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Should the city of Pripyat be saved?:

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Near the cradles of Pripyat history

Chronicles mention the locality of Strezhev as Chernobyl as far back as 1193: “Prince Rostislav of Vyshgorod and Turov, son of the great Kiev prince Rurik (who reigned from 1180 to 1195), was bound with his take from Chernobyl to Troicisky.”

The chronicles’ writer describes the intricacies of the history of Chernobyl and its many masters in great detail. At the end of 17 century, Chernobyl was property of a Polish tycoon Chodkewicz (Hodkewicz). The Hodkewicz family owned over 20 dessiatina (about 50 acres) of land, until the Russian revolution nationalized all the land in the country. The names the old villages that used to be parts the former Hodkewicz estate: Zapolje, Zalesie, Janуw, Nowosielki, Jampol, Nagorcy, Kopaczy, Mazcew, Zimowiszcze –now stir emotion in all those who ever worked in the Exclusion Zone.

Incidentally, the name of Chernobyl turns up in the history of French Revolution. A 26-years old Polish beauty, Rosalie Lubomirska (neй comtess Chodkewicz), a Chernobyl native, was guillotined in Paris on June 30th 1794 during the Jacobin rule: connections with the queen Marie-Antoinette and other members of the French royal family carried harsh sentences by Revolutionary Tribunal. The events’ contemporaries took note of the fate of the beautiful blue-eyed blond, “Rosalie from Chernobyl”.

The ancient Chernobyl gave its bitter name (“chernobil”, in Ukrainian, is wormwood) to the nuclear power station. There’s a widespread misconception that the two are one and the same; in fact, in the years preceding the disaster, Chernobyl was a humble center of an agricultural region, and had very little to do with the station. Instead, the capital of young nuclear power station workers was in the newly built town of Pripyat’, some 18 kilometers (about 12 miles) NE of Chernobyl.

The following is a quote from “Pripyat” (photography and text by Yu. Yevsyukov; 1986, “Mistectvo” publishing house): “The town was named Pripyat’ after the deep, gorgeous river, whimsically winding its blue ribbon through Belorussian and Ukrainian Polesiye and carrying its waters to the old man Dnepr. The town owes its existence to the construction of Chernobyl nuclear power station named after Lenin.”

“The first page in the history of the town of Pripyat was written on February 4, 1970. On that day, construction crews broke ground for the new station. Proximity of a railroad station and a highway, as well as the river dictated the choice of this spot for building the first nuclear power station in Ukraine. On August 15th, 1972 the first concrete block was set in the foundation of the station’s main building. Successes in erecting the station were mirrored by the rapid housing construction. The new town had an elaborate infrastructure, along with a large cultural center and a bookstore, a theater, a hotel, four libraries, an art school complete with its own concert hall, a medical services center, secondary schools and even a technical college. Ten daycare centers and a network of consumer services along with several cafeterias, shopping and dining options completed the picture.

“Special attention was paid to the construction and development of various pre-school and fitness services, particularly since the average age of Pripyat’ citizens was mere 26 years. Over a thousand children were born in the town annually. Only in Pripyat’ could one see a colorful evening stroller parade: proud moms and dads taking their offspring for a walk…

“Pripyat’ is confident about its future. Its industrial potential is steadily growing. In the next few years, the town plans to build one more technical college, another secondary school, a Palace of Young Pioneers, a youth club, a shopping center and a market, a hotel, new railroad and bus stations, a dental clinic, a two-screen theater, a large toy store, a supermarket and other establishments. A new amusement park will adorn the town entrance.

“The principal plan of the development of Pripyat’ expects the town to grow to 80,000 inhabitants. The young nuclear powerhouse of Polesye is to be come one of the most beautiful towns in all of Ukraine.”

That beautiful coffee table volume was given to me by the town vice mayor, Alexander Yuryevich Esaulov, one of the heroes of our story, in the local “White House”. The town hall was eerily empty; we wandered down its lifeless hallways, peeked into the offices: haphazardly moved furniture, piles of paperwork on the floor, open safe deposit boxes, dozens of empty Pepsi-Cola bottles in the room where the Government Commission was meeting (I took some post-it notes from doors – makeshift nametags, as souvenirs), thick newspaper filings with April 25th as the last date; dried-up flowers on the windowsills… The pungent smell of disinfectant was permeating all of that: so that rats won’t breed here.



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