Last weekend, over the Easter break, Adriana and I took a trip to Kiev, Ukraine.  It was one of the major cities in Europe that we still hadn’t visited and we had heard great things about the Orthodox churches in the area.  But as we started doing research for the trip, my wife mentioned that we could also take a day trip to Chernobyl and I was sold.  I’m one of those guys that watches the Discovery channel pretty regularly, and they have these shows with bad special effects on “The World without Humans.”  Well that’s pretty much the story with Chernobyl, and I was looking forward to taking my new 5d Mark III out for a real test drive!

The Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986.  If you want to read about it in depth you can click on the Wiki link, but suffice it to say the place was evacuated on April 27, 1986.  Since then, there haven’t been any humans living in the immediate area or the city of Prypiat since.  You have to get permission a few weeks in advance to go, there are various tour groups that will give you access and of course they make a pretty penny in the process.  But the radiation levels have decreased to levels that are okay for human exposure for limited periods of time.  They equate being in the area to taking a long haul flight, but suffice to say I wasn’t rolling around on the ground, picking flowers or anything else that would improve my chances of growing a 3rd arm.

One of our first stops was an abandoned kindergarten on the way to the reactor.  It’s a very powerful site, to think that one day there were 5 year olds in here, learning and playing with one another and then another day the entire facility was abandoned.  Now I have to say I went HDR crazy while I was in the area; I know that some people don’t like that type of photography but I thought it fit the scene.  The first picture I took was of the abandoned bunk beds – it’s shocking to see the amount of dust and collected debris when a place has been abandoned for as long as this.  I love the texture in the room, the debris sitting around and the rusted look of the bunks.  There was a shoe left behind on the floor of the room that I also captured, using a large aperture to blur the background.

I then took a photo of another room – here there was a small collection of toys sitting around and I captured this picture of a little doll’s chair, covered in dust and cobwebs.  Sitting beside this chair were little books and coloring magazines that really made you think – what happened to these kids?  What was the evacuation like?

Another room had a bottle, crusted over with dirt and debris, sitting on the floor.  In the background is a blue chalkboard, with crusted paint hanging from the walls.

Finally I walked into this room, which housed the remnants of what looked like a book shelf.  I really like the way this picture turned out, with incredible texture and almost a story book feeling to it.

The next stop on our journey was the actual reactor itself – I was a bit shocked (and nervous?) about how close we got to the 4th reactor, which is the one that blew up back in 1986.  Here you can see a picture of the Geiger counter that our guide carried around to show us the radiation readings.

Next stop for the day was the village of Prypiat.  This was incredible.  The city used to be home for over 40,000 people, many of them working at the power plant.  When the disaster occurred they were evacuated 36 hours later, never to return.  The city is now in a state of complete disrepair (actually the word “disrepair” doesn’t really do it justice).  Everything is condemned, and although we walked around and took plenty of pictures you absolutely cannot go in any buildings.

We learned that the moss is particularly radioactive, meaning it has a tendency to attract and retain the radioactive particles in the area so we were told not to step on it or get too close.  You can see a collection of the photos below.  These two are from the city’s central square – I like the first one with the red nuclear radiation symbol.  I really wish we’d been able to go inside the buildings to get a view of what they look like, but you could see it obviously wasn’t safe and one of the schools actually collapsed just under 6 months prior to our visit.

I snapped this picture below of an abandoned building with an old table saw sitting outside – I thought the picture really captured the feeling of decay and idea of nature conquering technology.  Nearby there was what looked like an old mailbox of some sort; I liked the way the blue color contrasted the natural tones of the forest.

One of the more interesting things to see was an abandoned amusement park, where they had a set of bumper cars and a ferris wheel that supposedly was never used.  It’s only a matter of time until it falls over and crashes to the ground.

It really made me think – this place is “only” 26 years old.  In the grand scheme of things it’s not a terribly long time.  To appreciate the power or nature, and seeing the weeds and trees growing up through the concrete is an amazing sight.  For me, being not only a history buff but also a science freak, I have to say that visiting Chernobyl was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life.  I can’t recommend it enough and I would encourage you to go, particularly if you’re a photographer.  It’s a genuine playground for those of you with cameras, the only challenge I had was keeping up with the tour group as I frantically snapped pictures throughout the trip!

To take a closer look at the pictures above and to see the rest of my Ukrainian set, check them out here on SmugMug.  You can also view a slideshow in my portfolio section above.

Next post I’ll share some of the beautiful Ukrainian Orthodox churches that we saw while we there.  Until then, happy shooting!

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