You’d be hard pushed, and indeed very foolish, not to include the Palace of Culture on a visit to Pripyat. Located in the centre of the city, on Lenin Square, the iconic Ferris wheel is situated to the rear of the building and is one of the reasons for its continual high ranking on the tourist trail.
Palaces of Culture were large community centres established during the Soviet era with over 137,000 in the Soviet Union by 1988. The name of this one “Energetik” is a play on words as it means both “energetic” (as in lively) and “power plant worker”.
These generally physically impressive buildings were designed as a focal point for people to enjoy a range of recreational and artistic activities all under the banner, quite literally in many cases, of political propaganda. Pripyat’s Palace of Culture includes what’s left of a cinema, theatre, library, gymnasium, swimming pool, boxing/wrestling ring, dancing and meeting halls and even has a shooting range in the basement.
This was to be my first alone time in the zone. Having visited years previously on a day trip from Kyiv which involved a coach load of us crunching noisily over glass under the watchful eyes of our accompanying guides. This time was going to be different.
As the door of the minibus opened I set off at an embarrassingly keen jog. Heading up the stairs, the handrail long since pinched, I set up the tripod (I had patience back then) in front of some particularly choice decay, focused the camera (I was keen too) and blipped my remote shutter release. The camera gave out a satisfyingly drawn out “ker clunk” that sliced through the silence. That was when it hit me, the quiet, the feeling of being very alone in what was once a busy building in a once bustling city. A feeling of huge excitement tinged with fear, a feeling of awe.
Soon after I made a mental note to obtain my guides mobile phone number just in case I managed to fall down a hole (or got really lonely).
On the upper floors birch trees now grow, having taken root in damp floors once protected by full-length windows. Windows were frequently broken during the decontamination of Pripyat, not just through vandalism, but to prevent the buildup of radiation in enclosed spaces. The metal frames of these windows were stolen long ago. Many of the marble tiles that once clad the foyer have also vanished.
I managed to somehow miss the theatre prop room, with its paintings of Lenin and dignitaries, on my first visit so I ensured I found it on my second. Although like much of Pripyat it has seen better days, it didn’t disappoint.
Every weekend we had discos in Pripyat. This is part of the electronic equipment used for the discos. It has a name on it. Edison 2. That was the name of the disco,” – former resident Andrey Glukhov.
Edison 2 or “Эдисон-2” in full swing
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