In April 1986 Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded flooding the surrounding area with massive amounts of deadly radiation. After a brief period of futile denial by the soviet government, the neighbouring town of Pripyat was abandoned. 28 years later Dystopia Photography ventures inside the exclusion zone to explore and document the ruins.
From a nearby town we boarded the Chernobyl train alongside the power-station workers.
The infamous and ill-fated Reactor Four now encased in a thick concrete shell protecting the surrounding environment from the worst of the radiation that now sits, smouldering, in giant melted blobs within the basement levels.
Mid-construction at the time of the disaster, Reactors Five and Six were abandoned unfinished with even the cranes and machinery far too contaminated to recover.
Within days of attending the fire at Reactor Four, every single fire-fighter had died from radiation poisoning. Without the unblinking bravery of these men, who really had no idea what they were really facing, we could have seen an even more serious disaster with implications worldwide. This modest monument acknowledges that sacrifice and honours those who made it.
Chernobyl’s military fire station houses dramatic and ominous machinery to prepare it for any eventuality. Incidentally, in taking these photographs I was chased away by angry Ukrainian soldiers – These are not simply holiday snaps, folks!
Now overgrown Chernobyl village. A resident abandons their home and, apparently, their legs.
Recess – A small school near Chernobyl Village.
The nearby Duga Three radar installation was also contaminated beyond recovery and left to decay.
“Pripyat” – A modern 1970s town looking forward to a bright future.
The sports stadium now crumbles slowly into ruins
Although officially sanctioned guided tours are permitted, what is not permitted is going off on your own, doing your own thing darting in and out of random contaminated buildings. Taking this approach mean occasionally having to find hiding spaces upon hearing the rumble of military patrol vans.
Probably the most iconic feature of Pripyat is the fairground and, in particular, the bright yellow Ferris wheel. The attractions were still being set up when the nuclear reactor exploded and the wheel was never actually used. Now it stands as a bittersweet monument to one of the most shocking disasters of recent generations.
The community sports hall and theatre complex stands proudly in the city’s central square
The only active residents of the town are now two-dimensional folk who can be spotted alarmingly from the corner of your eyes as you explore the quiet deserted environment.
The sports-hall of one of the many schools now crumbles to dust as you walk through the rotten flooring.
The police station cells with doors which hang open heavily. This dark intimidating corridor does things to the hairs on the back of your neck.
Vehicles were abandoned in the rush to evacuate to safety. Behind, the town fire station to which a great many staff never returned.
From the rooftop of the tallest apartment block you can get a sense of the scale of Pripyat. We were lucky to travel through most areas of the town although you can spend a year exploring and still come across something new every day.
The Olympic-sized pool complete with dramatic dual diving platforms.
The cold-war heritage of this vast makeshift museum is evident everywhere, not least in the hundreds of child-sized gas-masks carpeting floors of School Two.
With the bleak concrete constructions and degree to which nature has taken back the buildings. it is sometimes easy to forget the great many lifes which once filled these walls. Parents, children, babies, brand-parents. Little leftover artefacts act as vibrant clues to these anonymous ghosts.
Although some small personal belongings were surely taken by evacuees when the buses came, it seems that the town’s many grand pianos were not among the items to make the cut into the hand luggage. Now these lovingly-crafted instruments stand held together by their own strings.
The Music School – The Last Performance
There is something clichéd but also undeniably impactful about the ‘lonely chair’ composition. I certainly was not going to miss the opportunity to capture this one.
Worker lockers at the bus station.
Another sad piano – this time at an infant school.
The colourful emblem that adorns the post office still brightens an otherwise desolate landscape.
Sport seemed to play as big a part (if not bigger) within the USSR as it has done in the west. Here the town’s boxing ring being encroached on all sides by tall forest in lieu of visitors.
This boat sits moored and listing within a lake now polluted with radiation and debris.
This really was an adventure like no other and I can’t overstate just how lucky I feel to have been able to make the journey to a unique pocket of the world very few get to witness first hand.
I have other posts giving more detail on some of the larger structures around Pripyat such as the hospital, Duga Three and Jupiter Factory so, why not explore my blog more or even share it with your friends.
All images can be purchased as prints – please email firstname.lastname@example.org for prices.