A few weeks ago one of my friends told me about the HBO mini-series Chernobyl. I was somewhat skeptical about watching it, and here is why.
I grew up in Gomel, Belarus. On April 26, 1986, I was playing soccer outside when a huge gust of wind blew the ball across the yard. My grandmother ran out and told me and my friends to get inside in case it starts raining. No one knew what actually happened; even when the government finally admitted that there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the news downplayed the extent of the damage and of the danger, calling it a “minor accident with only four casualties”.
I am not going to go into the details of the aftermath – plenty of books, articles, and documentaries have been created to tell the story of Chernobyl.
In 2006, twenty years after the accident, I decided to travel to Chernobyl and see for myself the remnants of Chernobyl and Pripyat, the exclusion zone, and the people who live and work there.
It was surprisingly easy to travel into the exclusion zone – a quick Google search got me to SoloEast Travel, a Kiev-based company that organizes Chernobyl tours.
The whole experience of visiting Chernobyl and Pripyat was surreal; after coming back to the United States I pretty much archived the photos and the notebooks.
After the first episode of the HBO miniseries, I went back through my backups and looked through close to 2,000 photos and dozens of scanned notes.
Here are a few of the photos…
A stork nest on a telephone pole on the way from Kiev to Chernobyl. It is an old Russian/Ukrainian/Byelorussian belief that when storks return to their nests, everything is going to be OK.
КПП – Контрольно-пропускной пункт. Exclusion Zone entrance checkpoint / passport control
A monument to the liquidators.
“The Chernobyl liquidators were the civil and military personnel who were called upon to deal with consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet Union on the site of the event.” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_liquidators
A map of the exclusion zone
At the time of my visit, Maria was the sole remaining resident of her village a few kilometers outside of Pripyat
Both of Maria’s sons were in the first wave of Chernobyl liquidators. They died several years after the cleanup was completed