A photographic essay of the continuing effects of the Chernobyl disaster, taken over a period of two years. On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant changed history, sending radiation and political shockwaves across Europe. 350,000 people lost their homes; many are still struggling a generation later. Kyiv oblast, Chernobyl region, Ukraine. 30/07/2009. (Images taken between 04/2007-07/2009)
If you lived near Chernobyl, would you stay?
On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant changed history, sending radiation and political shockwaves across Europe. After the accident, nearby towns and villages were first evacuated, and then abandoned. For two years, I’ve photographed stories of the aftermath.
What makes a place home? How do people
cope when that place changes irreversibly?
Viktor survived cancer treatment only to watch his wife Lydia develop cancer as well.
Vova likes to go mushroom hunting with his in-laws, despite government warnings against it.
Lyuba blames the accident for her son’s murder, but her husband Sasha blames himself.
For many, the displacement and loss of community stability was as traumatic as the accident itself. 350,000 people lost their homes; many are still struggling a generation later. Despite contamination, evacuees often chose to resettle nearby; 6 million people still live in contaminated areas.
The accident and subsequent evacuations affected residents physically, economically, socially — and psychologically. 850,000 veterans were exposed to radiation and now have inadequate health care. Increased mental health problems have been called “the largest public health problem caused by the accident.” Alcoholism, unemployment and crime have all increased.
My commitment to this project began when I discovered how most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. In contrast, I seek to create a full portrait of these communities. There is suffering, but also joy and beauty. Endurance and hope.
Vasily would die before he would live anywhere else.
Petro argues about the importance of helping his neighbors.
Olga, age 17, lost her husband but plans to stay here to raise her son — and finish high school.
I focused on 15 families, telling their stories in depth. These families represent three main groups: evacuees, liquidators (veterans of the clean-up), and workers still employed at Chernobyl. Living directly in the villages where I photographed gave me access to events and people with an insider’s perspective that would have been impossible from afar.
Audio and more photos at www.afterchernobyl.com.
© Michael Forster Rothbart Photography
Photos by: Michael Forster Rothbart