In the early hours of April 26, 1986 a test carried out on Reactor No. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant did not go as planned: safety procedures were not followed and alarms were ignored. Several explosions destroyed the reactor and blew tonnes of radioactive matter into the environment. The power plant, situated in present-day Ukraine was owned by the communist government of the Soviet-union. The government initially tried to cover up the accident but after radiation readings all over Europe began to spike it became apparent that something had gone terribly wrong.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a 1,600 square kilometer area around the power plant that was established days after the disaster. Anyone living inside this zone was ordered to evacuate. This included the village of Chernobyl and the nearby city Prypiat with a population of 50,000. People were told to only bring their papers and some food as the evacuation would be temporary. This however ended up not being the case and people were never allowed to return. Nowadays Prypiat remains frozen in the communist eighties whilst slowly being reclaimed by nature.
On my way from Ho Chi Minh City to Amsterdam I passed through Ukraine. This was a great opportunity to visit Chernobyl and to have a look at ground zero. For understandable reasons you can’t just drive into the exclusion zone by yourself. The easiest way to get near the power plant is to join a tour, and that’s what I did.
Photos of Chernobyl and Prypiat showing how quickly nature returns have always intrigued me. A visit to the exclusion zone is a surreal experience, especially on a hot summer day late in August. Nothing out of the ordinary can be seen until someone holds a Geiger counter near a patch of unassuming moss. The steady beep from the instrument turns into a constant whir: not safe. Another reminder that looks can be deceiving and that this is not a normal forest. From here on everyone would be hopping from one concrete patch to the other, carefully avoiding the moss.
These robots were used to clean up inside the power plant after the disaster. A huge graveyard of contaminated vehicles can be found in the forest but due to the radiation is not safe to visit.
A daycare center where children of the power plant's workers stayed. Situated a little away from the road, creepy dolls and other toys make this a scary place.
The new sarcophagus that -- when completed -- will be rolled in place on top of the reactors.