A weird arrangement in an abandoned kindergarten in Pripyat (inside the Chernobyl Nuclear Exclusion Zone). At 1:23 am on April 26, 1986 reactor #4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant blew up. The radioactive fallout spread over thousands of square kilometers, driving more than a quarter of a million people permanently from their homes. More than 100,000 people may have succumbed to Chernobyl-related illnesses. With more radiation released than in Fukushima, it caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster to date.
In 2011, the Ukrainian government legalized trips to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Chernobyl has since become a disaster-tourism destination.
The most riveting attraction for visitors is the ghost town of Pripyat. Formerly home to almost 50,000 people, Pripyat is now in decay: dolls are scattered in abandoned kindergartens, floors are rotting, paint is peeling from the walls, and gas masks litter evacuated schools.
More than three decades later, tourists and guides are creating a bewildering disturbance, as they assemble tableaux to illustrate the flight from disaster. The most repeated motif: a doll neatly arranged next to a gas mask, or like here, a doll wearing a gas mask! The ever-falling chips of chalk from the ceilings have blanketed some of these “still-lifes,” furthering the illusion for the next visitor that this is how the evacuees hastily abandoned the scene. With so many rearranged scenes—many of the same themes repeated—the uncritical observer may believe these sights to be an authentic representation of the disaster’s aftermath.
You can learn more about Chernobyl from my book The Long Shadow of Chernobyl.
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