The grand opening of the amusement park in the northern Ukrainian city of Pripyat was set for May 1, 1986, but sadly the catastrophic nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl just a few miles away on April 26 put an abrupt stop to that. In the panic-stricken aftermath of the disaster, the park opened for a few hours on the following day to entertain Pripyat’s population of 50,000 people — many of whom worked at the Chernobyl power plant — before they were all evacuated from the disaster zone.
Along with the city, the amusement park has remained empty ever since, standing as a stark reminder of the worst nuclear disaster of modern times; its rusting Ferris Wheel in particular has come to symbolize the tragedy of Chernobyl, with stuffed animals left as memorials in its dilapidated yellow boat-shaped seats. The merry-go-round is at a permanent standstill, the graffiti-covered bumper cars are decaying and, after 30 years, nature is beginning to reclaim the park, with mosses, trees and shrubs growing up through cracks in the concrete.
Although the park still contains minimal levels of radiation, its concrete areas are clear and it is open for brief guided visits. It has become an eerie tourist attraction included on itineraries in the 18.75-mile (30-km) Chernobyl exclusion zone, which is considered safe enough for two-day tours and includes visits to Reactor 4, the crumbling concrete high-rise apartment blocks of Pripyat and the abandoned villages of Kopachi and Zalissya. Passports are required for entry into the exclusion zone at the checkpoints.
Pripyat is in northern Ukraine, close to the border with Belarus. At 94 miles (150 km) north of Kiev, the city can only be visited by guided tour as it lies in 18.75-mile (30-km) Chernobyl exclusion zone. The amusement park is only accessible as part of guided tours.