September 20, 2017

Photo Essay: The Train Graveyard of The Exclusion Zone

Among the 70+ towns that were shuttered—and the 130,000 people who were evacuated—in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the creation of the 30-kilometer "Exclusion Zone" (which adds up to about 1000 square miles), the most famous and widely photographed is the company town of Pripyat.

But Pripyat wasn't a Ukrainian city. It was built as an "Atomic City" by the Soviets, a master-planned community of Chernobyl plant engineers and other workers and their families.

Pripyat was more or less run by Communism out of Moscow. No one was from Pripyat before Chernobyl powered up.

But some Ukrainians were from the town of Yaniv (Янів).

Yaniv (or Yanov, in Russian) was the terminus of the Chernihiv–Ovruch line of the Southwestern Railway (Південно-Західна залізниця)—and while its train station was commissioned in 1925, the presence of rail in the tiny town (for both long-distance runs and short commutes) made the creation of Pripyat possible in 1970.

And when its focus shifted to serving the Chernobyl plant, Yaniv ceased to be its own village and got swallowed up—administratively, at least—by Pripyat.

And now, its defunct train station is often known better as Pripyat Station.

And despite having been evacuated in 1986, Pripyat is still considered a city. Yaniv, however, was officially deregistered in 2003.

Only about 100 people were living in the village of Yaniv at the time of the disaster and had to be resettled elsewhere.

Any of the structures they lived in or used were razed and buried to cover their contamination.

That is, with the exception of the buildings associated with the passenger train station. One of them was so radioactive and set the Geiger counter screaming so much that even our tour guide—who'd already taken us into some pretty contaminated places—refused to go in or bring us anywhere near it.

The trains themselves, however, were a different story.

The rolling stock of the irradiated railway has toppled over...

...and it's been stripped of much of anything that would've been valuable for scrap.

It, like much of the Exclusion Zone, has being overtaken by a new growth of trees—some just 30 years old.

Of course, the tracks are still there.

And some of the rail line is still functional, even in the Exclusion Zone.

But no villagers are traveling in style out of Yaniv—or Pripyat—these days.

Not even the "self-settlers" who've refused to leave their contaminated homeland.

And the passenger coaches—part of the DR1 series of diesel-hydraulic trains for suburban commuters in the Soviet era, particularly along the Belarus lines of Russian gauge track—are practically unrecognizable.

This train graveyard shares a tragic common thread with the amusement park of Pripyat...

...and that's the unwitting exposure that its passengers got to radioactive fallout on the day of the Chernobyl disaster.

By all accounts, April 26, 1986 was an unseasonably warm and sunny day. The citizens of Pripyat were at the sandy beach on the banks of the Pripyat River. And the passengers commuting through the town of Pripyat had left their windows open.

In the days that followed, the train continued to run through the fallout zone, though it passed through the Yaniv station without stopping.

Finally, on April 30, the trains were rerouted through Kiev instead of through what was to become the Exclusion Zone. (At least according to The Radioactive Railroadthough, as with many dates and details regarding the Chernobyl disaster, there are plenty of discrepancies.)

Now, this area of the line is abandoned—but only mostly.

There's still one track that's sometimes used along the industrial line for freight trains to deliver or pick up from the Chernobyl plant.

That was particularly important until the end of last year, when construction on the new containment structure for Reactor Number 4 finally completed.

I'll get to more about the actual Chernobyl plant in a post soon.

There's just so much to cover from a humanistic standpoint—so many lives lost, ruined, uprooted, forever impacted. It seems much more important to tell those stories first.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Amusement Park, Shuttered By Nuclear Fallout
Photo Essay: The Secret Soviet Radar Base Powered By Chernobyl

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