Photographing a Nuclear Apocalypse in Pripyat, Ukraine

“A Sobering Symbol of Nuclear Ambition and Human Catastrophe”

Photo by Taken

PIXEO Photo Locations - Blog Icon

Long forgotten toys swim in seas of discarded gas masks, and a city stands frozen, perpetually waiting for its residents to return. This place is humanity’s cautionary monument to Nuclear Power and a reminder of the Greek allegory of Icarus. Where once we flew to close to the sun and were punished for our avarice. This monument to our technological conceit is the ghost city of Pripyat, an abandoned Soviet ghost town.

Stunning Soviet Mural in Abandoned Room at Pripyat - Photo by Денис Резник
Stunning Soviet Mural in Abandoned Room at Pripyat - Photo by Денис Резник

The Chernobyl Disaster

On 26 April 1986, Peter Jennings looked up from his news desk to stare intently into the camera. In the well-worn cadence of the practiced anchorman, he wasted no time reporting the top story of the day. “Good evening, there has been a nuclear accident in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet’s have admitted that it happened.”

If you grew up during the cold war, the indelible stain of the Chernobyl disaster is part of your childhood. From this point forward, society would view the promises of clean atomic energy with a healthy dose of hesitation and skepticism. But beyond the impact this event had on the zeitgeist of culture, so too did it leave physical scars. Perhaps nowhere else can these scars be seen as palpably as the town of Pripyat.

Pripyat Sign with Red Fox - Photo by G Meyer
Pripyat Sign with Red Fox - Photo by G Meyer

The City of Pripyat

In its heyday, Pripyat was a crown jewel of the Soviet industrial approach to community building. It was one of nine atomic cities built to serve as a home for the staff and families of the USSR’s nuclear power plants. Pripyat, in particular, was a modern oasis, purpose-built in the 1970s to house residents who would work in the atomic industry.

Old Clock on Floor at Pripyat Chost City - Photo by Henry Nicholson
Old Clock on Floor at Pripyat Chost City - Photo by Henry Nicholson

In the spring of 1986, approximately 47,500 residents eagerly awaited the opening of a brand new amusement park as part of Mayday celebrations. But, the it would never open. Five days before the park’s opening, at approx. 1 am, a routine safety test at the nuclear reactor began that simulated a power outage. During the simulated outage, an unexpected temperature increase led to a chain of events and errors to rectify the problem. Sadly these processes caused more issues and led to a nuclear chain reaction, a core meltdown, and finally two massive explosions of radiation infused steam.

Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Photo by Ilja Nedilko
Pripyat Ferris Wheel - Photo by Ilja Nedilko

Evacuation

Residents of Pripyat slept on oblivious of the accident. Within hours, however, many fell ill and reported vomiting, headaches, and a strange metallic taste in their mouths. The local city officials also were kept mostly in the dark, and only asked offhandedly by government officials how the locals were doing. It wasn’t until 36 hours after the initial blast that the process of evacuating the city of Pripyat began. Residents boarded buses with instructions only to bring a few belongings and “temporarily” left their homes. They would never return.

Detail View of Abandoned Items - Photo by Ilja Nedilko
Detail View of Abandoned Items - Photo by Ilja Nedilko

Pripyat Today

Today Pripyat stands empty, pillaged, and rotting. It is only recently becoming safe to access again, but even today, ditches and ground depressions still have high levels of radiation. It has also become an increasingly popular dark tourism destination, and home to a cottage tourism industry. Visitors flock from around the world to visit the haunting empty spaces of Pripyat and photograph the apocalyptic effect of an abandoned city.

Lone Hanging Gas Mask at Pripyat Ghost City - Photo by Денис Резник
Lone Hanging Gas Mask at Pripyat Ghost City - Photo by Денис Резник

Photographing Pripyat

Getting There

Pripyat is located in northern Ukraine now, approximately 6 km from the border with Belarus and less than 2km from the Chernobyl Reactor.

Click to see Eastern State Penitentiary's Location on the PIXEO Map

Know Before You Go

It remains unsafe to visit alone. An area covering 30 square kilometres rings the reactor site and is known as the exclusion zone. Radiation levels are still lethal in many places within it, and the only somewhat safe way to visit the exclusion zone is as part of a tour. Several tour operators operate out of Kyiv and will cost about $150. They are full-day tours and depart at 8 am from the city. These tours typically will not only take you to the town but to many equally haunting abandoned locations along the way. If you don’t want to be part of a group, it is easy to find private tour guides as well.

Also, be aware that since 2012, the majority of the interiors of the buildings are off-limits. That does not mean that a tour will disappoint. You will still get limitless photographic opportunities and enter a few of the more popular spaces such as the abandoned Azure pool.

Abandoned Hallway at Pripyat Ghost Town - Photo by Денис Резник
Abandoned Hallway at Pripyat Ghost Town - Photo by Денис Резник

Photography Tips

A tour of the exclusion zone will bring you to several photographically unique and exciting destinations. We recommend packing light as you do not want to put your camera bag down anywhere. Set yourself up with a fast variable zoom lens like a 24-70mm and wear the camera around your neck. Stuff a few spare batteries in your pocket, and that should be all you need. Remember not to sit, and don’t put anything down on the ground. Don’t bring a tripod or even a monopod as these also will make contact with the ground and could become irradiated. Red foxes abound in this area and are not only harmless but very conditioned to human presence and will make a stark contrast to your images.

Finally, for something a little different, this is a great place to use infrared photography. Check out Vladimir Mgutin’s photo essay at PetaPixel to see what we mean.

Radiation Signage in Pripyat Ghost Town - Photo by Yves Alarie
Radiation Signage in Pripyat Ghost Town - Photo by Yves Alarie

We curate the very best photo locations from around the world. Explore the world with our Photo Locations Map, and take it on the road with the PIXEO App for iOS. 

Other Amazing Photo Locations

Latest Locations Added to PIXEO

9
Niechorze
Niechorze Beach is a beautiful long sandy #beach looking out over the Baltic Sea from along the northern coast of #Poland. This beach has some incredibly long wooden breakwaters - perfect for some leading lines photography!
Photo by Sławomir Siełacz CC-by-sa
Find it and 16,000 other amazing locations in the #PIXEO App!
.
.
.
.
.
#baltic #balticsea #igerspoland #super_polska #visitpoland #sunrise #morning #longexpo #longexposureoftheday #longexposurephotography #longexposure #lazyshutters #amazing_longexpo #travelingram #instatraveling #mytravelgram #beachlife #justgoshoot #exploremore #shutterbug #depth #leadinglines #instapassport #photographyislife #photographysouls #photographylovers #photographyeveryday
1
Kravica Vodopad - Kravica Waterfalls in Hercegovina
The Kravica Waterfalls are a dramatic series of cascading falls set in a lush oasis! This incredible cove seems to have a waterfall everywhere you turn! In springtime the falls are a photographer's dream - the water flows at it's fullest & this arid landscape turns a bright green.
Photo by Muhammad Adeel Ahmed CC-by-sa
Find it and 16,000 other amazing locations in the #PIXEO App!
.
.
.
.
.
#waterfalls #falls #chasingwaterfalls #waterfallsfordays #longexposure #longexpo #slowshutter #longexposurephotography #amazing_longexpo #travelingram #instatraveling #mytravelgram #igtravel #instapassport #traveltheworld #travelblog #travelphoto #photographyislife #photographysouls #photographylovers #photographyeveryday #photographylover #photographylife #landscapephotography #landscape_captures #landscape_lovers #landscapelovers #welivetoexplore #awesome_earthpix