Visiting CHERNOBYL. A Photo Diary by Gary Mather

Visiting CHERNOBYL. A Photo Diary

by Gary Mather


Here is some brief history –

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, a disaster occurred which has been widely regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power in the world. The accident occurred when the fourth reactor suffered a huge power increase. This led to the core of the reactor exploding. Due to this explosion, large amounts of radioactive materials and fuel were released into the atmosphere. This lit the combustable graphite moderator on fire. This fire greatened the release of radioactive material, which was carried by the smoke of the fire, into the environment and atmosphere.


Radioactive fallout drifted over parts of the western Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, and the eastern United States. Large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated. About 60% of the radioactive fallout landed in Belarus. About 350,000 people needed to be evacuated and moved to other places where they could live after the accident.



Once the seriousness of the situation was known, Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the USSR at the time, quickly gathered the top physicists and nuclear experts at his disposal to assess the situation. Thirty-six hours after the initial explosion, these experts decided the residents of Pripyat must evacuate. Residents were given two hours to gather their belongings. The evacuation of Pripyat’s 43,000 residents took 3.5 hours, using 1,100 buses from Kiev. Residents remember that everyone was in a hurry, but nobody was panicking.


The residents of Pripyat were initially told they would be evacuated only for three days. However, to this day, the town is uninhabitable. Pripyat city was founded in the 1970s, when the nuclear power plant opened. The site today is practically a museum showing the late Soviet era. With entirely abandoned buildings, including abandoned apartment buildings (four of which were yet to be used), swimming pools and hospitals, everything inside remains, from records to papers to children’s toys and clothing. Prypiat and the surrounding area will not be safe for people to live there for several centuries. Scientists think that the most dangerous radioactive elements will take up to nine hundred years to decay sufficiently to render the area safe.
We were there for a total of 2 days and I can feel we only scratched the surface of what happened on that fateful day.



I was 13 when this disaster accoured and my only fleeting memory was seeing clips on the news as a child. To me it was something that happened a long way away in a place I could not even pronounce. I have wanted to visit this site for quite some time now, and I was, for want of a better word, lucky to have had that privilage just a few months ago.



It is only when you are actually there can you understand the impact of such a huge global disaster, the heroism of the firefighters and the people first on the scene. It will be a memory that will stay with me for a very long time, It’s just a shame our time here was so fleeting.


We explored hospitals, schools and the fairground where stands the almost iconic ferris wheel still waiting to be ridden to this very day. The piano still standing in the music hall and the 3 empty seats left in the burn out lecture room. In the hospital maternity dept room full of empty cots sit silent. Of the whole trip the most poignant moment was seeing the childrens gas masks littered all over the floor of the elementry school in the town of Pripyat.

Gary Mather


  1. Hi guys really appreciate all the comments, i am humbled!! The tour is very well organised with an experienced guide. Lots of rules and regs to follow but it does not distract from the moment. Just a child when this happened so as `I found out more I began to realise just what went down.

  2. Wonderful. The muted color is perfect, like the very soul of the landscape has had the life sucked out of it. As indeed it has.

  3. I used to work at a company where one of my colleagues was going out with the daughter of the man who was in charge of Tjernobyl power plant. I was told that he was telling his superiors all the time that the power-plant was in a to bad state to be running but they ignored him. Its a lesson on what personal agendas and corruption can lead to. And it can happen in democracies too.

    A few bad decisions and we can really destroy ourself, our planet and maybe even everything living in the universe. (if life is only to be found here on earth)

  4. A trenchant visual record of Man’s folly. A man-made disaster made possible by attempting to harness forces beyond Man’s control.

    Worldwide, many nuclear accidents have occurred since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. Two thirds of these mishaps occurred in the US. The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) has concluded that technical innovation cannot eliminate the risk of human errors in nuclear plant operation.

    An interdisciplinary team from MIT have estimated that given the expected growth of nuclear power from 2005–2055, at least four serious nuclear power accidents would be expected in that period.

  5. Good story, great images that tell that story, and fortunately no chest banging about the equipment used. I mean, who cares anyway?
    Thanks for sharing this Gary.



  6. I agree well done.
    Can you comment on the prep & precautions that were taken in order to make this trip & images possible?

  7. Strong images. Thanks for this amazing post. Did you have a Geiger counter with you? If yes, how radioactive is this place today?

  8. What an amazing collection. It’s like we are actually there. I can almost hear the silence. I think photography can offer more depth, in some ways, than the moving image. This is one example of that. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Wow is all I can say. Question how were you able to work there? Any special protection? What about your camera does it end up being contaminated? Love to hear the rest of the story. Cheers.

  10. Awesome photo essay. I have seen several and think you did a superb job capturing a post apocalyptic scene. I am new to the this site… how/were did you post the gear info for each pic?

  11. Agree with Mark! Very moving piece. Felt a rush of emotion from the words and the photos. So sad that this was an accident and people think of intentionally causing this kind of damage to this planet and others. Everyone should be reminded of how much damage is caused and for how long. Thank you for sharing.

  12. Sitting here listing to U2 10_40_ and reading your post gave me goose bumps. Great images along with an awesome write up. One of the best I’ve read on this site yet.

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