16 Spooky-as-Hell Photos From Inside Chernobyl

© Robin Esrock
© Robin Esrock

It has been more than 30 years since the meltdown of Reactor No. 4 in Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, an unprecedented manmade disaster that affected much of Europe. Radiation levels are still high, but with a Geiger counter and the right permits, visitors can safely enter the 18-mile Exclusion Zone on guided day tours. What you’ll encounter is straight out of a horror movie.

A photo from inside Chernobyl
© Robin Esrock

When Reactor No. 4 ignited on April 26, 1986, firefighters rushed to the scene oblivious and unprepared for the meltdown. Within days, many died from acute radioactive sickness. Today, the reactor is enclosed in a massive steel and cement sarcophagus, designed to keep uranium isotopes from entering the atmosphere. The cement has already leaked radioactive lava, with the reactor still capable of fires and explosions.


© Robin Esrock

A model Soviet city, Pripyat was home to 50,000 people and serviced the adjacent power plant. It was hastily abandoned after the meltdown, and has remained untouched ever since. Everything inside the city and surrounding area is contaminated. Empty and desolate, nature is reclaiming this once-thriving city.


Robin Esrock

Visiting an old school is particularly haunting.


© Robin Esrock

Dolls with dead-stare eyes can be found as you approach the nursery. While visitors are strongly advised not to touch anything, some items have been arranged for maximum creep effect.


© Robin Esrock

According to some reports, an estimated 6000 individuals—most of them children—have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer as a direct result of the Chernobyl meltdown.


© Robin Esrock

Blackened, rusty cribs in the old nursery. You can almost hear the soft melodies of music boxes, violently disrupted with panic during evacuation. This is not the place for vivid imaginations.


© Robin Esrock

It will take centuries before anything in Pripyat can safely be destroyed. During that time, the evidence of humanity will continue to break down naturally, some of it less gracefully.


© Robin Esrock

Soviet-era propaganda and iconography are prominent. Pripyat was built as a model city to demonstrate the power and efficiency of the State, with the Chernobyl facility a symbol of national pride. Today it provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, and the hubris of the State’s political ambitions.


© Robin Esrock

The old gymnasium with its empty pool is a visitor highlight. Broken glass and cracked ceramic tiles are everywhere. You can listen to your scream echo throughout the gym and adjacent buildings.


© Robin Esrock

Moss, dust and bushes might look benign, but this growth has absorbed much of the radiation. Visitors are advised to watch where they step, and to avoid moss in particular. All visitors are screened on exit for exposure to radiation, with particular attention paid to hands and footwear.


© Robin Esrock

A fairground was scheduled to open just two days after the disaster. This creaking, rusted, radioactive Ferris wheel never took a single paying customer.


© Robin Esrock

Portraits of Communist party leaders have been stored backstage in the community theater, along with old props and equipment. Seats are torn, and decades-old dust sits heavy on the stage.


© Robin Esrock

If your visit needs a soundtrack, listen to the de-tuned strings in this abandoned piano shop. Neglect, creaking wood, and wind result in disjointed twangs and ghostly whistles.


© Robin Esrock

Nature has been remarkably resilient. Moose, deer, boar, wolves, and bears have been reported in the area, breeding in large numbers. Scientists have been unable to detect any large-scale mutations. Safe from fishing rods, these giant catfish swim in the radioactive water river near the reactor.


© Robin Esrock

The Chernobyl Disaster could have been much worse. Favorable winds saved thousands of lives, splitting the plume and sparing the city from the brunt of the initial radiation. The Soviet government originally planned to build the reactors just 15 miles from Ukraine’s capital of Kiev, which would have devastated a concentrated population.

This story has been updated for 2019.

Take a Digital Tour of America’s Vintage Roadside Stops

The Coney Island Dairyland food stand, Aspen, Colorado, 1980.
The Coney Island Dairyland food stand, Aspen, Colorado, 1980.
John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive (1972-2008), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Before GPS, road-tripping Americans canvassing the country’s freshly paved roadway system in the early part of the 20th century had to rely on gas station maps to find diners and other pit stops. Alternately, they could just keep their eyes peeled for one of the thousands of unique buildings that were designed so speeding motorists could easily identify what they had to offer.

Along the famous Route 66, writes author Richard Ratay in his road trip memoir Don’t Make Me Pull Over!, were “colossal fiberglass ‘people attractors:’ giant hotdogs, guns, pies, cow heads, ice cream cones, and other items associated with the goods each proprietor was hawking.” Other places tried to stand out to passing tourists by offering variations on the “world’s biggest” motif, like the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle in Collinsville, Illinois.

These giant donuts, whales, tea pots, and other distinctive stops were shot for decades by photographer John Margolies, who made it his life’s work to capture these stucco slices of Americana before they disappeared. The Library of Congress first began acquiring portions of Margolies's archive in 2007 and started digitizing those images after Margolies died in 2016. The result of their efforts is an expansive—and totally free—online scrapbook of 11,710 color photos.

The Teapot Dome in Zillah, Washington is pictured
The Teapot Dome, Zillah, Washington, 1987.

The Hat 'N Boots gas station in Seattle, Washington is pictured
The Hat 'N Boots gas station, Seattle, Washington, 1980.

The Whale Car Wash in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is pictured
The Whale Car Wash, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, 1980.

The Donut Hole in La Puente, California is pictured
The Donut Hole, La Puente, California, 1991.

The Flamingo Drive-In Theater in Hobbs, New Mexico is pictured
The Flamingo Drive-In Theater, Hobbs, New Mexico, 1982.

Born in 1940, Margolies took frequent road trips with his parents. An architectural critic, he began photographing the roadside attractions in 1969, continuing the work through 2008. While many of these places have shuttered, their creative exteriors live on through Margolies’s lens. You can browse the rest of the collection at the Library of Congress website.

All images courtesy of the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive (1972-2008), Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

[h/t designboom]

Photographer Captures Polka-Dotted Zebra Foal in Kenya

Frank Liu
Frank Liu

Zebras are known for their eye-catching patterns, but this polka-dotted foal recently photographed in Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve really stands out from the herd. As National Geographic reports, the zebra baby likely has pseudomelanism, a rare pigment condition that's been observed in the wild just a handful of times.

Nature photographer Frank Liu saw the zebra foal while looking for rhinos in the savannah wilderness preserve. After initially confusing the specimen for a different type of animal, he realized upon closer inspection that it was actually a plains zebra born with spots instead of stripes. The newborn foal was named Tira after the Maasai guide Antony Tira who first pointed him out.

Zebra foal with spots walking with mother.
Frank Liu

Zebra foal with spots.
Frank Liu

A typical zebra pattern is the result of pigment cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for the black base coat, and melanin, which gives the animal its white stripes. (So if you've ever wondered if zebras are white with black stripes or black with white stripes, the answer is the latter). In Tira and other zebras with pseudomelanism, the melanocytes are fully expressed, but a genetic mutation causes the melanin to appear as dots rather than unbroken stripes.


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Though rare, this isn't the only time a zebra with pseudomelanism has been documented in nature. Pseudomelanistic zebras have also been spotted in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, but Liu believes this could be the first time one was found in the Masai Mara preserve.

Zebra stripes aren't just for decoration. The distinct pattern may act as camouflage, bug repellant, and a built-in temperature regulation system. Without these evolutionary benefits, Tira has a lower chance of making it to adulthood: Pseudomelanistic zebra adults are rarely observed for this reason. But as Liu's photographs show, the foal has the protection and acceptance of his herd on his side.

[h/t National Geographic]

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