Chernobyl | Ukraine
A Ghost City In The Dead Zone
There are few places on earth as barren and as tragic as the city of Pirpyat in Northern Ukraine, and certainly none with its unique history. Built to house the families and workers of the Chernobyl power plant, it was abandoned wholesale in June of 1986, three days after the reactor’s core exploded, showering the region (and most of Europe, less directly) with radioactive ash.
Now almost 30 years later the site is left almost exactly as it was on the day it was evacuated. Residents were told that they would be returned to their homes after the cleanup, so many of the apartments and shops were left as they were. And its remote location and secure perimeter within Chernobyl’s “Dead Zone” means that it’s stayed fairly impervious to looters and salvage crews over the years.
Pripyat is a time capsule of Soviet life in the ‘80s and a promise to the soviet people of a bright nuclear future, though now slowly being reclaimed by nature — crumbling buildings are now falling at a rate of several per year, stalactites hang from ceilings and many of the city’s streets and boulevards are now improvised forests.
Soviet architecture in the second half of the 20th century took its cues from visionary architects like Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, who advocated for affordable mass-produced housing and intelligent, purposeful city design. It’s a template that the Soviets adopted in earnest and used extensively in remote work colonies from Siberia to the Caucuses, with prefabricated cities spouting up overnight. Many of these have suffered the same fate as Pripyat, though none quite as spectacularly or as wholly.
Walking through Pripyat with Chernobyl looming right behind it is an experience like no other — a combination of deep reverence for the site and what happened there mixed with an urban explorer’s desire to see every abandoned apartment block, movie theater and gymnasium. There is nowhere else on the planet when you can claim an entire city to yourself.
This edition was made possible by a Linda Lighton International Artists' Exchange Grant.