Rudolf made the drive from Kiev to the militarized Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in less than three hours, a feat that would have been impossible had we been engaged in conversation.
Luckily, Rufolf spoke no English and I spoke no Ukranian, so he concentrated on pushing his rusty little car to its limits while I concentrated on looking out the window.
I can’t say that I was able to see a lot on the drive up, as scenery tends to blur a bit over a hundred miles an hour. But I was aware of the fact that the closer we got to Chernobyl, the more civilization thinned out.
It’s an eerie feeling. I think we get used to seeing civilization everywhere and when you don’t you notice it. It’s also not like driving into nature as you are aware that the reason for the lack of human presence is due to the increase of radiation.
The landscape is desolate and it is rare to pass other cars once you near the exclusion zone. Many of the roads are kept up by the military until you get into the town of Pripyat, where you often find trees growing right in the middle of the streets.
Signs by the side of the road warn of areas where the radiation is extremely high. Many of the smaller towns and village in the area were completely covered up after the disaster to try to bury the radioactivity. The only thing that remains of the these towns are the eerie signs and placards that warn people not to enter the area.
A sign warning of high radiation levels. The city of Pripyat returning to nature. A small cafe near the ferry terminal now lies in ruin. Hundreds of gas masks rest on the floor of a public building, a reminder of the chaos in the final moments of the evacuation. Pillow cases have completely decayed over the years, releasing their feathers wherever they lay. Abandoned dolls rest in the dark corners of an abandoned school. A hospital bed rests next to the peeling painted walls of one of Pripyat’s main medical facilities. A cafe, which once had ornate stained glass windows, like most in the city of Pripyat, is slowly being taken over by the forest that surrounds it.
Nearly fifty thousand people left the city in a matter of only a couple of of hours, never to return again.
Before becoming a professional photojournalist and war photographer, Zoriah was involved in disaster management and humanitarian aid to developing countries. He did some photography training in high school and college, but he learned mostly online and through mentors.