The boats now located at Chernobyl’s dockyard were contaminated with radiation following the nuclear disaster in 1986. Some were used in the subsequent cleanup but others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gradually cut up for scrap over the years, few now remain.
Having briefly gazed from the opposite bank at the rusting assortment of ships beached near Chernobyl’s port, my second visit was to be a much earlier one. With no time left to visit the ship graveyard “officially”, on the last day we staggered out the accommodation block at 5.30am with the intention of reaching the boats and being back in time for breakfast. There is a curfew for visitors in the zone and self-guided tours are a definite no-no. In reality, I’m not sure how much of a risk this was but it certainly added to the excitement (and perhaps being the last day of this trip it made us braver).
We took advantage of the dim morning light to tiptoe past the rear of the administration block, the lights were on and the sound of female voices travelled through the chill air. Fortunately, the route led us quickly into the overgrown and long empty suburban streets of Chernobyl where we could relax. The roads flanked by once proud houses, the vast majority of which are now abandoned and partially obscured by foliage, their dark open windows watch us pass. A quantity although not inhabited appear to be maintained to an extent, but most are in various states of collapse. On the way to the port, we pass 3 houses that were clearly inhabited, lights blaze from windows and unseen dogs bark behind fences. We look as we pass but don’t see any of the inhabitants.
As we turn onto the road running parallel with the port a figure in military fatigues focuses our minds, fortunately, he is walking away from us, the glowing tip of his swinging cigarette clearly visible. By the time, we reach the docks we have fallen silent. Descending the steep wooden steps we walk over to the pontoon that spans the water. No one says a word as by now we have dock workers walking both in front and behind us. The sun is rising, its stunning orange light glistens on the frosted metal floor of the pontoon as we cross. Stepping back on to solid ground we head left, the workers right, and we’re relieved to find ourselves alone, the silhouette of the first boat ahead of us.
My next visit would be an official one. I didn’t miss the early start but I did miss the sun as it was far colder. Whilst moving between boats a movement in the water catches my eye. A fish laying on its side, its tail appears deformed, slowly flexes its body back and forth before resting, only to continue its final struggle 30 seconds later. Close by a ubiquitous gas mask lays submerged in the shallows.
The shipyard was originally built on “The Island” as a repair base for steam ships. Following the disaster, it became a naval maintenance and supply base.
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