Daily Picture Show

A Closer Look At Chernobyl, 24 Years Later

Monday marks the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down, spreading radioactive material across a wide swath of the former Soviet Union and Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine were displaced in the aftermath. But millions have remained in the contaminated areas and suffered the consequences.

  • "In 1986, Leonid Budkovskiy (here with his grandson, Slava), then a mailman in Ivankiv, was reassigned to deliver top-secret mail to the military headquarters set up in Chernobyl. He continued for four years ... His legs slowly stopped working and by 1996 he was confined to a wheelchair."
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    "In 1986, Leonid Budkovskiy (here with his grandson, Slava), then a mailman in Ivankiv, was reassigned to deliver top-secret mail to the military headquarters set up in Chernobyl. He continued for four years ... His legs slowly stopped working and by 1996 he was confined to a wheelchair."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "Although the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant stopped generating electricity in December 2000, today 3,800 employees continue to work at the plant, commuting from the new city of Slavutych. Workers must pass through a radiation checkpoint each day before they board the train home."
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    "Although the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant stopped generating electricity in December 2000, today 3,800 employees continue to work at the plant, commuting from the new city of Slavutych. Workers must pass through a radiation checkpoint each day before they board the train home."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "This view of the sprawling Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is from the far bank of the plant's cooling pond during winter. The population within 30 kilometers was permanently evacuated, including residents of Pripyat and many villages."
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    "This view of the sprawling Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is from the far bank of the plant's cooling pond during winter. The population within 30 kilometers was permanently evacuated, including residents of Pripyat and many villages."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "Viktor Gaidak worked for 24 years as an engineer at the Chernobyl plant, including 9 years after the 1986 accident. In 2004, he had surgery for colon cancer. Today, nearly half of the evacuees from Pripyat face health problems, unemployment, crowded apartments and insufficient government support."
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    "Viktor Gaidak worked for 24 years as an engineer at the Chernobyl plant, including 9 years after the 1986 accident. In 2004, he had surgery for colon cancer. Today, nearly half of the evacuees from Pripyat face health problems, unemployment, crowded apartments and insufficient government support."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "A wall of dials in the a Chernobyl control room once monitored the reactors ... Most estimates say ninety-five percent of the radioactive materials remained on the grounds of the power plant or spread to the adjacent forest. Both were decontaminated, using the labor of about 850,000 liquidators from across the Soviet Union."
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    "A wall of dials in the a Chernobyl control room once monitored the reactors ... Most estimates say ninety-five percent of the radioactive materials remained on the grounds of the power plant or spread to the adjacent forest. Both were decontaminated, using the labor of about 850,000 liquidators from across the Soviet Union."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "At the time of the 1986 accident, Sasha and Lyuba Boichuk were  starting to build a house. After some hesitation, they decided to continue building and have lived here ever since. Sasha worked as a liquidator in the Chernobyl clean-up efforts. Afterwards, he began to drink heavily, and says he lost a decade of his life to alcohol."
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    "At the time of the 1986 accident, Sasha and Lyuba Boichuk were starting to build a house. After some hesitation, they decided to continue building and have lived here ever since. Sasha worked as a liquidator in the Chernobyl clean-up efforts. Afterwards, he began to drink heavily, and says he lost a decade of his life to alcohol."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "An elderly woman prays before a poster of Mary and Jesus while Father Momotyuk Nazarii leads a service at the small Ukrainian church in Novo Ladizhichi village. The church has been under construction for a full decade, as villagers have had trouble raising enough money to continue building."
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    "An elderly woman prays before a poster of Mary and Jesus while Father Momotyuk Nazarii leads a service at the small Ukrainian church in Novo Ladizhichi village. The church has been under construction for a full decade, as villagers have had trouble raising enough money to continue building."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the abandoned village of Korogod is slowly crumbling back into the forest. 9.5 miles southwest of the power plant, this village was contaminated and evacuated."
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    "In the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the abandoned village of Korogod is slowly crumbling back into the forest. 9.5 miles southwest of the power plant, this village was contaminated and evacuated."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "In Sukachi, Ukraine, a small food and liquor store in a converted trailer doubles as the village bar. The store's two employees work up to twelve hours a day and earn about $200 per month. Sukachi, a village of about 2,000, is south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone."
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    "In Sukachi, Ukraine, a small food and liquor store in a converted trailer doubles as the village bar. The store's two employees work up to twelve hours a day and earn about $200 per month. Sukachi, a village of about 2,000, is south of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "Half the people in Sukachi, Ukraine are Chernobyl evacuees, relocated from the village of Ladizhichi. In the weeks after the Chernobyl accident, 91,000 Ukrainians were evacuated. However, more than 2,000 refused to leave or illegally returned as soon as they could. Nearly 400 remain today, among them the final six remaining inhabitants of the original Ladizhichi, deep inside the Exclusion Zone."
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    "Half the people in Sukachi, Ukraine are Chernobyl evacuees, relocated from the village of Ladizhichi. In the weeks after the Chernobyl accident, 91,000 Ukrainians were evacuated. However, more than 2,000 refused to leave or illegally returned as soon as they could. Nearly 400 remain today, among them the final six remaining inhabitants of the original Ladizhichi, deep inside the Exclusion Zone."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "In the winter, it is still dark when the Chernobyl workers leave Slavutych and already dark again by the time they arrive home. Slavutych, Ukraine, is the new city built after the Chernobyl accident for evacuees from Pripyat. Nearly 4,000 out of the 25,000 inhabitants still work at Chernobyl today."
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    "In the winter, it is still dark when the Chernobyl workers leave Slavutych and already dark again by the time they arrive home. Slavutych, Ukraine, is the new city built after the Chernobyl accident for evacuees from Pripyat. Nearly 4,000 out of the 25,000 inhabitants still work at Chernobyl today."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press
  • "Andrei Balta throws his fifteen-month-old son Vanya in the air during a summer evening in Slavutych, Ukraine. Every evening, parents with babies and toddlers gather in the central square of Slavutych to socialize. Andrei and his wife Anna both work at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, as do over 3,800 residents of Slavutych."
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    "Andrei Balta throws his fifteen-month-old son Vanya in the air during a summer evening in Slavutych, Ukraine. Every evening, parents with babies and toddlers gather in the central square of Slavutych to socialize. Andrei and his wife Anna both work at the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, as do over 3,800 residents of Slavutych."
    Michael Forster Rothbart/Zuma Press

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We've seen countless photos of illness, deformity and desolation. But for the past two years, funded by a Fulbright fellowship, photographer Michael Forster Rothbart has been digging deeper. An exhibition of his work opens today at the Ukranian embassy in Washington, D.C. He writes in a statement:

My commitment to this project began when I discovered how often photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. This sensationalist approach obscures the more complex stories about how a displaced community adapts and survives.

You can see more on Forster Rothbart's project website.

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