For almost two years, I have been planning a trip to one of the most deserted places on earth – deserted in the sense of “people have lived there and left”. The place is the city of Pryptiat near Chernobyl. And it is the most radioactively polluted spot on earth.
“Chernobyl”, which is Ukrainian, means “Wormwood” in English. Wormwood is typically known for its bitter taste and it being one of the main ingredients of absinthe. It also bears a strange biblical references to a star which, in an apocalyptic vision of John the Evangelist, fell from the sky and made the waters undrinkably bitter.
“Project Wormwood” seemed a suitable name for this project.
WTF? Why would anyone want to go there?
As a photographer, my main object of interest are places where man-made order collides with natural chaos: Abandoned factories, houses, military installations, hospitals, and other human structures that have been left to die. The activity of visiting and documenting such places is known as urban exploration of abandonments. It combines elements of archeology, art and extreme sports with a strong interest in architecture and industrial history.
Back in the 19th century, families used to photograph their dead loved ones (NSFW) shortly before burying them and keep the photos as memento mori; in a way, urban explorers take similar post-mortem photographs, albeit of buildings and structures, not people.
Chernobyl and Prypiat are, from an urban exploration point of view is a unique location for several reasons:
- The former inhabitants of the surrounding cities left the area over night, leaving most of their houses as they were;
- A 19 kilometer exclusion zone has been erected around the power plant, letting only authorized persons entering the area;
- Nobody is allowed to live in the area (with some exceptions) for the next couple of hundred years.
All in all, Prypiat and Chernobyl are ghost towns whose existence documents one of the most significant man-made disasters in history. It’s also an urban explorer’s dream come true; and with appropriate safety precautions not that dangerous as you might think.
We will be a Swiss-Latvian team of four, two photographers, one journalist, and a creative director. The trip starts next week and will take us from Riga to Kiev to Chernobyl – where we will spend two days in the exclusion zone with an overnight stay at the local research station (no, not camping).
Over the next few days before heading east, I am planning to post some background on Chernobyl, the zone, the planned visits, and the dangers of visiting this place. Stay tuned.