This series is taken from ““Prypyat mon Amour”, essay we published on Burn Magazine time ago. Now it is a book, published by Distanz Verlag, just presented during these days of Chernobyl anniversary. The work is currently being exhibit in Kanya Berlin at Chorinerstr str 81.
Irina and Sergei met in August 1985. She was only 19, studying to be a teacher. He was fresh out of the army, 25 years old. They liked each other instantly, and it didn’t take long to fall in love. Where love existed, marriage followed – at least back then, in the Soviet Union.
Sergei was a member of the Komsomol – that’s where they came up with the idea to have an alcohol-free wedding for the young couple. After a moment of hesitation – what kind of party is without champagne and a drunk annoying uncle – Sergei agreed. Probably because he knew that his new father-in-law’s birthday was the day after the wedding.
And no one talked about an alcohol-free day after the wedding, right? Free tickets to a resort in the Baltic Sea and an immediate flat offer (a treasure for a young family expecting a child) sweetened the deal.
The wedding was planned on the afternoon of April 26, 1986.
The groom managed to buy a striped suit and an imported shirt and shoes, topping the ensemble with a bow tie. All these fancy clothes – so rare in the Soviet Union. Irina ordered a white dress from a local atelier, and bought a fashionable white hat instead of a veil.
The night before the wedding went peacefully enough, except for a weird thunder blast waking both the couple up some time after midnight. They accepted the possibility of be rain on their wedding day, and fell back to sleep.
On the morning of April 26, Sergei ran out to the market to buy roses for the ceremony.
By then, the town was already closed and no vendors from outside were let in. The only flowers he found in the town were yellow narcissus – a totally inappropriate gift to the woman with whom you are planning a long and loving marriage.
Meanwhile, the town started filling up with firefighters and soldiers in chemical protection suits. The rumor spread: an accident had happened at the station. No one knew the details.
Irina and Sergei proceeded with their wedding plans – they became the 7th and the last couple to be married that day, the last couple to be married in the town of Pripyat ever. A television crew from Kiev, which was supposed to attend the alcohol-free ceremony, didn’t come.
After the wedding, the newlyweds and their witnesses went to the Monument of the Unknown Soldier to lay flowers – a tradition of all Pripyat couples.
On their way they were stopped by soldiers who didn’t want to let them through. The young people didn’t take it seriously, joking and begging to be let through to lay the flowers and take some snaps. It was only later, that they found out that the radioactive wave coming from the burned reactor went exactly by that monument. The pictures they took there couldn’t be developed and the roses turned to dried herbs before the couple even returned to Pripyat.
Irina tried to revive them by putting them into a bathtub filled with cold water but that didn’t help. Years after, when they visited Pripyat for the first time, there were still the remains of the flowers in that tub.
Meanwhile a friend came from the station and told them what happened. After dealing with the initial shock, everyone, sober, frightened and unsure, went home.
The wedding night ended at 3 in the morning, when the witnesses urged Irina and Sergei to jump out of the bed, quickly change their clothes and run to the diesel train which was going to the city of Chernihiv.
Fire trucks were spread throughout the town, dosing the asphalt with the anti-radiation foam, and Irina, who blistered her feet in her new wedding shoes, had to run barefoot through puddles of radioactive water.
They jumped onto the train with hundreds of scared others. On the way to Chernihiv, the train passed the burning 4th reactor. Someone opened the door of the diesel a little to see what had happened. All they saw was the crimson glowing spot of a burning reactor in the distance.
This story might sound like part of a movie script, but it is a real story of real people, parents of my friend and classmate Katya, who might not have lived if her mother, three months pregnant on the day of the accident, would have been persuaded by the medical personnel to have an abortion.
The risk of having a sick, abnormal and even deformed baby was very high and a lot of pregnant women were almost forced to terminate their pregnancies.
Irina didn’t do it and now is a happy mother and – now already a grandmother to a beautiful and healthy girl Varya, Katya’s daughter.
One day, Varya will be old enough to hear the story of how her grandparents got married on the day of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in the now-deserted and abandoned town of Pripyat. And she will know from the beginning that the story has a happy end.
Where is our fate?
“Greetings to you, my Marys’ka,
Oh, if only you knew how sad I am here without you. Yesterday I went to Lesha and we drank a whole bottle of Fanta together out of despair (I saved it for a week).
We shared memories, and found out that we are for more than three years in Pripyat already and that the Moscow Olympic Games were four years ago!
It was so long ago. We even went to Shevchenko, and then to Chelyabinsk, and then Vysotsky died (really!? Already four years!?). Ah, indeed. We came to the conclusion that from the 1976 to 1980 thrice more time has passed than from 1980 until 1984.
And it is almost exactly four years since we first arrived in Pripyat with Vovik for our externship. It was September 20, the sun was shining in Moscow, in a dormitory (at Hospitalny Lane), we had a farewell with portwine and dry wine.
Vysotsky sang from the tape recording (he was already deceased for two months – a fresh wound):
“Where is our fate, – may be here, may be there
Where is our fate, – may be here, may be there
Where is our fate, – may be here, may be there.”
Later that song pounded in my head to the clanging of the dishes. I was thinking – maybe here, or maybe there?
It is crazy how young I was. And how wise I am now!
Pripyat, 07.10.84, Su. 17.35
Alina Rudya is a Ukrainian-born photographer, currently living and working in Berlin, Germany.