When we last left Chepiga he was on his way to Colony 1; Nuclear City 9. Otherwise known as Pripyat, Chernobyl Ukraine. For many this was a fate worse than death, they reckoned you could last three years cleaning up this mess.
“the fear of death is illogical, yet it is the fear of death that keeps us alive.” (Commander Spock)
Pripyat was founded in 1970 as the ninth Atomgrad in the USSR, a one industry super-bloc, and part of the ‘peaceful atom’ project to house workers for the nearby Vladimir I Lenin nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. Nuclear power was believed to be a cleaner and safer form of energy production than the old coal fired power stations found across the Soviet Union. Pripyat was considered a city of the future, it was technologically advanced for its time, designed to represent the best of Communism and the Soviet Union. There were children’s playgrounds, areas of open space, and large avenues. However, as with most things Soviet, at the time, the city was totally planned, workers were housed in 160 apartment blocks according to their rank, and marital status. Shift patterns were standardised, and buses would take shift workers back and forth to the plant. Travel into, and out of, the city was limited, the city was uncharted after all. Designated areas of leisure were constructed to entertain the 50,000 residents during their free time between shifts. Sport played a big part in the day-to-day lives of its citizens as it harnessed all that was good about Communism. There were ten gyms, ten shooting galleries, three swimming pools and two stadiums, but no sport was more central to Soviet life than football, Pripyat needed a football team.
“I have people working in four shifts, and there’s no place for them to go and rest. Let them go and watch some football, and drink some beer.” – Kizima Trofimovich (Local Communist Party Representative)
Football Club Stroitel PRIPYAT
FC Stroitel Pripyat was founded in the mid-1970s, Stroitel, literally translates in English as Builders and the club was, at the time of its inception, mainly formed from workers involved with the building of the Chernobyl plant. In addition to these players, some ‘ringers’ were brought in, these players were known locally as ‘snowdrops’, they were named because, like the flowers, they arrived late in the winter. They received salaries from the power plant and were listed on the payroll, but they did not do any work. It is worth noting at this point that, all clubs, in the Soviet Union, were state property and were usually associated with ministries, workers unions, or specific factories. For FC Stroitel Pripyat, the latter was true.
In 1981, Pripyat appointed Anatolia Shepel as manager. Shepel was a former Soviet international striker and had played for the likes of Dynamo Kyiv, Chornomorets Odesa and Dinamo Moscow. Shepel’s appointment in Pripyat was a sign of intent – Stroitel had lofty ambitions. A successful football team was paramount to the perceived success of the Atomgrad.
1981 also saw the club make their first appearance into the Soviet Union’s very complicated football pyramid. Stroitel Pripyat would have to start at the lowest rung of the Soviet football pyramid. It was in the Kyiv Oblast Regional Division (KFK) that Stroitel Pripyat would begin their journey. Even at this amateur level of football, Stroitel Pripyat would attract over 2,000 fans.
Collectively, the KFK divisions, of which the Kyiv Oblast was one, formed the fifth tier of Soviet football. The winners of each KFK division would then take part in a national competition, which represented the fourth tier, facing the other winners from across the Union. The overall winner would then become professional and move up into the Soviet Second League (3rd Tier).
Stroitel Pripyat slowly but surely improved in the Kyiv Oblast regional division. Against the likes of Bolshevik Kyiv and Lokomotiv Poltava, Stroitel improved from a last-place finish in 1982 to a remarkable second place in 1985, just missing out on the chance to go professional. The club was on an upward trajectory, with their young population and ‘snowdrops’ leading the way, and in 1986 they again reached the semi-finals of the Kiev Oblast Regional Cup.
Backed by lofty ambitions both on and off the field, Stroitel Pripyat needed the infrastructure to match. The club’s home, the Avanhard Stadium was opened in 1979, and plans were put in place to convert the multi-purpose sporting venue into a football-only stadium with a capacity for 11,000 spectators, 5,000 of them seated in a modern Grandstand. At the same time building had continued at Chernobyl with plans announced that a fifth nuclear reactor would be built. Pripyat was undoubtedly the place to be in the modern Soviet Union.
“The new stadium is as important to the people as the new reactor.” Trofimovich
The newly refurbished Avanhard was due to host its first game in 1986 and set to officially open on 1 May. The date is significant as it was the Soviet annual Workers’ Day, a date that was often seen as the ideal moment by the authorities to hand over something new to the people. The importance of the football team’s progression cannot be understated.
But before the opening, FC Stroitel Pripyat still had the much-anticipated cup semi-final to play against local rivals Mashinostroiteli from Borodyanka. This was a great chance to add some silverware to the cabinet, and further enhance the clubs, already growing, reputation in the region.
The game was scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday 27 April 1986. Unfortunately for the people of Pripyat the game never went ahead, they would never see their side play in the new stadium, indeed they would never see their side play again at all. Later that day, many of them would leave Pripyat never to return again…
At 1.23am Saturday 26 April 1986, Nuclear reactor number four exploded during a system test of the Chernobyl plant. There was a sudden surge of power output, and when an emergency shutdown was attempted a more extreme spike in power output occurred, which led a reactor vessel to rupture and a series of explosions. These events exposed the graphite moderator of the reactor to air, causing it to ignite. The resulting fire sent a plume of highly radioactive smoke into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. It is estimated that the disaster released 400 times more radioactive fallout than the Hiroshima bomb. The plume went on to drift over large parts of the western Soviet Union and Europe.
Initially, Soviet authorities attempted to conceal the true extent of the disaster not only to the inhabitants of Pripyat and the USSR but the whole world. They had successfully managed this during the 1957 Kyshtym Disaster, with help of the CIA rather surprisingly. They again managed to hide the 1982 partial meltdown of Nuclear reactor one at Chernobyl. Indeed as recently as August this year, radiation was released from a Russian missile test near Severodvinsk, details regarding this were best described as sketchy at the time.
So life continued on as normal during Saturday 26 April for many of Pripyat’s residents. The locals stood outside to watch the fire as ash dropped from the sky. After sunrise, with the fire dampened, they got on with their lives. Preparations for the May Day parade had to be made. Some 100 miles away in Borodyanka a Helicopter landed on the training pitch, men wearing protective suits, carrying dosimeters exited and informed officials that their big cup semi-final would not be going ahead the next day.
At 2pm on Sunday 24th April, the evacuation of Pripyat began. Residents were given two hours to gather their belongings. The evacuation of Pripyat’s 50,000 inhabitants took 3.5 hours, using 1,200 buses from Kiev. Residents were asked to carry with them only what was required for two or three days, some food, a change of underwear, and their identity papers. All dosimeters were confiscated.
This temporary evacuation has lasted 33 years. Pripyat now stands a monument to an unfulfilled future, a modern-day Pompeii, that Nature is inexorably taking back. A zone of alienation was set up early in May 1986 around the plant by the Soviet Armed Forces, it initially existed as an area of 2,000km squared and roughly 30 km (19 mi) radius from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and placed under military control. A new city, Slavutych was built to house the evacuees just outside the zone of alienation. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 500,000 people (known as liquidators) were directly involved in the clean-up at Chernobyl and the surrounding areas. These were mainly military personnel, power plant operatives, emergency services, and skilled professionals. Many of the liquidators during the Soviet period were coerced to work for a set period by means of a direct order, the dangers downplayed in normal Soviet fashion of the time. Many of these liquidators were praised as heroes by the Soviet government and the press, and are widely credited with limiting both the immediate, and long-term damage from the disaster. In many cases, this came at a great personnel cost and many liquidators suffered long term health effects due to their exposure.
“The nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl was perhaps the real cause of the Soviet Union’s collapse five years later” (Mikhail Gorbatchov, 2006)
What of the bright young football team?
Stroitel Pripyat, unsurprisingly, withdrew from the 1986 season. Their dreams of professional status were crushed by the exposure of the inadequacies of the Soviet nuclear system. Along with the people, Pripyat’s institutions also made the move to Slavutych. FC Stroitel Pripyat was renamed FC Stroitel Slavutych and returned to the KFK Championship in 1987. Initially, it seemed to they could replicate their success before the Chernobyl incident, finishing in a respectable third place. But with the link between Stroitel and the Chernobyl nuclear facility severed, players had lost their connection to the club. Stroitel Slavutych finally folded in 1988 after a disappointing 8th place finish.
If not for the explosion of Reactor Number Four, Stroitel could have gone on to win the Kiev Oblast Cup and secure coveted professional status, but through no fault of their own have now been submerged into Soviet footballing history. Football in Pripyat has been long gone, along with it’s great city, plant and people, only to be consumed by nature.
Chepiga was unsure how many days he’d been there. He thought about scratching notches on the wall but that implied an end, a countdown to something better. There was to be no end, not in a real sense. He’d work here until his body stopped working. Agricultural pressures on the Motherland meant no land could be left unproductive, the climate was changing and yields were falling fast. The zone of alienation was to be made ready for agriculture once more. Pripyat would again house a workforce of builders. Like their counterparts in the 1970s and 1980s, their lives were micro-managed by the state. They worked in 12-hour shifts clearing land, and (re)building the city with radioactive resistant buildings. There was a difference, however, while the people of the 70s enjoyed at least the illusion of freedom, Chepiga did not. Conditions were harsh, he longed for a rest, he didn’t have long, he knew his body was failing him. One evening as he watched the iridescent sunset (there was still some ionised particles in the air) one of the older guards approached him.
“You are Chepiga aren’t you?” asked the guard, cautiously
“I am no one” replied Chepiga, assertively
“I know you are, so I am going to sit here and talk, you can listen,” the guard said passionately.
“Zone 1 will be opening to residents soon, the accommodation blocks are almost finished, next we will be tasked with rebuilding the leisure facilities to keep the masses happy and out of trouble. They want a football team, Chepiga. My name is Valentin Levtin, I was captain of the old FC Stroitel Pripyat. When the disaster happened, my wife was in the hospital and the authorities put her in quarantine, they told me she was contagious. I didn’t believe them, so I broke her out one night, right under their noses. I sent her and my children away, but I decided to stay here, where else could I go, it was my duty to help, so I became a liquidator. I should be dead by now, but here I am 35 years later, talking to you on a roof drinking radioactive Vodka.
I’m too old to run a football team Chepiga, I want you to do it for me. I have applied for permission to the local committee, the chairman is a friend of mine, permission will be granted.
“Why should I help you?” Chepiga growled, his throat was always dry nowadays.
“You aren’t helping me Chepiga, you are helping yourself…” Levtin whispered as he stood up to continue his rounds. Headcount was in ten minutes.
So this will be my save in FM20. I plan to use the editor to create FC Stroitel Pripyat, among other things. I want a challenge so I intend to start with no players and in as low a division as possible, so I will be relying on an edited database being created. This may delay the start but I have two more posts planned to introduce my tactical framework and a little more on the club itself, once I have it created.
I was going to put in lots of links regarding the Chernobyl disaster and the abandoned city of Pripyat. To be honest you are better just putting them into Google or YouTube and following your own Rabbit hole.
As ever thanks for reading, and making it this far!