Wayward Pines. For anyone who has never read the book or watched the TV series, Wayward Pines is a small town, picture perfect in every way. The residents look like they’ve just walked out of Stepford, with their perfect hair, manners and pristine outfits. They laugh and joke with their neighbours, host barbecues, dinner parties, carnivals. They go for leisurely walks, hand in hand in the park. They eat pot roasts and bake cakes for their neighbours. On the outside, Wayward Pines appears to be the most perfect town in existence. Wayward Pines however, has a dark secret. No one can ever leave. No one can talk about their past history. No one can discuss politics. Breaking of these rules is severely punished. They do not have contact with the outside world. They left loved ones behind. They are not allowed to talk about. Leaving the town is not an option. It is forbidden.
As of 2010, a city called Ozersk in Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russsia, known to many now as “City 40”, held 82,164 people. These people live in an idyllic city, reminiscent of a 1950’s American dream town. They live in luxury apartments, eat exotic delicacies and never have to fear for the future of their children or grandchildren, knowing that they will be provided for. All these things are given to them by the city. The people are told they are “The Chosen” and they live their lives in peace and tranquillity.
Behind the scenes however, the story is much more macabre. The air and water are contaminated and filled with disease.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union started the construction of several cities (closed cities) which would be used for the production of nuclear weapons. The Mayak power plant was the main source of plutonium during the Cold War and now processes high-level nuclear waste. The residents came to the cities of their own free will but the locations, along with their identities, were kept secret from the rest of the world. They did not appear on maps and the citizens identities were erased from the census records. Any people who left behind friends and family were declared “missing”. Between 1947 and 1954, the citizens were forbidden to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Even today, movement in and out of the city requires special permission and is tightly controlled and monitored.
In 1957, there was a massive explosion of nuclear material at the power plant, resulting in thousands of square-kilometers worth of radioactive contamination. It was covered up and kept secret; the waste being dumped into rivers used for cleaning and drinking, the information unbeknownst to the residents until 1980.
After the Second World War, most of the cities were closed, City 40 being one of the few remaining. The city still functions as idyllic and picturesque as they come, but harbours an underlying, festering malice in the form of high level radiation, even more-so than Chernobyl. The residents know this. They know that they face radiation poisoning on a daily basis. That their husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and children will eventually become sick. That they will die long before they are supposed to. That they will die horribly. Yet they stay. In the past, similar to the townspeople of Wayward Pines, leaving was not an option. It was forbidden. The people did not even know what was happening in the rest of the world. They were told everyone was the enemy and they were safe in Ozersk.
Currently, the residents are free to leave if they so wish, but they are forbidden to talk about the city.
The people who stay, know the risks they now take. They believe it is a small price to pay for a worry-free life.
The documentary ‘City 40’ will be available to watch on Netflix in September. Follow the story of the film crew who gained access to the forbidden city with the help of some of the residents.