Images of Chernobyl's Ghosts

The world's worst nuclear accident, at Chernobyl in April 1986, led to the creation of a 30km exclusion zone around the plant. Entry to the zone is now strictly controlled through checkpoints like this one.

Evacuations began 36 hours after the explosion, but many villagers waited days for buses to safety. Today, driving along the zone's potholed roads, you glimpse abandoned villages through the trees.

Most of the gardens are now overrun with birch trees that in the summer will completely hide the villages from view. Nature is thriving...

... but in winter the exquisite beauty of the carvings around the window frames on many houses can be seen.

These wooden homes are ideally suited to their fate, which is to disappear eventually into the forest, from which the logs originally came.

Some villagers have returned and salvaged treasured possessions. Most homes are just a shell, but there are still occasional traces of the lives once lived there.

An old record lies discarded in the porch of a house in the village of Lubianka, in a western area of the Ukrainian section of the zone.

Some buildings are still in use. This unusual construction is the guard house at Burakivka, one of the main graveyards for radioactive waste.

There are also reminders of the Soviet regime, which came to an end five years after the accident. Military statues...

... and political posters celebrating the USSR's 12th five-year plan, which began in 1986. The plan is long forgotten but the legacy of the accident will be with us for centuries.

Photos by Phil Coomes

Chernobyl's Silent Graveyards

Twenty years after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, many of the contaminated vehicles used in the clean-up operation remain in graveyards in the vast exclusion zone around the reactor.

For 20 years, rows of vehicles have sat awaiting a final solution, the largest graveyard being at Rassokha, 25km south-west of the power plant.

Some carry faded reminders of the Soviet empire's military might...

... others are being pushed aside as nature reclaims the land. Contamination levels vary, so souvenir hunters would be wise to keep away.

The fire engines that went to the power station on the night of the explosion have long since been buried in huge trenches. But others can still be found rotting into the ground.

Many of the trucks have had their engines and wiring removed, despite the fact that they are contaminated. Most vehicles' bonnets stand open.

Buses sit in rows alongside the military hardware. In the early years, vehicles were confined either to the inner zone, within 10km of the plant, or the outer zone between the 10km and 30km checkpoints.

In the harbour at the town of Chernobyl, ships lie rusting in the once busy port, encased in ice. The scene has a post-apocalyptic feel.

At Burakivka the most contaminated equipment sits in clay-lined trenches such as this one, number five. Only three out of 30 remain empty.

The relics serve as a silent reminder of the world's worst nuclear accident.

Photos by Phil Coomes.

Chernobyl's Lost City

Pripyat was built as a town for workers at the Chernobyl power station, where the world's worst nuclear accident occurred 20 years ago. The town was abandoned 36 hours after the explosion.

Pripyat's 49,000 inhabitants were evacuated in a hurry. They were told they would be back within days, and should take only necessary documents. Before long, many homes were looted.

Pripyat was considered a model town. The apartment blocks were punctuated with fir trees and rose beds. It was a town of young people and growing families.

Graffiti artists said to be from Germany and Belarus have gone round the town drawing silhouettes of the missing population.

Older children went to school the morning after the explosion. Most of them knew there had been an accident at the plant, but had no idea that radiation levels were dangerous.

After 20 years without maintenance, most buildings are damp, and paint is peeling. The poster advertises a Soviet club for young children, the Octobrists.

Inside a nursery school, a class photo album lies open at the first page. A teacher has written: "May our children—our happiness, our joy—live on a sunny planet!"

Nursery school children had naps every day in these beds. But unlike older pupils, they had no classes on Saturday, the morning after the disaster.

On some beds lie gas masks, found somewhere in the school, and scattered around by photographers to "improve" their pictures.

The fair ground is one of the more contaminated parts of the town. It had been due to open on 1 May 1986, five days after the disaster, and was never used.

Nature has been reclaiming the abandoned town. Wild boars roam the streets at night. Birch trees have been shooting up at random, even inside some apartment blocks.

The power station, which rendered the town uninhabitable for centuries, looms on the horizon, two-and-half kilometres away.

Photos by Phil Coomes.
BBC