Haunting images of Prypiat

There is something that draws me to images of abandoned places. The rich colours of rust, mildew and peeling paint.  Each stray object tells a small story, an intimate glimpse into the past.  It is a story of futility – and yet there is something strangely comforting in the return of nature.


from artificialowl.net

But in sometimes the story behind the pictures overrides my aesthetic pleasure in the details of colour and texture.  Like the images of Prypiat – the city that stands empty near the Chernobyl reactor.


from artificialowl.net


from artificialowl.net

The Chernobyl disaster happened because of a fatal convergence of politics, bad design, and ignorance.

Politics, because so many of decisions were made with an eye on protecting individual reputations and concealing the true extent of the disaster.

The trigger was  an experiment to test the emergency core cooling feature.  To run this experiment, crucial safety systems were disabled.   A combination of human error and flaws in the reactor design caused the two explosions.  From then on it is a story of bad decisions based on flawed information.

After the explosions the operators simply did not believe that the reactor core was exposed.  Their dosimeters did not reflect the local radiation levels as they were not calibrated to display such high numbers, and meters that did reflect the true level, were taken to be defective.  The operators ignored the evidence of pieces of the core lying around the explosion site.


from livejournal – deviant man

Reading through many pages on the Chernobyl disaster – the following bits of information stay with me, as I try to understand this story:

The plant operators who stayed behind to operated the emergency cooling systems, wearing no protective gear.

The fire-fighters who worked unprotected. No one told them it was anything other than an electrical fire.

The men who were drafted to clear the radioactive rubble.  They could work for 40 seconds at a time, and were referred to as “bio robots”.

The emergency was only declared after workers at a Swedish nuclear power station detected unusual levels of radiation.

All the trees within a 10km radius of the reactor died, and are now called the “Red Forest”.

The Zone of Exclusion has become a haven for wildlife. Since humans left, many animals that are rare elsewhere, have returned to Prypiat.

As a post-script – if you look at the links below, you will see many comments on these pictures from people who recognise the scenes from the game Call Of Duty 4.

So we have made a game out of this story?  I’m sure some-one has rationalised this as educational.  But exactly what is it teaching?  Here is a sample:

“And yeah, I was also looking at these thinking ‘I ran there are snipered some guys in CoD4′. I think the game producers did a good job in matching the creepyness…”

Most of my information comes from the Wikipedia page on Chernobyl. For more information, and more images, also see:

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gavin
    May 17, 2009 @ 01:25:42

    Great post, I am also fascinated by photos of abandoned places. Several years ago I read an article in Harper’s Magazine by Alan Weisman about Chernobyl. Maybe you could find it online?

  2. mashadutoit
    May 17, 2009 @ 09:26:14

    Thanks for the lead: I’ve found the article, if you don’t mind downloading a pdf. Its 3.5MB, so not too big:

    Click to access weisman-harpers-chernobyl.pdf

    I still have to read it, but glancing through it, it looks very interesting. Many great images, also of people living in the Zone of Exclusion.

    I also found an interview with Weisman here:

    Apparently he wrote a book called “The World Without Us” which also deals with these issues…

  3. Andries
    May 17, 2009 @ 11:39:21

    Hi Mash, I did not know we shared this interest!

    You might have stumbled across kid of speed’s chernobyl site: http://www.kiddofspeed.com/

    She’s the russian journalist and biker who has done most to photograph and explore the wasteland.

    My friend Uma Kothari’ss husband Tim Edensor has a fascinating site on British Industrial Ruins: http://www.sci-eng.mmu.ac.uk/british_industrial_ruins/

    He theorises it all interestingly and has a good links page.

    Also check out http://www.urbanexplorers.net/

  4. Andries
    May 17, 2009 @ 11:42:41

    oh yes, and then there is http://darkpassage.com/ which is loads of fun to explore

  5. mashadutoit
    May 17, 2009 @ 11:45:35

    Yes – I’ve seen the kid of speed site.
    Apparently she is now accused of faking the trip – she was on a regular old tour, and pretended to be riding solo on a motorbike. Not sure if it matters though.

    Thanks for all the links. More images for me to hoard…

    Dark Passages is pretty cool.

  6. Trackback: Dancing » Blog Archive » pictures of prypiat

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