The Outlands of Chernobyl

A journey across the surroundings

When the hard snowing ended and — finally — the roads got less-more cleaned, we got a spontaneous idea to repeat a journey to far surroundings that we made a few years ago. Especially, given that lands of Chernobyl Polissya look majestic in wintertime.

We start from the Dytiatki checkpoint and drive south. This part of the highway is the final that those, who go to Chernobyl Zone pass before stopping on its border. It is the land of the former Chernobyl District of the Kyiv region.

route
Our route (map data by OpenStreetMap).

The district was established in 1923 and had one town — the Chernobyl itself — and 23 neighborhoods. From 1970 to October 1980 the city of Pripyat also belonged to it, until it became exterritorial, placing it under direct management from the region's administration. To each neighborhood of the district belonged from one to four villages. After the accident at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, most of them appeared in the Chernobyl Zone, except Dytiatki, Gornostaipil, and Strakholissya neighborhoods. The district was abolished in 1988, and these remaining villages were incorporated into Ivankiv district.

However, the concrete welcome sign of the Chernobyl district still stands, being virtually the last remaining mark of it.

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A welcome sign of the Chernobyl district

Just in front of Orane village, it is possible to notice the ruins of a barrack. This place is a former site of the 25th Army Brigade of Radiological, Chemical, and Biological protection that was deployed here shortly after the disaster as one of the decontamination forces. Initially set up as a large tent camp, later additional permanent infrastructure was has been erected. Nowadays, practically nothing remained except few ruined buildings and occasional paved roads in the forest. And, sometimes, spots with elevated radiation levels.

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Remains of a barrack

Once we pass Orane, we turn to Stepanivka village. This and following neighborhoods lay off the main road to Chernobyl, they give a feeling of being more and more isolated as more you proceed further. As farther, as fewer people live here, and as more suspicious they become when seeing a person with a camera.

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Village of Stepanivka

 

Stepanivka

Based on the local surnames of its inhabitants and some specific words used in their language, there is a theory that this village was founded by people who moved from Poland in the times when the Chernobyl region belonged to it. It is very small, and according to the 2001 census had just 22 inhabitants. The modern population is even smaller as many houses serve as weekend cottages for summer.

After 1986, there was a massive enhancement of infrastructure of the remaining alive part of the region — such as the installation of gas supply, centralized water system, building new roads and community buildings. In Stepanivka, these gas pipes, that run overground across all the village are, probably, the most notable visual feature. Local inhabitants explained, that this was made in such a strange way because the street is so narrow, that there is no way to dig here.

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Village of Stepanivka

Kovalivka

It is a very tiny village, where live around 90 people. Close to it opens a beautiful view of one of the main power grid lines of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant running over a field. It is the same line that all, who go to Chernobyl, cross near Cherevach bridge. Then it crosses the river of Pripyat, and near Starosillya makes one more crossing back toward the power plant. We see only one logical reason for this — to keep a big distance from the Duga site at Chernobyl-2.

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Water tower

Chernobyl village
The Grid

Potoka and Stari Sokoly

We stopped on a bridge that crosses the Veresnia river. It is an interesting place because from the same point you can see two villages that in fact merged — Potoka and Stari Sokoly.

Veresnia is a relatively small river, that from this place continues to the Zone to join Uzh river, where it finally falls into Pripyat. Although it looks peaceful, it has some dangerous places — these tomb-like installations on the picture below are in memory of kids that drowned here. The river gave its name to Rudnia-Veresnia village which you pass if go to the Skazochny pioneers camp or Rassokha.

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To the right — Potoka

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To the left — Stari Sokoly

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Approaching the crossroad

Both villages have hard history, as they faced violent Soviet repressions in 1932. As those that did not fulfill the wheat production plan declared by the Russian government, they were placed on a chorna doshka ("blacklist"). A blacklisted village had stores closed, its monetary loans and grain advances called in, supplies, livestock, and food confiscated as a punishment, and it was blocked by government forces to prevent anyone to get out or in.

During the genocide of 1932-1933, due to starvation caused by confiscations and blockades there died 171 people. To compare, today, there are around 100 inhabitants in Potoka and around 150 in Stari Sokoly.

Then, followed WWII and, decades after, the Chernobyl disaster, which changed the way of living here.

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A view to the back

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A bus stop. Being located in fact in Stari Sokoly, it is nevertheless marked as Potoka.

As a part of the post-Chernobyl reconstruction enrolled by Soviets, in Stari Sokoly had to appear a new school. It was abandoned on a high completion stage and stands in a condition beyond repair now. It is hard to say exactly what was the reason for the decline — either lack of funding or a lack of actual need in a so massive structure. Problem is, being managed in a directive way, these infrastructure projects sometimes had a scale way above potential demand, so in some villages even completed buildings may be barely used.

An entrance to the school in Stari Sokoly was decorated with a large mosaic — however, it was not possible to come closer this time as there was nearly half a meter of snow. However, a building for the kindergarten and village council which is next to it works.

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A school.

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A kindergarten and village council.

If on the crossroad you take to the right, you come to Potoka itself. It consists of one large street, however, half of the houses look abandoned.

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A makeshift bus stop in Potoka.

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The very end of the village.

This used to be a busy road in the past. In front, ahead of the frontier signs is a cemetery in a small forest. Ahead from it is the Chernobyl Zone.

A long noted fact: the border of the Zone defines the way how its geography is perceived. If you are long here, you get used to the long routes that before 1986 would look ridiculous, and in mind, all the land turns into a kind of an island. Practically anyone in Chernobyl will tell you, that Rassokha is far and Dibrova is really far away.

However, from this place to Rassokha and Terekhi is roughly just 3.5 km.

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The very edge of Potoka.

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If you turn around, the Chernobyl Zone is ahead.

We return to Stari Sokoly for a tiny stop for a cup of coffee. Here are one small shop and a stop for a bus, which comes here three times per day.

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Stari Sokoly.

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A shop in Stari Sokoly.

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Finally, we saw some local people.

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A bus stop.

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A street in Stary Sokoly.

Novi Sokoly

Nove Sokoly, which is the next village, is much smaller — here live around 80 people, and it gives a more deserted feeling. Shortly after entering the village, we met a group of local ladies that were long waiting for a bus that was out of its schedule due to snowing. The bus comes to this place just once per day.

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Novi Sokoly.

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Here gas pipes go underground.

Chernobyl village

Chernobyl village

While taking this picture, I heard a scream from quite a big distance — "Hey you! What are these shootings? Do you you have permission for it? Hey! Man!".
Permission for a picture of a disused bus stop. Seriously.

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A bus stop in Novi Sokoly.

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Probably, a medical outpost.

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We leave this hospitable place and move on.

Romanivka

This village is in the Polisky district. As in the case of the Chernobyl one, a massive part of this district was evacuated. Its center — the town of Poliske — was finally deserted in 1999, so from 1993 the central town was Radynka, from 1996 — Krasyatychi. As for 2020, there were 13 neighborhoods with 30 villages in total. The same as the Ivankiv district, Polisky no longer exists since July 2020, being now a territorial neighborhood of the District of Vyshgorod. However, an original welcome sign remains.

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Entrance sign of Romanivka and Polisky district.

Romanivka is around 200 years old. Some sources claim, that it was named in honor of 300 years of the Romanovs dynasty. In Soviet time it was named Ordzhonikidze, after major Soviet politician Sergo Ordzhonikidze (1886 – 1937). In 2016, it got back its historical name.

Chernobyl village

Chernobyl village

Chernobyl village

Chernobyl village

Although there live around 200 people, the village gives a pretty alive feeling. In the center stands a local shop that is a local highlight — because inside remained much from its original Soviet interior — green tiles and lights on the walls, and a distinctive floor made from broken tiles. We have been asked not to post images of the overall view, as "you know, this is a shame", so we will limit to details that we find interesting —.

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Shop in Romanivka.

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These used to be a sign with a backlit.

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Even shelves are original from the 1980s. A person born in the Soviet Union will immediately recognize this pattern.

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Tiles on the floor!

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We had one more coffee and continued our journey.

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Somewhere in between Cheremoshna and Romanivka. This small monument supposedly is a mark of roadkill or a car accident.

Re-evacuation: Cheremoshna

Here it comes to really remote places that feel out of defined time; if not some occasional satellite antennas on houses, it could be, for example, 1994 here. In Cheremoshna live around 40 people, however, except for just one granny, we did not see anyone. From this place, it is 2 km to Bychky village, which is in the Zone. Two kilometers more, behind the Uzh river stands Zamoshnya, a village of Old Believers. In pre-disaster time, to cross there river one would need to use a ford, as there is no bridge there.

But, there is something more special about this and the next place. This village is one of two cases when an evacuated settlement was later excluded from Chernobyl Zone and its inhabitants could return to their homes.

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Chernobyl village
Moscow Olympics 1980 symbols.

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A water well has a so-called "goose" — a cross-arm with a weight to lift off the full buckets.

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A street view of Cheremoshna.

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A bus stop in Cheremoshna does not look very much used.

Re-evacuation: Nyvitske (Nivetske)

It was founded in 1900 and as of 1981 had around 140 inhabitants. As for 2021, here 4 (four) people are living. The same as Cheremoshna, it was evacuated around May 5, 1986, passed decontamination and in July of the same year, its inhabitants could return. However, general decline and location very far from any major towns ultimately led to a decline. Nowadays, Nivetske looks that way, that you are not sure if you are still outside the Chernobyl Zone or already inside it.

We luckily met one of the locals who confirmed our guesses during a little chat. There is no shop, so you need to go to Romanivka or wait for a "mobile store" that comes typically once a week. Public transportation, except a bus that comes with the same frequency, is absent. From the gifts of civilization, there is electricity and unstable cellular coverage.

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Village of Nivytske.

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A bus stop.

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One of the very few alive houses.

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Chernobyl village

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...

"So, I would not change this place for anything else" — concluded our speaker.

Back in 1986, there were plans to re-evacuate 23 more villages. Officially, this process was suspended until the moment the USSR Ministry of Health issue safe living standards. Eventually, the question was raised few more times, but eventually, re-evacuation was never made.

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Going back somewhere near Domanivka

We make our way back.
Being far from the main tourist routes, hardly anyone will come here on purpose. Even we, the inhabitants of the region, were last here five years ago. But, as it seems to us, nowhere, except here, this grotesque post-Chernobyl civilization is so sharply felt. Where attachment to own land intertwines with a really difficult life. Polissya in a nutshell.

"So, I would not change this place for anything else".

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