The Ruins of Chernobyl

I’ve been fascinated with Chernobyl for at least the last 10 years. Up until a few years ago, only occasional photos showed up online, and those were usually by professional journalists and photographers on assignment.

Thanks to Instagram and a handful of organized tour groups, the photos now flow freely, and I really wanted to get in while the structures remained somewhat intact. When I decided to quit my job to spend the year traveling, I began with Eastern Europe and Chernobyl to ensure I got a glimpse before the winter snows.

Entering the old hospital where the first workers and firefighters were taken after the Chernobyl explosion.
Soviet-era exam room

After the hospital, we ventured deeper into Pripyat and visited the grand auditorium. The remnants of the May Day preparations still remain. The party never happened, as time in Pripyat stopped on April 26, 1986, when reactor #4 exploded, causing the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Propaganda in the auditorium

In the elementary school, we were told the children went to school as normal the day after the disaster. That’s because officials kept the explosion secret for three days. It was likely the Swedes who¬†forced Soviet hands in revealing the accident after the neighbors far north detected radioactive clouds spreading across all of Europe.

A pool of unused gas masks for children. Allegedly, officials did not want them used, as they feared the acknowledgment and sight of the devices would cause widespread panic.

It’s a rewarding but emotionally difficult experience. The tour was an equal mix of history, global context and photo walk, which gave us much-needed perspective and kept the trip from being gratuitous ruin porn.

The Ferris wheel was set to launch the week following the explosion. It was never used.
Free ride

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to touch, though sitting on the ground and objects is highly discouraged, as radiation collects on surfaces. Thankfully, I passed the radiation check.

Bumber cars are out of service

We also met Ivan Ivanovich, one of the less than 100 remaining self-settlers who returned to the exclusion zone shortly after the disaster and exists on mostly self-grown crops, a few chickens, and the occasional pig. Our group brought him a bag of groceries from the small Chernobyl town commissary that serves as a tiny grocery store for the workers in the zone.

Ivan Ivanavich, now in his 80s, is one of the less than 100 self-settlers still living in the exclusion zone.
Pripyat had a short life. Founded in 1970, it was then abandoned in 1986

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