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Photo Essay: Finding Beauty in Chernobyl’s Decay

Chernobyl’s rapid return to nature puts humanity’s impermanence into perspective. There’s beauty to be found in humanity’s absence...

The Last Guard - In 1991, Ukraine had more than 5,500 statues of Lenin — a greater density than in any other part of the former Soviet Union. In the last 20 years, the Ukrainian government has instituted decommunisation or ‘Lenin-fall’, making communist symbols illegal. Today, the only remaining statue of Lenin in Ukraine stands guard at the entrance to Pripyat.

The Russian Woodpecker - The giant Duga radar tower, nicknamed ‘The Russian Woodpecker’, was an early warning radar hidden deep in the forest near Chernobyl. With fake signs to disguise its presence, it was a closely guarded secret. Once one of the most powerful military facilities in the Soviet Union, this colossal structure stands 150 metres high and ¾ of a kilometre long. It was abandoned following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

A Shining City -  Founded in 1970, Pripyat was a planned city of 49,000. It was built quickly for the Chernobyl workers and their families. It had 10 shooting galleries, two stadiums, two cultural palaces, a cinema, a school of arts, and 18,136 trees, 33,000 rose plants, 249,247 shrubs.

Sunrise Aisles - “Voshod” meaning Sunrise was one of the first modern supermarkets in Ukraine. It was rumoured to be the only place in Ukraine where Chanel No.5 was sold.

Through the Looking Glass -  A kaleidoscope of colour at the entrance to Pripyat cinema. Artists in the USSR had trouble earning a living unless they joined the state-mandated Union of Artists. This union funded and controlled all aspects of artistic life, most importantly the subject of their artwork - idealised visions of Soviet life that promoted communist ideology.

One Day Only - The Pripyat Amusement Park was due to open for May Day celebrations in 1986. It was open for just one day: April 27, 1986 - the day after the Chernobyl disaster, before the announcement to evacuate the Pripyat was made.

Ghost Hotel - Built in the 1970s, senior party officials, high profile delegations, and other visitors to Chernobyl stayed at the Polissya Hotel. After the Chernobyl meltdown, the hotel was used as a command post for operations and clean-up. With a direct view of Chernobyl, spotters stood on the hotel roof and by radio guided helicopters dropping sacks of sand into the inferno reactor fire. 

Frozen in Time - Up to 600,000 civil and military personnel, known as ‘liquidators’, took part in the Chernobyl clean-up. The liquidators hosed down streets, fell trees, and went from apartment to apartment killing the pets of evacuated residents. More than 30 years on, posters in apartments and public buildings remain. 

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Everything the Party has Declared is Deliverable | Ukraine | 1986£150.00
List of all posters

Further Reading

art

Soviet Intourist Travel Posters - How the USSR Used Art & Propaganda to Drive Tourism

Intourist held a monopoly on tourism in the USSR. As the only tourism agency in the Soviet Union, Intourist was responsible for attracting and accommodating all tourists. Like every other industry or ideal in the USSR, Intourist used propaganda to advance its agenda. Posters targeted western audiences. They portrayed the Soviet Union as a glamorous and exotic land rather than a country of labourers and peasants.

travel

The Trans-Siberian Railroad - The Railroad that Changed the World and Started a War

9,198 kilometres of tracks connect Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. As the longest railroad in the world, the Trans-Siberian Railway is truly one of humanity’s most impressive engineering feats. But, this symbol of Soviet power has also had an outsized impact on the world at large. Its construction was the catalyst for a war between two superpowers, it transported millions of prisoners to the Gulags, and served as a lifeline during the Second World War.

architecture

A Top 10 Guide to Georgia’s Best Soviet & Modern Architecture

The Sovereign state of the Caucasus – and Stalin’s home nation – Georgia was a critical part of the USSR. In the late 1970s, it stepped out from its Soviet shadow and into a new architectural age. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the ambitious and otherworldly designs became an explicit rebuke of Communism and a sign of Georgia’s struggle towards self-actualisation. Here are ten of my favourite buildings in Georgia.

travel

Exploring Budapest’s Dystopian Underground Water Reservoir

Rising above the banks of Budapest’s Danube river is Gellért Hill, an affluent residential area with elegant tree-lined streets. But, hidden beneath the surface is a strange and surreal sight - the József Gruber Water Reservoir. Every March, it’s emptied for its annual cleaning. With 106 stretched columns, the second basin makes for a futuristic and dystopian landscape.

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