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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 hereComrade Kiev also creates sustainable, ethical, design-led tours to the most incredible places on earth. We’ve built close relationships with local guides, and will work with you to create an extraordinary trip which fits your budget, timeline and interests. Follow in the footsteps of legendary polar explorers, climb smoking volcanoes in the remote Far East, or cross the endless Gobi desert on camelback. We’ll take you there. We’ll get you closer. Explore our tours.

Honour the Great Soviet Law! | Ukraine | 1985£150.00
Lenin's Party Shows the Way | Ukraine | 1983£150.00
Work with the Most Effort | Ukraine | 1985£150.00
List of all posters

Further Reading

architecture

A Top 10 Guide to Armenia’s Best Brutalist & Modernist Buildings

With its concrete clover windows and ornately carved scenes in red stone, the National University of Architecture and Construction is one of the most striking examples of Brutalist architecture in Yerevan. The inside is just as beautiful, although if you wander aimlessly through the halls taking photos, the security guards will come and politely escort you off the premises.

architecture

Knocking on Heaven's Door: Armenia's Abandoned Orgov Telescope

Two hours by car from Yerevan, nestled amongst grazing cattle and the farmers who tend to them, is the abandoned remains of a telescope which once searched for signs of life beyond our world. Space exploration was initially a practical concern: rocket technology solved the problem of sending huge nuclear payloads over long distances. But the Space Race soon evolved into something of much greater symbolic significance.

architecture

Armenia’s Modernist Masterpiece: Lake Sevan Writers Retreat

In the 1930s, the Writers’ Union of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic commissioned a writer's retreat to be built on Sevan Island. Around the time that the retreat first opened to writers, Sevan Island was in the middle of a dramatic transformation. The Soviet state was diverting water from Lake Sevan to irrigate the Ararat plain and generate hydroelectric power. Over the next two decades, the lake’s water level fell by around 20 metres, and Sevan Island became a peninsula.

architecture

Memory Palace: Inside the Abandoned Shymkent Palace of Culture

By the late 1980s, there were more than 137,000 Palaces of Culture in the Soviet Union. After its collapse, palaces like the Shymkent Palace of Culture fell into disrepair without the financial backing for their upkeep. “Architecture, which is dependent on time and politics, declines and goes into ruins when it does not receive neither material nor spiritual investment.”

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