Pripyat Amusement Park was still being finalised when the nuclear disaster happened at the nearby Nuclear Power Plant. Being built for the May Day celebrations just a few days later it was never opened formally. Today it sits empty and forlorn, an icon of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
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Pripyat Amusement Park in 1986
The amusement park in Pripyat has to be one of the iconic locations within the city. It was just being set up, ready to open for the May Day celebrations in the city on 1st May. However, the nuclear disaster on the night of the 26th April 1986 meant that Pripyat was empty and abandoned by the end of April. Many Russian cities had amusement parks known as a “Park of Culture and Rest” and some of these are still working around both Russia and the new countries formed after the break-up of the USSR.
The Pripyat Amusement Park had a 26m Ferris wheel, swing boats, a paratrooper ride, bumper cars and a shooting game.
The fairground was opened briefly when it was decided that a distraction was required on the morning of the 27th April, just before the notice to evacuate was given. An incomprehensible action today given what we know now about the severity of the disaster and the levels of radiation already in the area that morning. It wasn’t really ready, the Ferris wheel was still behind cladding and the paratrooper ride did not have the canopies in place, but people were excited and visited the new park.
Pripyat Amusement Park Today
The park sits empty and lonely. The bumper cars are where they were left, leaves blowing around the barriers. The seats on the paratrooper ride are slowly rusting away and the Ferris wheel is fixed and fading. The yellow capsules remain as bright as they originally were in places but the supports are orange with rust and the paint is flaking and peeling.
Radiation levels around the park vary; the liquidators washed radiation into the soil after the helicopters carrying radioactive materials used the grounds as a landing strip. Concreted areas are relatively safe, but areas where moss has built up are high. Some areas can emit 25 µSv/h and one particular hot-spot on the underside of a ferris wheel capsule was found to emit just under 230µSv/h. These are some of the highest levels of radiation in the whole of Pripyat.
The park appears in the video games S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Call of Duty; Modern Warfare, in the film Chernobyl Diaries and is also the inspiration for Atlantic Island Park in The Secret World.
It is lonely and desolate, a jarring place of normality and disaster fighting with the senses.
The amusement park can be quite a busy location. It is one of the places that many tour groups visit. If you visit on a two day tour you are more likely to have it to yourself and this will help with photography.
In the late afternoon the Ferris wheel is in full sun. The best view of the whole wheel is from the bumper cars in the middle of the open space. Ensure you stay on the tarmac. The moss and grass in this area has quite high levels of contamination still.
The wheel works well against a clear sky and centering the support makes for good symmetry. Don’t be afraid to take views of the wheel from different angles and don’t forget to use portrait orientation as well as landscape. This will give a different perspective and allow the whole wheel to be included from a closer location.
There are also a number of closer photographs that can be taken of the pods on the Ferris wheel as well as the details on the bumper cars and the paratrooper ride. The wooden slats on the seats have all rotted out but the metal details are nice in the right light.
This can be visited at any time of the year but in the summer months the plant growth covers the area in green. This gives a hidden feel to the Ferris wheel but makes it difficult to photograph.
Getting to Pripyat Amusement Park
Pripyat Amusement Park is located in the centre of the city just a short distance from the main square.
It can be seen from various points around the city and isn’t difficult to find.
This needs to be planned in advance with most starting in Kyiv. The best way to have time at the Amusement Park is to book a two day tour so you can spend more time in each location.