Chernobody Anywhere

In April 1986 reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded sending flumes of radioactive fallout over the surrounding area, sparking the evacuation of 350,000 people and in particular a complete exodus from the nearby city of Pripyat. The inhabitants left with hardly anything, having been promised by authorities they would return within 3 days. To this day they have never been back.

Sartorially bedecked pal Jimmy Gizzle (most probably rocking something more casual but no less dapper) took a trip to the area recently and lensed some stunning shots of Pripyat using no more than the meagre wizardry of an iPhone, and kindly agreed to add some words for a lickle tone-setting.


Taking a trip to Chernobyl isn't obvious mini-break material, but when you can't face yet another 48 hour cultural blitzkrieg on a European city, complete with angry locals, over-priced lattes, and queues that would make a Soviet bread line look palatable, then why not head to the sight of the greatest nuclear disaster of all time? 

Rest assured you won't see anyone else there, and the coffee at the canteen built for those brave men and women constructing a permanent sarcophagus around the reactor is of a surprisingly high quality. 

The Dead Zone (the 30km perimeter around the stricken Reactor No. 4) is an incredibly eerie place. Trite as it may sound, the one thing that strikes you is the silence. 

Our vodka-soaked guide from the Ministry of Environment assured us as we burnt rubber down the leaf covered highway that animals in the Dead Zone have made a swift recovery from the effects of radiation poisoning and life is pretty much back to normal for Brother Bear and Brother Rabbit. 

Brother Catfish is doing especially well as his only natural predator (Man) fled long ago and he's growing exponentially. We fed one such specimen a loaf of bread and he took it down in one. We're talking 10ft Ray Harryhausen 'The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms'-type big. Despite all of this we didn't hear a bird sing or a bush rustle. It is quite incredible to experience absolute silence in an urban environment and that made the trip worth it alone. 

The village of Chernobyl has been around for centuries and is still inhabited to this day by a ragtag bunch of scientists and locals who were either unwilling or too old to evacuate. That said the inhabitants of the now Dead Zone were told as they were scattered to the four corners of the Soviet empire that they would be back within weeks, and as such they left almost everything behind. Precious few ever returned.

Our guide's flat in Chernobyl was a curious, lived-in museum to the Soviet era. Very little is allowed in or out of the Zone and it was a depressing, half-lived place that he spent little time in. His work takes him in to the Zone to monitor wildlife populations, and as such he tries to avoid Chernobyl as much as possible. If the wind had been blowing the other way that fateful night in Spring 1986 then Chernobyl, and Kiev, would be like the purpose built town of Pripyat is today. Empty and abandoned to nature.

It is hard to describe visiting a town built for some 50,000 souls that 25 years ago was at the pinnacle of Soviet civilisation, and is now in an advanced state of ruin. Wondering through the old shops, The Palace of Culture, the sports complex with its empty swimming pool and deflated basketballs, the fair ground that never opened, and taking in the view from 30 storeys up on the roof of an apartment building filled me with an overwhelming sense of sadness and isolation. 

The place has a certain Ozymandian quality that, like a modern-day Angokor, leaves you questioning the very utility of our species. Discarded by humanity and obliterated by time because of a tasteless, invisible poison that destroys us from within but when controlled could be the key to our survival, this place will be a memorial to the unique beauty, necessity and folly of our species overreaching.

Radiation poisoning is a subtle, devastating process, the symptoms of which are hard to identify until manifested at the near-fatal stage. Survivors describe feeling a 'tingle' in their very core, and a dryness in their mouths. A bit like the feeling you get when you are in a place your animal instinct tells you is wrong. 

A bit like falling in love.


Check out more of Jamie's badman photography on his blog here.

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