I recently went on a trip to Pripyat near the Chernobyl reactor that blew up on April 26th 1986. I can just about remember this from my younger days, I would have been 15 and in the throws of preparing for my exams I think. I probably just thought that is was something bad that happened the other side of the world.

The reality is far more tragic. Many people died that day, the first people that got to the reactor were ill equipped or informed and the Soviet State kept things quiet until high levels of radiation were detected a day or so later in Norway at a nuclear reactor there. After investigation it was discovered that the source of the radiation was at the reactor site two hours from Kiev.

Rooftopping

The evacuation order was given two days after the accident, the same time as it was announced on worldwide media. Locals had started to fall ill and reported metallic tastes in their mouths which was caused by iodine used to combat radiation.

The audio below is the order to leave.

 

For the attention of the residents of Pripyat! The City Council informs you that due to the accident at Chernobyl Power Station in the city of Pripyat the radioactive conditions in the vicinity are deteriorating.

The Communist Party, its officials and the armed forces are taking necessary steps to combat this. Nevertheless, with the view to keep people as safe and healthy as possible, the children being top priority, we need to temporarily evacuate the citizens in the nearest towns of Kiev Oblast.

For these reasons, starting from April 27, 1986 2 pm each apartment block will be able to have a bus at its disposal, supervised by the police and the city officials. It is highly advisable to take your documents, some vital personal belongings and a certain amount of food, just in case, with you.

The senior executives of public and industrial facilities of the city has decided on the list of employees needed to stay in Pripyat to maintain these facilities in a good working order.

All the houses will be guarded by the police during the evacuation period. Comrades, leaving your residences temporarily please make sure you have turned off the lights, electrical equipment and water and shut the windows. Please keep calm and orderly in the process of this short-term evacuation.

—Evacuation announcement in Pripyat, 27 April 1986 (14:00)
Everyone from the city with exception of those needed to work on the faulty reactor were told to leave and take only their essentials with them. They were told that they would be able to return within three days when the emergency had been contained. Many were relocated and dispersed around neighboring towns and cities and hosted with other families. In fact no-one was allowed to return for four to six months, many returned to find that their houses had unfortunately been looted.
Although we had spend the previous day seeing some of the other locations around the city, a lot does look very similar, tall Soviet tower blocks, the same as those erected in the UK in the late sixties, most appear to still be in good structural condition. However its only when on a roof that the full size of the city can be appreciated, from the ground there is very much that is overgrown, a proper ghost town. To think that over 30,000 people were removed from their homes in such a short time is almost incomprehensible.