Archive for August, 2010


Monday, August 30th, 2010

Our third and final day in Kiev was taken at a much more leisurely pace.  There was time to sleep in a little bit and have some breakfast to stave off the effects of the previous evenings vodka consumption.

The plan was to wander down to the House with Chimaeras to get a few shots of the unusual building and then hike down to the war memorial park for some photos of the statues and arsenal they had just lying around.

House with Chimaeras in Kiev

The park was full of behemoth bronze statues depicting scenes of Soviet soldiers charging to battle and were largely inspiring assuming this was the side you wanted to win.  In the center of the park was the Mother Motherland statue, an impressive military take on the Statue of Liberty.

The statue of Mother Russia

Beyond the statues and military machines, there were also the standard “eternal flame” monument and several obelisks devoted to specific wars the Ukraine has been involved in.

The eternal flame in the Eternal Glory park of Kiev

The rest of the photos from the day here here.  I was feeling much less creative and disinclined to take many photos, and the gallery reflects that I’m afraid.  Still, it was a great trip and one that will be hard to top for a while.

CCCP ICBM Launch Site

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

It was going to be hard to top our day trip to Chernobyl and Pripyat, so our second day in the Ukraine would have to be something special.  Fortunately, we had just the thing in store: a day in Pervomaysk at the Museum of Strategic Missile Troops.  The last remaining (though obviously non-working) ICBM launch site in the Ukraine.

The logo of the missile silo.

Arriving after a 3 hour journey from Kiev, the museum is a fairly non-descript building in the middle of some farm land.  Surrounded by corn a wheat fields, it’s hard to imagine that 25 years ago this exact site was what kept me up at night worrying about the nuclear end of the world (I spent a surprising amount of time concerned with my own mortality as a 9 year old).

We sat down briefly to watch a video about the site and various other CCCP methods of nuclear missile deployment, but as everything was being translated from Russian to English for us by our Ukrainian guide it was painfully slow.  Fortunately, it was interrupted 10 minutes in (which took 25 minutes) as our tour was about to start.

We were given a short tour of the museum and told about the various missiles that were stored at this location as well as the 5 other neighbouring sites.  The volume of potential destruction out here in the middle of nowhere was staggering and it’s easy to see why nobody wanted to “shoot first”.

The tour was interesting enough but as everything was in Russian it was difficult to glean much beyond what was being translated for us.  Photos, diagrams and mock ups of nuclear missiles are fascinating when the real thing isn’t right outside so we were eager to get through and on with it.

Outside there were bits and pieces of old missiles including the shot above of the SATAN missile.  This was their largest missile available at the height of the cold war, each one capable of rendering 300 square kilometers uninhabitable.  Our guide told us that at peak, there were over 2000 of these in the Russian stockpile.

From there, we made our way through the core of the complex to the silos themselves.  Protected by rows of electrified wire, several anti-personal vehicles and a turret mounted (50cal?) machine gun, the silo has been all but filled in with concrete in accordance with whatever treaties were signed to decommission them.

Our guide then took us through a series of long, underground tunnels to the entrance of the command module.  Passing beyond a pair of one tonne steel doors, five of us crammed into an elevator built for two and made the slow journey 12 stories down to the base of the command module.  It was here that, should the orders be received, a pair of officers would simultaneously turn their keys and press their buttons.

Definitely a worthy day trip, though our guide wasn’t the most jovial of sorts.  In my mind I pictured him as someone who longed for the glory days of mother Russia and was sick to death of showing foreign tourists the might that was, taking pictures and making jokes about his precious military heritage.  It could just be that he missed out on his morning coffee however.

A couple more shots are in the gallery here.

Chernobyl & Pripyat

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

I remember hearing about the Chernobyl disaster when I was (much) younger.  Being at the height of the cold war, information surrounding the event was a fraction of what’s available today and what information was around didn’t pique my 10 year old interests all that much.  There were vague hopes of evil mutants and a series of super powered heroes to battle said mutants, but on the whole thoughts of the event didn’t interfere with my hectic schedule of cartoon viewing and video game playing.

As a teen there were always jokes about Chernobyl and it was just another tick in our favour used as an example of why a democratic system was better than a communist one.  How an industrial disaster relates directly to social systems I’m not sure, it was just one of those times you nod your head and agree with the adults.

Chernobyl, reactor 3 and 4 visible here.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve wanted to visit the area ever since I discovered that one could visit about 5 years ago.  The radiation levels were deemed safe for short term exposure and I’d seen some amazing photos and stories posted online.  If nothing else, I imagined it would be a cool day out shooting something that won’t be accessible for much longer.

In reality, the trip was fascinating and sobering at the same time.  Accorcing to the video we watched on the 2 hour drive out, the official death toll from direct exposure to the incident (during the explosion or post disaster clean up and containment) was only 28.  A quick search shows numbers up to 250,000 being tossed around but obviously when you’re dealing with this sort of thing it’s impossible to tell.

What is more tangible and no less sombre is the fact that a city of about 50,000 was evacuated and never allowed to return home.  I think this bothers me more because the city I grew up in was the same size at the time.  It makes it easy to relate.  The ability to go back home whenever I feel like it is something I’d never considered a privilege (if you want to call visiting Medicine Hat a privilege that is); I couldn’t help but think what those people must have gone through.

The famous Pripyat sign.

I’d gone expecting a fun day out doing some urban exploration but it ended up being a lot more reflective than I’d ever anticipated.  It was certainly fun, but a lot of that had to do with the guys I was out there with.  As a photographic outing, I think the trip was amazing and should be experienced by as many people as possible.  If you’re thinking about it, the sooner the better as we were told that they will be restricting the buildings you can visit before the end of the year and before long they won’t allow anyone into any of the buildings due to their deteriorating state.

As an eye opening experience to what the people who when through this faced the tour was unmatched.

A sign in the exclusion zone, near the tanks.

One of the bumper cars in the amusement park.

The rest of the photos from Chernobyl and Pripyat can be found here.