World Inside Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
Photographer David McMillan first visited the city of Pripyat in 1994, he expected his movements to be restricted. Just eight years prior, a reactor at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant had exploded, forcing a region-wide evacuation and sending radioactive fallout billowing across Europe.
Sinking boat on the Pripyat river, Chernobyl, October 1998. Chernobyl was a centre for boat maintenance and repair. Those in the harbour at the time of the accident were considered too contaminated ever to be used again.
Riverside cafe, Pripyat , October 2016 The cafe on the banks of the Pripyat river was one of the many amenities available to residents. The city was considered one of the finest places to live in the former Soviet Union
Lobby, Children’s Hospital, October 2012. More than 30 years after the accident, the encroachment of vegetation into buildings is commonplace. This children’s hospital, like several others in Pripyat, still contains patient records and equipment related to its former function
Railway station, village of Janov, October 1996. Janov was the nearest village to the reactor. It was considered so contaminated the entire village was razed, but the railway station remains, as do the trains that were there at the time of the accident
Pripyat, in present-day Ukraine, was part of the Soviet Union at the time of the catastrophe in April 1986. Built in the previous decade to serve the power plant and its workers, the city was once home to around 50,000 people.
Basketball court, October 2007. David McMillan, first visit to Chernobyl and the city of Pripyat was in 1994, eight years after the accident. Even then, in this basketball court, trees had grown higher than the backboards. By 2007 the court was beginning to be hidden by vegetation. Today, the growth has dislodged the backboard and soon, its original function will be indeterminate.
The buildings thus served as time capsules, of sorts. Images showing faded portraits of Marx and Engels, or the bust of Lenin in an unkempt yard, capture a particular moment in political history.
But they also demonstrate the power of time. In some cases, McMillan photographed the same spot multiple times, over the course of many years, to highlight the deterioration of the built environment. Tourists are also an increasingly common sight, according to McMillan, who sometimes encounters buses on day trips from Ukraine's capital Kiev. Last year, a group of artists even staged a rave in Pripyat, with the site quickly becoming what the photographer called a "black Disneyland of sorts."
"There are people living in some (nearby) areas that are less contaminated, so I've never worried," he said.
One of the most powerful examples is a series of images taken in a kindergarten stairwell. The first, captured in 1994, depicts brightly-coloured flags of the former Soviet republics affixed to a peeling wall. By the time of the latest photograph, taken last November, just one remains -- and it has been damaged and discoloured beyond recognition.
Red floor, school hallway, October 2004. This second-floor school hallway, already verging on collapse and littered with film reels, was completely reduced to rubble when the roof and all four floors of a wing collapsed the following year