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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. 

Shop our Ukrainian posters below or explore the collection here.

Everything for the Benefit of Labour | Ukraine | 1983£150.00
Everything the Party has Declared is Deliverable | Ukraine | 1986£150.00
Ukrainian Through Gobi & Khingan | Ukraine | 1981£450.00
List of all posters

Further Reading

architecture

Ten Must Read Books on Soviet Art, Design and Culture

Most Russian literature on the list of ‘books you must read’ are old and very long. War & Peace or The Gulag Archipelago are striking works of literature, or so I’m told. Both have sat on my shelf for the past two years. Instead, I’ve put together a list of less intimidating books on Soviet art, design and culture.

travel

Welcome to Bulunkul, Central Asia's Coldest Town

Nestled in the center of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, more than 12,000ft (3,700m) above sea level, there is a small plateau with 45 houses at the end of the road. These houses, home to 306 people, are in the village of Bulunkul, more affectionately known as Central Asia’s coldest town.

architecture

Photo Essay: Turkmenistan's Shining Marble City, Ashgabat

Little of the Soviet legacy survives in Turkmenistan. Since gaining independence after the fall of the USSR, Turkmenistan has articulated a new identity and vision for the future through a series of architectural projects. Photographer Arnau Rovira Vidal visited the insular country and took these photos.

art

Photo Essay: The Unworldly Photos of Industrial Waste Landscapes in Russia

These surreal landscapes look like images of far-off planets. But they’re actually photos of sewage drainage channels, waste-water reservoirs and ash disposal sites. “The superficial beauty of these places conceals a horrendous threat to the environment,” said Alexander Sukharev, who captured these photos.

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