In 1986 an accident at the USSR’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant triggered the world’s worst radiological crisis.
The events of that night are well documented – but history didn’t stop there. Chernobyl, as a place, remains very much alive today.
In Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide, published by Fuel Publishing, researcher Darmon Richter journeys into the contemporary Exclusion Zone, ‘venturing deeper than any previously published account’, according to Fuel.
It continues: ‘While thousands of foreign visitors congregate around a handful of curated sites, beyond the tourist hotspots lies a wild and mysterious land the size of a small country. In the forests of Chernobyl, historic village settlements and Soviet-era utopianism have lain abandoned since the time of the disaster – overshadowed by vast, unearthly mega-structures designed to win the Cold War.
‘Richter combines photographs of discoveries made during his numerous visits to the Zone with the voices of those who witnessed history – engineers, scientists, police and evacuees. He explores evacuated regions in both Ukraine and Belarus, finding forgotten ghost towns and Soviet monuments lost deep in irradiated forests. He gains exclusive access inside the most secure areas of the power plant itself, and joins the “stalkers” of Chernobyl as he sets out on a high-stakes illegal hike to the heart of the Exclusion Zone.’
Scroll down to see some of Richter’s fascinating photographs from over 20 visits to the Zone…
Control Room 4, the room where the 1986 disaster originated. Now stripped of many of its fittings and cleaned of dust, it has been declared safe for visitors. Since autumn 2019, the power plant authorities have included it on official tours
Control Room 3, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This room and the associated Reactor 3 remained in use until 1995 when they were put out of service following an agreement with the EU. Now, along with Reactors 1 and 2, it is undergoing a decommissioning process
Control Room 3: The top left of these cube-shaped shielded buttons marked A3-5 was the ‘scram’ kill switch. This manually operated control would immediately terminate the fission reaction by inserting all the control rods at once. In neighbouring Control Room 4, on April 26, 1986, at 1.23am, this switch was flicked and a malfunction occurred, causing the meltdown
Control Room 2, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. A tourist studies the consoles, decommissioned after a fire in 1991. The controls are no longer operational and occasionally plant employees will allow visitors to push buttons and switches
A view through a ventilation slot in the roof space of a residential tower block in Pripyat. The power plant, complete with the new arch, can be seen on the horizon
The back of a hammer-and-sickle emblem on a central Pripyat tower block. This symbol would have been brightly lit at night
The Post Office, Pripyat: The mural illustrates the evolution of communication, from stone tablets and scrolls, to mail trains and finally a Soviet cosmonaut
Pripyat Café: This building and its striking stained-glass windows are currently being preserved by a privately funded project. The city is still home to numerous stray dogs, descendants of pets left by evacuees, who are often fed by tourists
Kindergarten No.7, Pripyat: Discarded artefacts are arranged into unlikely dioramas by visitors
The Ferris Wheel, Pripyat: Though the city was evacuated before its official May Day opening ceremony, the wheel saw occasional use before the disaster, contrary to popular belief
The Izumrudniy (‘Emerald’) Holiday Camp, near Chernobyl: Once a popular spot for summer holiday breaks, these rustic wooden chalets, painted with characters from cartoons and fairy tales, were completely destroyed by forest fires in April 2020
A playground near Pripyat Middle School No.3. Each microdistrict had its own shops and recreation facilities
Logging track, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: Illegal visitors to the Zone typically prefer these remote paths, rather than the main roads which are frequented by police patrols and tour buses
A mural on a residential building in Pripyat. This Socialist-realist mural depicts virtuous citizens – a farmer, a firefighter, a police officer, and a young pioneer – under a radiant Soviet crest
A residential building in the outskirts of Pripyat. The city is completely enveloped in a dense blanket of forest, blurring its former perimeters
The ‘Polissya’ Hotel, Pripyat. Once the tallest building in the city, the hotel hosted scientists, engineers and politicians visiting from other parts of the Soviet Union
A view from 2013 across Pripyat rooftops towards the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The new arch is still under construction, while the old sarcophagus enclosing Reactor Block 4 stands to its left
A tame fox poses in front of the sign pointing the way to Pripyat from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant
An abandoned trolleybus in Kopachi in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This highly contaminated village was mostly bulldozed after the disaster. In April 2020 this vehicle was severely damaged by forest fires
Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide by Darmon Richter and published by Fuel Publishing is out now, £24.95