The Lost City of Pripyat
Some time ago I and a group of friends organised a small private tour of the Chernobyl disaster area. I really thought it would be quite an opportunity for The Journeyman to be placed in a really surreal environment, so I was super excited for the trip. After arriving in Kiev we immediately made a schoolboy error by hitting the bars. In fairness though we did plan our next few days and the kind of must-see areas of Pripyat. There were 5 of us and we had planned to go that bit extra with the tour guide and have a people carrier that could move stealthily and quicker than any coaches of tourists. Add to the mix the fact that our guide had superior knowledge of areas not quite as popular as the go-to places.
I had to find a way of breaking the news to the Ukrainian guide that I was about to get dressed into a full business suit and briefcase with bowler hat! At first, her look was one of utter confusion since my four mates were in standard combats and boots with a rucksack. By now we are on our way to the zones which have safe checkpoints 30km out 10km out and 5km or something like that. These points are guarded by soldiers albeit a little casual stood there with AK47s and rolled up cigarettes.
We were armed with a Geiger counter that would sound at high levels of radiation and we were briefed about how long we could stay etc. There were signs of life in the way of wild dogs that had made their way there because tourists and explorers would feed them but also just outside the zone there were signs of people living there. My first impression of the actual purpose-built city was how much it had decayed. We visited the sights of the old fairground, swimming pool, kindergarten, school classrooms but also explored rooftops with amazing views of Chernobyl with the Duga Radar in the distance. We later visited that and the sheer scale was really something to see.
Always in the back of my mind as a photographer, I wanted to get images of myself as The Journeyman in a few great locations. I achieved this by way of tripod and self-timer yet some conditions were difficult in terms of focusing. I began to think as time went on that the place is past its best in terms of decay and it’s now very run down. I also feel that tour companies are maximising the tourist trade even though we were very lucky to have a city to ourselves. I mean that by the fact that the tour guide visited the site up to twenty-five times per month and her radiation levels were normal. This didn’t seem like sense to me since we only had 6 to 8 hours a day for 3 days.
If you are thinking about visiting I would suggest it soon because like anything it will end up losing its mystery and interest. Overall I was pleased with the images I got but could always be improved.