On April 26, 1986, one of the world's worst disasters occurred in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat (then part of the USSR). There was an explosion caused by a flawed reactor design at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which spewed radiation into the air. Only Chernobyl and Fukushima have been rated as a level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale - and that's the highest the scale goes.
The city of Pripyat was evacuated, and a total of 31 people died as an immediate result of the accident itself, while as many as 500,000 were affected. The destruction was so massive that it took nearly a million people to clean up Chernobyl. In 2011, Pripyat became a tourist attraction, and three decades later, the ghost town is still captured by photographers who snap haunting images of abandoned toys and dilapidated buildings.
Lore and legends surround the area, from ghosts, Chernobyl mutants, and radioactive animals to a strange ominous black bird that some believe to be the harbinger of disaster. In addition to these stories, you'll find creepy true tales of people and places that fell victim to a catastrophic nuclear meltdown.
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The Ghosts of Chernobyl
As with any site where a number of people have lost their lives, Pripyat is rife with ghost stories. Andrei Kharsukov, a nuclear physicist from New York, told one such story after visiting the area in 1997.
Kharsukov said he went to the power station at 7:30 a.m. and went to the No. 4 reactor sarcophagus, which is where the explosion occurred. He could not go inside due to radiation, but as he took radiation readings, he heard someone screaming for rescue from a fire inside:
I ran upstairs to tell someone, but they said that when I entered the reactor control room, I was the first person to open that door in three years, and the only way to get inside the old reactor is through the doors I came in through. If someone had gone inside the reactor when I was not looking, they would have tripped an alarm that goes off when the reactor door is opened mechanically.
The reactor door requires a password and a handprint, yet someone, or something, was inside. Later that evening, as we were eating dinner outside the building by the river next to the plant, a flood light turned on in the room of the installation. There was no way anyone could be inside. As we ate, we figured there was a power surge or something. Then just as my colleague said that, the light turned off.
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Performers Were Brought In To Calm Local Residents, And Contracted Radiation Sickness Themselves
From Redditor /u/creepyjake:
Hi Everyone! I'm Jake [and] I met Yuri in a bar in Finland (this is my Reddit account). Over a couple nights, and some vodka, I recorded his voice to capture the story [and] piece it together. These are his words...his story.
If you were to meet Yuri, as I have, you might not be so doubtful. The man is a gifted musician, a gentle soul, and it was a true gift to meet him. I've shared some of the positive comments with him...but I'm not reading anything negative. Peace.
According to Redditor /u/creepyjake, Yuri's account is as follows:
Please forgive my poor English because it cannot be my primary choice language.
Please call me "Yuri"- I'm a musician in taverns of Northern Europe for drinks and for the generosity of patrons. I was once classically trained pianist - I studied at the St. [Petersburg] conservatory in the late 1970s. I lost my eyesight, and I have numerous illness - I am a survivor of Chernobyl.
As the disaster commencement occurred, I was in state sponsored musical/dance troupe. Our gathering was immediately enlisted by the government to calm village peoples in Pripyat and surrounding area. Mere hours after the meltdown commenced, our bus entered the exclusion zone at checkpoint "Dityatki." We were told not anything, and the soldiers made it forbidden for speaking with the village people.
Imagine not knowing a disaster taking place, yet seeing the strange workings of the radioactivity all around. Everyone was sick and dying, yet quarantined and not allowed to leave the zone. Some believed the world was ending, and we all became resigned to the fact we will certainly die. The soldiers [have] masks and guns, but I could see the fear on his face too! As dead men and women, we gave our best musician and dancer performances ever.
Allow me to describe our final performance at Pripyat: As the music played, the ballerina danced like never before. The passion in the music, and her movements were legendary. She was a beautiful girl, dancing her final dance with love in her heart. She allowed her long flowing hair down, and it seemed to float mystically in the air. As the music crescendoed, and she spun delicately around, her hair was falling away from her head. Gently, long golden strands of her hair floated to the floor as she danced. I saw the blood leaking from her nostrils, and down cheeks from her ears. The sparse crowd knew the face of death, and it was surely the final dance. The children ran to her with flowers from the meadow...their hair and teeth had fallen out already. The petrol generator stalled and for several moments, we were in darkness. To my utter horror, I saw the flowers, and the children glowing in the dark.
That night I climbed out [the] window of the lodging house. The soldier who saw me lowered his carbine when our eyes locked in silence. I ran through the alley and I hot wired the car. I drive non stop to the northwest - on back roads I learned as a boy - avoided checkpoints imposed by military. I siphoned the petrol from other vehicles in the night. I began missing my vision during my flight, and by the time I escaped USSR, I was blind. I am only musician who lived.
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The Soviet Government Sent In Soldiers When The Meltdown Destroyed Robot Cleaning Crews
After evacuating the residents of Pripyat, the city bordering the Chernobyl power plant, the Soviet government sent robots into the Exclusion Zone to contain the meltdown and put out a raging fire. The excessive radiation in the air prevented the robots from doing their work, so the government reportedly rounded up a bunch of soldiers and gave them a choice - serve two years in Afghanistan, where the Soviets were engaged in a brutal conflict against mujahideen, or spend two minutes shoveling sand onto the exposed reactor at Chernobyl.
Soldiers who chose Chernobyl were known as liquidators. At the time of the meltdown, and into the 21st century, Ukrainians believe vodka prevents the adverse effects of radiation. So liquidators typically took a shot of vodka and shoveled sand onto the exposed reactor for two minutes. Most liquidators passed or contracted an illness due to radiation poisoning.
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An Entire Village Was Bulldozed - Only Its Kindergarten Remains Standing
Kopachi was a small village about 4.5 miles southwest of the Chernobyl plant. After evacuating the village, Soviet authorities found such high radiation levels in the area they decided to bulldoze everything in Kopachi other than the elementary school and bury it all in the soil.
Unbeknownst to those who made this decision, burying radioactive materials results in their radioactivity leaking into the ground. In the case of Kopachi, the radioactivity of buildings became part of the soil and water table, making the region uninhabitable for generations. The surviving school is an attraction for ruin-photographers, who have captured eerie Kopachi images of old toys, school materials, dolls, and stuffed animals three decades on from the meltdown.