Lydia Sampson is the Technical Services department head at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read her column in the October 25, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.
I recently returned from the trip of a lifetime and checked one of the top items off of my “bucket list.” London? Paris? Venice? No. At long last, I traveled to the Ukraine, to Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history.
In 1986, during the Cold War when the Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, launching radioactive material far and wide, contaminating most of the Ukraine and neighboring Belarus, and extending throughout Europe and the USSR, and beyond. In the immediate aftermath, finger-pointing, political agendas, and secrecy delayed evacuation, exposing local residents to severe radiation. Finally, buses carried thousands of residents off, assuring them they’d come home in a few days. They never returned, and the town of Chernobyl and neighboring city of Pripyat, constructed specifically for the power plant builders and employees, became ghost towns.
The Ukraine designated an exclusion zone surrounding the entire region with barbed wire fences, checkpoints and armed guards. This forbidden territory became my dream destination. As an avid adventure traveler and “urban explorer,” ghost towns, abandoned buildings, and post-disaster locales fascinate me. For years I knew of Pripyat, a city frozen in time, full of empty schools and homes, and even an amusement park set up for a May Day celebration that never happened.