A tame fox poses in front of the sign pointing the way to Pripyat from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. (all images courtesy the author and FUEL)

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has become the stuff of myth and legend. After the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, part of the Soviet Union — now in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia — was cordoned off because of the resulting radiation and other dangers.

Decades later, author Darmon Richter traveled to the strange Cold War-era site to take photographs of the eerie ghost towns and structures of a bygone age that continues to live on in the public imagination as one of the most serious follies of the 20th century. In Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide, Richter shares glimpses of the incredible access he had to a site that continues to send chills down the spine of people around the world.

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 – or ‘AZ-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 26 April 1986 at 1.23.40am, this switch was flicked and a malfunction occurred, causing the meltdown.
Post Office, Pripyat. The mural illustrates the evolution of communication, from stone tablets and scrolls, to mail trains and finally a Soviet cosmonaut.
Mural on a residential building, Heroes of Stalingrad Street, Pripyat. This Socialist-realist mural depicts virtuous citizens (a farmer, a firefighter, a police officer, and a Young Pioneer) under a radiant Soviet crest.
Kindergarten No.7 ‘Zolotoy Klyuchik’ (‘Golden Key’), Pripyat. Discarded artefacts are arranged into unlikely dioramas by visitors.
Izumrudniy’ (‘Emerald’) Holiday Camp, near Chornobyl. 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.
Abandoned trolleybus, Kopachi, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. This highly contaminated village was mostly bulldozed after the disaster. In April 2020 this vehicle was severely damaged by forest fires.
Rooftops, central Pripyat. The back of the hammer-and-sickle emblem from the tower block roof. This symbol would have been brightly lit at night.

Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide by Darmon Richter is published by FUEL and available online.

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