25 Chernobyl pictures from 2009: restricted territory

Robert Pimm
Robert Pimm

25 Chernobyl pictures – what the reactor, the canteen, and the nearby town of Pripyat actually look like.

Exactly ten years ago, when I was living in Kyiv, I visited Chernobyl for the first time.  Here are 25 of my pictures, with captions.

In 2009, 23 years after the catastrophe, the town of Chernobyl itself was still functioning – 4,000 people worked there.  The nearby town of Pripyat, a place of 50,000 souls where workers and families were evacuated the day after the explosion, generated the spookiest “ghost town” images.

Comments and shares welcome.

Chernobyl pictures, 2009

Chernobyl pictures

In 2009 there was a small but thriving tourist business taking visitors to Chernobyl from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, around two hours’ drive away.  To enter the area of Chernobyl and Pripyat you had to pass through a control point.

Chernobyl pictures
Chernobyl pictures

The sign at the entry to the town of Chernobyl still proudly displayed its nuclear status.  It reminded me of the sign at the entry to Los Alamos, New Mexico, into which I hitch-hiked in 1979 (see my series “The Americans” – links in bold capitals are to other posts on this site) which proclaimed the city as “Birthplace of the Atom”.

Chernobyl pictures
Radioactive chernobyl

In 2009 some vehicles used in the 1986 clean-up operation were still parked in Chernobyl itself.  They carried radioactivity warning signs.  But tourists could no longer visit the main vehicle storage park.  The authorities had declared it too radioactive for safety (see below).  

Chernobyl pictures
Lunch at the Chernobyl canteen

Our tour included “lunch in the Chernobyl canteen”: actually, pretty tasty but perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea.

Chernobyl pictures
Chernobyl firefighters

The firefighters’ memorial in Chernobyl showed an evocative scene of terrified medics seeking to tend firefighters suffering radiation sickness.  Fire crews suffered some of the highest casualties in the initial response to the explosion.

Chernobyl catfish
Chernobyl pictures

The giant catfish in the cooling ponds at Chernobyl came to the surface in their hundreds when we threw bread in the water.  Our guide told us they were big not because of mutation, but because they could live their lives in peace with no-one catching them.  Catfish can live 60 years.

Chernobyl pictures
Chernobyl reactor picture

In 2009 Chernobyl’s reactor No.4 looked like this – with its “sarcophagus” of concrete built after the 1986 accident.  In 2019 a new stainless steel dome opened.

Pripyat

Pripyat pictures
Chernobyl pictures

The sign at the entry to Pripyat is typical of those outside Soviet cities of the period – a futuristic, concrete vibe.

Pripyat pictures
Chernobyl pictures

Nature was slowly taking over the centre of Pripyat.  Otherwise, things were largely as they were when the city was evacuated on 27 April 1986.  You can see the Soviet emblem on the top of the block of flats in this picture.

Chernobyl pictures
Pripyat pictures

The interiors of many of the large buildings looked like scenes from a post-apocalyptic disaster movie.  The murals next to the staircase are typical of Soviet public buildings.

Pripyat pictures
Chernobyl pictures

Most of the damage in these scenes is the work of nature, time, or souvenir hunters (see below).  

Chernobyl pictures
Pripyat pictures

Trees taking over a gymnasium – note the wall bars.

Chernobyl mushrooms
Chernobyl pictures

Some plants can act as biomonitors for radioactivity.  The uncertainty about where residual radioactivity might be concentrated is one of the unsettling factors in deciding to visit Chernobyl and Pripyat.

Pripyat pictures
Chernobyl pictures

Chernobyl pictures of pictures!  A store-room filled with old Soviet placards.  It is hard to know whether such scenes are real or have  been staged to entertain or shock tourists. I would view with caution any pictures of Pripyat or Chernobyl which show dolls, toys or gas-masks.   

Chernobyl pictures

The fun-fair at Pripyat, due to open on 1 May five days after the accident, is one of the most famous sights of the city.

Pripyat pictures

When our guide waved his radiation monitor over a patch of repaired ground near the fun-fair, the audible reading went through the roof.  According to the guide, the repair pre-dated the accident.  How did this patch become so radioactive – before 1986?  Or did the guide stage this?    

Chernobyl funfair
Chernobyl pictures

I would be interested to see a contemporary picture of these rusty bumper-cars, if they are still there ten years later.  I imagine their shock value will decrease as they become more overgrown and rusty.  

Chernobyl pictures
Pripyat pictures

I’d be keen to see an update of this picture of a swimming pool, too.  Once, it would have been a fine facility.

Pripyat pictures
Chernobyl children

An abandoned room full of cots.  The doll on one bed looks like a later addition.

Chernobyl school
Chernobyl pictures

This picture of an abandoned school library gives an impression of the chaos of Pripyat in 2009.  The fact that the books are worthless and covered in potentially radioactive dust helps explain why no-one feels much like picking them up.  But by then, souvenir hunters and scavengers had already been active across much of Pripyat, despite the risk of residual radiation. 

Chernobyl school
Chernobyl pictures

An abandoned school room in Pripyat.

Chernobyl school
Chernobyl pictures

Civil defence posters at a school in Pripyat warn children of the dangers of different threats including air, radiation, and chemical threats and how to respond to warnings.  The signs encourage families to teach their children how to put on gas masks.

Chernobyl school
Chernobyl pictures

An abandoned piano in Pripyat.

Chernobyl school
Chernobyl pictures

In this school poster a friendly dwarf is encouraging children to wash their hands, especially before eating.

Chernobyl vehicle park
Chernobyl pictures

I flew over Chernobyl in a helicopter when I visited the site two years later, in 2011.  You can see a park for abandoned vehicles.  I would be interested to know if anyone has more recent pictures.  

I hope you enjoyed this post – if you did, please share.  You may also like my piece The Russians – Vladivostok – set in 1994.

What to do next

If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please subscribe to my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime you wish).  I’ll send you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks!  Or I would be delighted if you would like to friend me on Facebook.  

Share:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Sign up for my weekly updates

…and receive a FREE short story!

I won’t pass on your details to third parties / unsubscribe whenever you wish

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles