• Abandoned Town of Pripyat, Exclusion Zone, Chernobyl, Ukraine.

    An abandoned hotel in the town of Pripyat in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine.

This is a collection of photographs from my tour of the Exclusion Zone in Chernobyl, about two hours northwest of Kyiv (Kiev) in Ukraine. I visited in October 2021, just months before Vladimir Putin decided to invade the sovereign nation of Ukraine.

While I did spend significant time at the sarcophagus covering Reactor 4, the majority of the tour was spent in and around the abandoned town of Pripyat and nearby villages. The tour itself was very well organized and despite the minimal risk of exposure to radiation, all tour participants were provided with Geiger counters. Only on a few occasions – while passing a couple of hotspots – did my metering gadget jump from the normal background radiation of 0,2 to ≈16,000 microsieverts/hr.

Before exploring Pripyat, we also visited the enormous Dugar Radar situated just two miles away from the nuclear power plant.

Just 36 hours after the accident, some 43,000 people were evacuated from Pripyat in about 3,5 hours. The local government rented 1200 buses from Kyiv to perform the evacuation. Most of the residential and commercial interiors have subsequently been looted and severely vandalized. So not much remains intact from 1986. Just junk, really.

Interestingly, officially, there are no tours of the Exclusion Zone or the Reactor 4 area.

One of our two English-speaking guides told us of how hundreds of rugs and decorations stolen from apartments in Pripyat and other villages were later identified in bazaars and makeshift markets in as faraway places as Siberia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Apparently, carpets and fabrics easily absorb radiation and many of those from homes in the Exclusion Zone was saturated with odorless, lethal toxicity. So people that bought these items, often several hundred miles from the potentially cataclysmic catastrophe at Reactor 4, eventually fell ill with serious levels of radiation sickness.

The size of the sarcophagus covering the Unit Four Reactor, which exploded in 1986, is just stupendously enormous and could easily house the Statue of Liberty underneath its metal, movable roof. While it was supposed to stabilize the site, which is still highly radioactive and full of fissile material, there are now some worrying signs that the remains could still heat up and leak radiation into the environment again.

Before returning to Kyiv, the tour group had to go through two separate scans to make sure we had not been exposed to dangerous levels of radioactivity.

After returning to my hotel in Kyiv, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of exploitation. Which was something I also felt while at Auschwitz and Birkenau. I don’t know if I’m more enlightened or desensitized now than before either visit. But these tours have surely solidified my feeling that Man (primarily men) are endlessly capable of screwing things up, creating devastation upon each other, and fucking up the planet.