket in the UAE) was only the second supermarket in the entire Soviet Union after one in Moscow.  They sold exotic things like oranges!  When the store was open groceries were sold downstairs while furniture was sold upstairs.  Now what is left of the furniture is also on the ground level.  It seems weird that people went to the work to move it but not actually take it away.

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The supermarket.

We had lunch at the workers’ cafeteria at the power plant.  The food was actually pretty good and it was a lot quicker to head there than to go all the way back to the hotel.

We then went to the see the big catfish near the power plant.  I initially thought that this might not be terribly interesting but they were truly gigantic like sharks or river monsters or something!  It was difficult to get pictures of them as they quickly disappeared after eating bread.  While one might assume that they’re some enormous because of being radioactive mutants the true is simply that they have no natural predators.

We then headed over to look at the outside of the plant and of the new sarcophagus which should be completed by the end of this year.  This was one of the few places were there were restrictions on what we could photograph.  We could photograph reactor #4 where the disaster occurred and the new sarcophagus but not the (rather boring) looking building in between them.

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Where the accident happened.

We then headed back into Pripyat and visited a kindergarten (daycare).  It was a large one and had about 300 students.  There were lots of classrooms and nap rooms.  There were plenty of beds and toys around and quite a few posters too.  To see the second floor you either had to walk on the roof between sections of head downstairs and then back up another set of stairs.  I didn’t have time to see the whole building but I did see quite a bit of it.  The second floor was definitely in worse condition than the first floor.

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Inside the kindergarten.

Then we headed to a building housing a huge swimming pool as well as a gymnasium.  I was shocked to discover that the pool was in use until 1996 (ten years after the disaster) and they only stopped using it because of financial reasons.  I’d always assumed that after the disaster Pripyat was totally abandoned but that was not the case.  While people stopped living in the city a few buildings were used into the 1990s and the laundry is actually still in use today.

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The swimming pool.

Another very short walk led to School#3.  It was a fairly large school.  It’s cafeteria is filled with gas masks.  On the second floor, I found grass growing through some of the floors.  Some of the classrooms were pretty intact while others were totally trashed.  The physics lab, for instance, was in not too bad of shape.  There were quite a few desks and lots of signs including propaganda.  I found an area with lots of books on the floor and was told this is where the library was but I couldn’t tell which room had been the library and none of the rooms was all that large.

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Some of the many gas masks in the cafeteria.

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The physics lab.

We then headed to the post office.  There was less to see here but there was a really cool space mural in there.

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Space mural in the post office.

After leaving Pripyat we stopped at a small kindergarten in Kopachi.  This one would have housed less than 50 children but at this one they lived here during the week and only went back to their families on weekends.  This type of kindergarten was apparently common in the Soviet Union and our guide’s sister had attended one.  The rest of the village was bulldozed after the disaster.  This village is very close to the power plant.  The kindergarten itself is safe enough but there are hotspots literally right outside the building.

I found Pripyat to be almost completely unrecognizable when compared to photos taken when the city was inhabited.  I think one could spend weeks here and not see everything in the city.  I really can’t even imagine how rushed the one-day tours of the zone must be!