Chernobyl is a small town with a name that is known around the world. Once a bustling town with 14000 residents it is now quiet. Only a few settlers live permanently in the town, everyone else passes through, either whilst working at the now closed power plant or as a tourist visiting for a short while. The town has a long history of conflict and suffering, but is now a memorial to everything that followed the fateful night in April 1986.
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The road stretches into the distance. There is nobody else on this now deserted road. Buses full of workers from the Power Plant pass from time to time, their duties over, but other than this it is like a ghost town.
Stopping briefly at the welcome sign pipes clad in insulation run the full length of the road as far as the eye can see as well as arching over the main road. Bringing water and supplies into the town they are above ground as nothing can be below the surface of the soil any longer.
As the road approaches the town of Chernobyl the houses appear. Some are clearly deserted but others look more cared for. The gardens are cleared and tended and there are people living a ‘normal’ life. It feels strange coming into a town that is quiet and deserted. Side roads are rambling, the hedges and garden encroaching on the road, houses peeking out through the vegetation. Public areas are well tended, kept tidy for the visiting tourists as the local dogs wander and roam looking for the next source of affection.
Despite arriving in the middle of the day there is no-one around. The only people walking are the tourists exploring in groups, making the rounds of all the locations that are on the must see list.
Monument of the Third Angel And Museum
The first memorial that appears in Chernobyl is the poignant sculpture of the Third Angel. Created by Anatoly Haidamaka this vast metal sculpture stands in an open space adjacent to an avenue of village signs, one for each abandoned village within the Exclusion Zone. The avenue is sobering, not just how many villages were abandoned but also how many lives changed forever in April 1986.
The monument was designed as a tribute to those who gave their lives during the disaster. Its name comes from the Biblical reference to wormwood in the New Testament in the Book of Revelations, 8:10-11, although there is a subtle difference between wormwood and mugwort!
“And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp…the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
Across the quiet road from the monument and avenue is the small but informative museum. A quick stop that set the scene for the rest of the time within the Exclusion Zone. The stories of the workers and liquidators come alive alongside the experiences of those who left their homes and those who returned against the wishes of the authorities.
St Elijah Church
Approaching the beautiful and ornate St Elijah Church a priest disappears across the immaculate gardens, almost an apparition and definitely not wanting to spend time with visitors. The work he has done to preserve this building and its surrounding area is amazing. This is the only church within the exclusion zone that is active, with services starting again in 2001 after 15 years of silence.
Lenin Statue (Pam’yatnyk Leninu) is one of the last two remaining statue of Lenin in Ukraine. At the fall of the Soviet Union 5,500 Lenin monuments were dismantled in a process known locally as Leninopad or “Leninfall”. This process started in 1991 and continued until 2017. As with other places in this surreal feeling town it is immaculate. Lenin stands in isolation, the grass leading up to the base of his plinth is well tended, enhanced by the clear blue winter sky behind.
Monument to those who Saved the World
The Monument to Those Who Saved the World is located outside the Chernobyl fire station where many of those who were first on the scene were stationed and later lost their lives from the effects of the radiation. The monument is large and feels solid. There is nothing delicate about this monument. It depicts the fire fighters, medics and liquidators who gave everything in an attempt to stop the disaster from being even worse than it ended up being. Many did not know what they were dealing with and gave their lives without realising the risks they were taking.
Just a short distance from the fire station is a collection of robots. It seems strange to see almost child-like models behind a fence with radiation signs warning against approaching them. These robots were used in an attempt to remove the radioactive debris from the reactor. Adapted from devices used in space it was hoped that they would aid the clear up. however the radiation was so intense it caused problems with the electrics and signal and the attempts were never really successful. Today these robots are rusting in a field. Still contaminated from their exposure to the initial radiation at the heart of the accident.
Things to Look Out for In Chernobyl Town
- Welcome to Chernobyl Sign
- Monument of the Third Angel (Wormwood Star)
- Avenue of Villages
- Chernobyl Museum
- St Elijah Church
- Lenin Statue
- Monument to those who saved the world
- DSP “CEMRW”
Chernobyl is a strange place for photography. There are lots of locations that you will be taken to on your tour, but given the short amounts of time in each place and the lack of control over time of day for a visit it is difficult to achieve more than record shots.
It was possible to focus on small sections of the monuments and buildings and this gave more detail and isolation. At the river there was more time to explore the bridge and the metal on this lent itself to getting more unusual images.
Getting to Chernobyl Town
Chernobyl is located within the Exclusion Zone, put in place after the nuclear disaster at the nearby power plant and is about 2 hours by road from Kyiv.
Visits to Chernobyl are only possible as part of a guided tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. These tours can be booked in advance and all depart from Kyiv.