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This Ukrainian ghost town wasn’t as abandoned as I thought…

Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

It was around noon when the rust-coated sign that marked the town’s entrance came into my view. Sighing in relief that Google Maps hadn’t failed me, I guided my car off the main road and down one of the concrete paths that lead through the woods and into Orbita. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Orbita is a ghost town that was designed in the image of Pripyat, the satellite city for the Chernobyl power plant. Much like its inspiration, it too would have served as the closest satellite settlement for a planned nuclear power station, but the project was cancelled in the wake of the 1986 tragedy. Currently, there are only around a hundred people living there, barring the occasional squatter that remains unaccounted for and… well… something altogether different, apparently.

As the dense forestry began to recede, I was greeted by a set of presumably abandoned high-rises, their uniform, brutalist aesthetic standing in defiance against the unkempt vegetation surrounding them; a jarring contrast between nature and industry. After graduating university, I started getting into urban exploration, which conveniently coincided with my passion for photography. At first I was joined by a small group of friends, but they clearly saw it as more of a one-off adventure and weren’t willing to travel beyond the few vacated sites that were close to where we live. Despite being strongly cautioned against it, I began setting out on my own, scouring the Ukrainian countryside for places that embodied that post-societal vibe that I was so determined to capture. I had already built a sizable portfolio by the time someone on a forum I was frequenting tipped me off about this place called Orbita. Given that my goal at the time was to eventually visit the iconic Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl, it had seemed like a decent starting point— no bypassing security outposts or hopping over fences required.

Excited, perhaps unreasonably so, I parked my Volkswagen next to what looked to have once been a corner store, retrieved my backpack from the passenger seat and stepped outside. The air smelled humid from the recent downpour, which had thankfully dissipated to a light drizzle— nothing my hoodie couldn’t protect me from. Something crunched beneath my boots, causing me to wince and look down. A layer of shattered glass covered the street, glinting against the wet asphalt and sprinkled around other fallen rubble. As far as knew, and also judging by the comparatively decent condition of the nearby playground, there were a handful of families still occupying some of the houses and five-story flats, which reminded me of old school dormitories. I had no intention of trespassing on other people’s property, so I kept my attention solely on the conjoined nine-story apartment buildings that made up the majority of the ghost town and were clearly abandoned a long time ago.

Flashlight in hand, I felt immediately in my element from the moment I walked through the dilapidated entrance hall. The ground floor was in about as good of a condition as you’d expect. I had to wade my way through literal heaps of trash in order to get to the stairs. Some of it looked recent and included items such as condom wrappers, beer cans and discarded needles. I wasn’t about to pick through any of that. The eroding walls were covered in crude graffiti— all of the classics, from “So-and-so likes to suck giant cock” to “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”. And, of course, a few tastefully scribbled swastikas for good measure. Places like these usually reek of human waste, so I was glad that there wasn’t much of that at least, with the exception of a few suspiciously tinged corners. Fresh signs of vandalism and squatting persisted as I skipped past the first couple of floors. The corridors were narrow and had doorways spread evenly on each side, leading into decent-sized apartments comprised of two main rooms. Often the walls dividing them had either crumbled or hadn’t been raised in the first place. In the interest of preserving daylight, I limited my exploration only to the sections that looked somewhat lived in.

I won’t lie, after a few hours my enthusiasm had definitely fizzled out. It wasn’t like I went in expecting to uncover some mind-blowing piece of soviet history, but I couldn’t even find anything worthy of a memento. Each floor was near identical to the last and had been thoroughly cleared out, leaving only mounds of construction debris behind. I was surprised that some of the exposed rebar hadn’t been ripped off the walls too. I only had time to explore a single complex, of course, but I somehow doubted that the neighboring ones had much more to offer.

Eventually, I made my way onto the central roof, where I spent another hour or so indulging in some amateur photography, for which the gloom of dusk provided a suitable backdrop. Just thinking about the long drive back home caused me to internally groan. Had I not spent the last year of my life poking around in similarly abandoned places that had a lot more going on inside of them, perhaps the trip would have felt a lot more worthwhile, but as it stood I was pretty deflated over having wasted my Sunday. I shoved my camera back into its nylon bag and glanced down towards where I had parked my car.

That’s when I noticed it.

There was a head sticking out from the window right below me and facing the same direction I was. Though the thing’s hairless scalp looked almost human in shape; the neck that connected it to a pair of narrow shoulders was over twice as long as it should have been. I could see its crooked spine jutting from beneath a thin sheet of flesh. It was as if the creature’s skin was a size too small and being stretched over its bone structure. Its ears were pressed to its skull and deformed, almost vestigial, but apparently worked just fine, as I saw it tense up when I snatched a faint gasp. I could already picture it bending its over-sized neck in some sickeningly awkward angle to look up at me, but instead it suddenly retracted back inside like a serpent slipping back into its hole.

My initial shock gave way to an overwhelming feeling of primal dread. I retreated slowly from the precipice, hands jittering and legs feeling stiff. I didn’t dare move another muscle. A horizontal slab of concrete was all that separated me from it. While my body refused to budge, my brain was working on adrenaline-induced overtime. Had it been lurking below me the whole time? Had I passed it by without even noticing? Whatever the case, I would’ve had plenty of time to process the gaunt humanoid’s existence once I was back on the road.

I forced my limbs back into action, heart drumming in my ears as I jogged across to the outermost connected rooftop. Like hell was I going back through the way I came up. Instead, I recalled seeing an alternate staircase built against the nine-story building’s external side and divided by platforms for each floor. I remember chewing, even biting into my lower lip in an effort to subdue my panic, as I gingerly cleared the first flight of open steps, only to be reminded of another detail. Each individual landing had a door that led back inside and all of them were missing the actual door part, leaving them wide open. My chest felt tight. What if that thing was patiently expecting me to walk by so it could drag me kicking and screaming to its lair? Assuming it didn’t just tear into me on the spot, anyway. Cautiously, with my shoulder pressed firmly to the wall, I edged closer towards the gaping entrance, steadied my breathing and stuck my ear out to listen. There was nothing but the sound of wind rustling the partially peeled wallpaper within. I had to do this.

There was a fleeting sense of relief as I swung by the dimly lit corridor unimpeded. I think I kept my eyes shut the entire time. Even if there had been something literally standing there, watching me as I blindly stumbled past it, I would’ve rather not known. My hands reached for any solid surface they could find in an effort to stabilize my descent. A few of the steps had crumbled down to beams of metal wire or were missing entirely, forcing me to jump over the gaps. The subsequent floors I cleared using the same method of pausing, taking a few seconds for the adrenaline to kick in and then rushing by while hoping that the cold tingle on the back of my neck was just sweat. I was over halfway to the bottom and, though I was still scared out of my mind, the feeling of progress provided some much needed encouragement. I was so close and had nearly convinced myself that the danger was never real to begin with. Unfortunately, Orbita wasn’t quite done with me yet.


A sudden force, no doubt originating from the yawning darkness behind me, shoved me towards the edge of the second floor landing. It was like the proverbial rug had been pulled out from under me, only there was nothing but a free fall waiting beneath it. I never even saw the ground coming, I only felt it— felt as my feet absorbed the impact first and then quickly buckled when the rest of me came crashing down. There was a cracking pop in my ankle, followed by a surge of pain that traveled up my right leg. I would’ve screamed had there been any air left in my lungs. The whole world was spinning; I couldn’t tell up from down. All of the terror from before finally bubbled to surface, exploding in a frenzy of raw emotion and panic.

I dug my fingers into the mud and began pulling myself towards my car. The rain had soaked through everything, leaving me to desperately claw through the pliable soil in hopes of sustaining a grip. I split my nails on rocks, uprooted fistfuls of grass— grasped for anything that could help bring me closer to my sole means of escape. Though I was in too much of a manic state to stop and inspect the damage, I could tell that one set of toes wasn’t pointing in the right direction. Shards of glass and who knows what else shredded through my arms and torso. I crawled along the asphalt next, leaving a gory smear across the street and up the sidewalk. Wheezing, I propped my back against the grimy bumper of my Volkswagen and began patting at my pockets. Thankfully the keys were still in there. Operating on pure survival instinct, I had somehow managed to hobble over to the driver’s seat, where I proceeded to fumble with the ignition. The sound of the engine starting came like an answer to all my wordless prayers. The headlights flicked on. I slapped my injured palms over the cold steering wheel, and then pressed my forehead to it as well. A concoction of tears, sweat and blood rolled off my chin. My head was ringing as if someone had fired a gun right next to my temple. I was drifting in and out of consciousness; my vision was getting foggier by the second. I couldn’t afford to pass out just yet, though.

Looking up, I half expected to be met with the figure of my assailant standing in the headlights, but the path ahead remained mercifully unobstructed, at least as far as I could tell. The sun had long since dipped behind the impenetrable tree wall that surrounded the town. Darkness descended upon me like a suffocating mist. Mind-numbing pain radiated throughout opposite ends of my body, making it near impossible to think rationally. There were pieces of glass protruding from my forearms, which the incessant blinking of the dashboard made sure to highlight, along with the strip of flesh hanging from one of my thumbs. The sight alone left me feeling light-headed. I didn’t need a doctor to tell me that I was losing a lot of blood. I had a first aid kit in the trunk, but before I could even entertain the idea of going out and retrieving it, a sudden thump to the top of my car whipped me back into my seat.

The entire vehicle shook from the initial impact, followed by the creaking of the suspension as whatever had landed atop it began to slowly shift its weight around. The roof sagged beneath the creature’s mass, clearly outlining its position— not that it seemed too concerned with subtlety anymore. Once again was there a barrier between us, though this one didn’t feel nearly as reliable. I heard disgusting, muffled squelches over the droning of the engine. My heart sank to my stomach. By the time I felt the thing’s presence concentrated right above my head, I had already started hyperventilating, only for my breath to get stuck in my throat when a pale hand was pressed against the upper corner of my windscreen. It possessed only three fingers, none of which looked opposable and ended in bony talons. The creature tapped its claws against the window. It was toying with me, taunting me to come out of my flimsy little box and face it. Even if I felt suicidal enough to comply, fear had firmly rooted me in place.


The tapping turned out to be a distraction, however, as another one of its appendages effortlessly shattered through the rear door glass. Shards exploded over the back seats. Something long, pinking and flexible started squirming its way inside. A final surge of adrenaline coursed through my system. I grabbed the shift stick, put the Volkswagen into gear and slammed my broken foot over the gas. The pain was indescribable. I shrieked in agony as the car lunged forward. The creature’s hand was forcibly retracted from my field of view, leaving only scratches behind, and I heard the distinct sound of my unwanted passenger hitting the pavement outside. I refused to waste even a second looking back and just kept driving. I had no intention of slowing down until I was out of those godforsaken woods and Orbita was nothing but a dark, distant silhouette.

I can’t say how far I got until I eventually blacked out from all my injuries. I also can’t tell you the name of the man who found me and drove me to the nearest clinic. Not sure what happened to my car— I think it’s probably still out by that road along with most of equipment. I might go back and try to retrieve them someday, but it won’t be anytime soon. What I can tell you is that most places out here usually stay abandoned for a reason.

Credit : Morning Owl

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