It was my first time in the Ukraine, we landed in Kiev myself and Mark and found outself outside of the airport waiting for our pickup. It hadnt seemed that long from making the decision to visit Chernobyl and finding ourselves here, the money had been payed to the agent who was helping us to organise this and we just had to hope that everything would go to plan.
It was August 2010 and after a few years of taking photo's I had gravitated towards dereliction and decaying buildings as my focus. Chernobyl was almost the holy grail of locations for this type of photography having been completely abandoned almost 25 years previous because of the nuclear accident which shocked the world.
Our driver didn't speak much english so after collecting out bags, we got into the back of a black sedan and started the drive out of the city nervously watching the scenery pass. You need visa's to enter the armed exclusion zone and luckily everything seemed to be in order as they let us pass through and after the checkpoint the scenery quickly started to change, most noticably the roads which started to change into uneven slabs of concrete and potholes which spanned most of the width, I wouldnt like to do this trip in the dark!
Chernobyl, the name given to the ill-fated power station is actually a small village approximately 10km from the plant, its now the home to the workers that are still active around the area as well as scientists and tour guides. The town has a military feel to it, combat attire is the unofficial uniform, our "hotel" was a prefab building which was simple but would be home for the next few days. Outside the main centre, there were rows and rows of cottages which were hidden from view, swallowed up by trees and plants looked much more rural but the wooden frames which would have once been bright and colourful were now cracked and faded.
The first day started and the realisation that I was waking up in Chernobyl was very surreal. We started out with a few locations near to the town, firstly an old football field which is now home to a few old military vehicles, these were set on concrete plinths with small yellow triangles with radioactive signs painted on them. I went out taking photos at night here which I have since found out was strictly forbidden. At night the town was dark, there arent that many street lights or light polution so you are faced with the pitch black along with a heavy silence which is occasionally broken by the calls echoing from the surrounding wildlife.
After the military vehicles, we drove to the Pripyat river, the river used to be the main transport link and it quickly go contaminated after the accident. The ships are beached on the shore and rusting away. We spent a good time walking over the ships and exploring the riverline.
The journey continued out of Chernobuyl and towards the city of Pripyat and though the industrial complex which housed the main power station. Either side of the river, there were constructions which were halted, one for a new reactor.
It was reactor 4 where the accident happened, a power surge during a routine test caused a rupture and an explosion. The memorial in the viewing area is dedicated to the firemen and emergency workers that fought to contain the damage, knowing that there would be no chance of surviving the radiation effects. stood infront of the reactor was sobering, as the tower loomed over you casting a shadow over the monument. This was the closest that we could get to the reactor.
As we moved on towards the city of Pripyat there was one other stop on the way. The kindergarted in one small villiage was hidden away beneath the trees, like something out of a fairytale, inside was full of small cribs and toys.
There is something quite haunting about a dark and dusty atmosphere in somewhere which would have once been filled by childrens laughter and energy. The books and items of clothing would have belonged to children who would now just younger than me and
I wondered where they were now.
The best way to understand the scale of the city that was built specifically for the workers of the Chernobyl plant and their families was to get up high and after countless floors of stairs (no electricity means no lifts)
The roof of the apartment block opened out to an amazing view of the city with the outline of the reactor on the horizon, a constant reminder of the tragidy that happened here.
my curiosity of the view outweighed my vertigo here and I managed to get to the edge if only for a short amount of time.
Apparently there were rumors that this factory made military items or something secret but we didnt find any traces here. This place looked like the abandoned factory urbexing in the uk apart from some of the russian writing on the walls and things like the fire extinguishers.
The place was waterlogged which made for some nice reflections but aside from that, there wasnt much here. We walked out from the complex, It was big and near to the actual factory, there were admin buildings which had fallen victim of looters and thieves.
Finally we paid a visit to the fairground, the ferris wheel, made famous by the call of duty game rises high above the trees, a rusting structure with its bright yellow pods looked vivid against the now blue sky. The park was due to open in May of 1986, literally a few weeks after the accident but by then, Pripyat had been fully evacuated so nobody ever got a chance to enjoy the rides.
Bumper cars and chair swings were also part of the park. We had run out of time for today and now journeyed back through the checkpoints and back to Chernobyl where we would stay the night and return the following day.