Chernobyl Fractures - PhMuseum

Chernobyl Fractures

Pierpaolo Mittica

2014 - 2018

My work focuses on the contradictions that exist today in Chernobyl and the photographs must be seen as diptychs, two photographs side by side and the captions are very important to understand the full story.

After the Chernobyl nuclear accident on 1986 an exclusion zone was created and 116 thousand people were evacuated. The area thus became a dead zone. But today the zone is not so dead, in fact is full of life even if it is the most contaminated place in the world.

Still today there is the local population that suffers the consequences of radiations with a huge increase in pathologies, but there are also 60,000 tourists per year that come to visit the zone, that became a sort of amusement park.

4,000 people that must work and live in the zone: police, firemen, officers, employers of the nuclear power plant etc, but there are also youngsters, named Stalker, that illegally enter the zone to play survival games.

There are the Hasidic Jews that every year come on pilgrimage, because in Chernobyl the Hasidic movement, one of the most important currents of ‘Judaism, has developed in the eighteen century and the tomb of the founder is in Chernobyl City.

There is Chernobyl City that looks like a normal Ukrainian City with markets, canteen, offices, bus station, houses and hotels. But it is in the exclusion zone and all around the City abandoned places like the Chernobyl port or the ghost town of Pripyat.

And finally there is nature that has regenerated, in a changed way but in a lush form. Nature that can not be defined as uncontaminated, but here the plants, after more than 30 years of abandonment, have enveloped the city of Pripyat and the abandoned villages, and here you can meet wild animals such as wolves, foxes, bears, wild boars and elks. The Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a nature reserve, but totally unnatural. Today the Chernobyl dead zone is full of contradictions, among life and death, and lives more than ever through its contradictions and fractures.

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  • A tourist while taking a selfie in front of the stele of Pripyat
    In the last years Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a nuclear amusement park. In fact, since 2011, Ukraine has opened the doors to the area where the nuclear accident occurred back in 1986. Every year at least 60 thousands people visit the place.

  • Olia and Ania during their inpatient treatment in the Pediatric Clinic of Neurosurgery in Kiev.
    The 14-year-old Olia is affected by an osteosarcoma, the most common form of primary bone cancer. In this moment she films her same age guitar playing friend, which is hospitalized because of thyroid and ovarian cancer.
    National Institute of Cancer at the Pediatric Clinic of Neurosurgery, in cooperation with the Zaporuka NGO, Kiev

  • A stalker dancing at sunset on the roof of a building of the ghost town of Pripyat
    There's a brand new trendy activity going on among Ukrainian youngsters: some of them in fact have recently started to illegally enter the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion - in the centre of which there is the infamous Reactor 4 that exploded in 1986, making the area one of the most contaminated of the whole world - to make one of the most incredible trip. Those guys are mostly in their thirties (or even younger) and represent the latest Chernobyl generation. They are referred to as "Stalkers" a name coming directly from Andrei Tarkovski's film "Stalker", a cult movie dated back in 1979. Chernobyl' Stalkers have lately developed a proper veneration for this specific area, which they consider it as a post-atomic private home. They seem to be organized in paramilitary groups with names, symbols and rituals, while enjoying a dangerous trip to reach their final destination: the ghost town of Pripyat.

  • In a factory in the Exclusion Zone, radioactive contaminated scrap metals are recycled.
    The material is collected in the whole region: a large part comes from the disused railway tracks and the vehicles that were left in the restricted area. But the scrap metals are purloined also at the port of Chernobyl or removed from the reactor units 1, 5 and 6. Subsequently, the radiation values are measured and the metal surfaces sandblasted until all impurities and radioactive substances were grinded away, what means that the metals do not exceed any more the current permitted radiation levels. The working conditions of metallist are terrible, there are virtually no protections. Only the sandblaster worker has a protective suit. The metallist wander all day amid the radioactive clouds created by the blasting, breathing radioactive particles all the day. And today the internal contamination is the most dangerous for the health conditions of the workers

  • Stalker sleeping on the roof of a building in the ghost town of Pripyat. Reactor 4 is on his right,

    Stalkers spend their days exploring abandoned sites and buildings, reading old Soviet magazines or books found around, hiding and escaping from guards and living as the last survivors on earth. In the evening they organize parties, often based on vodka and marijuana, in their apartments or on the roofs of buildings, drowning and watching the sunset on the ghost town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, tasting the taste of freedom and silence, the end of the world, far from prejudices. As one of the stalkers of the Illegal Group told me: "Being part of my group gives me a continuous sense of security and reliability, I know I can rely on other guys just as they know they can count on me. Here we feel alive, free, bond, see what exceptional people I've met here. The area is our life, and for this reason our intent is to bring Pripyat to life again, to preserve it from ruin and oblivion. Pripyat is no longer a ghost town, now we are here.”

  • Anna, six months old, suffers from hydrocephalus.
    Hydrocefalus is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. It was once informally called "Water on the brain” and is one of the most common pathologies caused by accumulation of radioactive particles in the fetus.
    According to the Neurosurgery Institute, National Ukrainian Medical Academy in Kiev, after the nuclear disaster 98% of central nervous system anomalies were due to hydrocephalus. The average annual increase in central nervous system defects was about 39% among 2209 registered cases in the period from 1981 to 1985 compared with 4925 cases from 1987 to 1994. From 1987 to 2004 the incidence of brain tumors in children up to three years of age doubled and in infants it increased 7.5-fold.
    In the picture you can see Anna on the surgery bed before the operation, in which the liquor in her brain will be reduced.
    Pediatric Clinic of Neurosurgery, Kiev,

  • A fox roams the streets of Pripyat.
    After the nuclear disaster, which spread hundreds of thousands of tons of radioactive material into the air, many people assumed that the area around Chernobyl would remain for a long time a dead zone. But meanwhile not only dense forest grows rampantly here. There have also been observed animals, which otherwise in many parts of Europe are still hard to find. Besides wolves, foxes, wild boars or deer also elks and lynxes and even bears inhabit the area in which the radioactivity according to researches is still increased by ten to one hundred times.

  • An abandoned village burned inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone
    Fires are among the greatest threats which exists in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation. Through the fires radioactively contaminated trees and woods are burned. The resulting radioactive ashes are spread into the atmosphere provoking a new fallout.
    On 2015, there was one of the largest forest fires in the restricted area, which was built in 1986 with a radius of 30 km around the wrecked reactor block no. 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on the territory of Ukraine. More than 113 square kilometers of radioactive contaminated forest were affected, throwing back tons of radioactive particles into the air.

  • A Jew inside the Chernobyl synagogue
    There is a Chernobyl before the nuclear accident occurred on April 26, 1986, not well known but of great historical importance, especially for the Jewish people. In fact, in Chernobyl one of the major branches of the Hassidic movement, one of the most important currents of Judaism, developed. Rabbi Twersky, born in 1730, became a community preacher in Chernobyl, where he founded the Hassidic dynasty which spread throughout the world.
    Chernobyl today, as well as a place of nuclear disaster and tourist destination, is also a historical memory of worship and pilgrimage for Hassidic Jews. In fact the devotees of this current every year come from all over the world to visit the graves of the founders of the dynasty.
    Chernobyl is not only the place of the worst nuclear accident ever, but it is also the place where the history of Hassidic Twersky Dynasty was born.

  • Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, control room of reactor no. 4
    An employee of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant inside the damaged control room of reactor no. 4, in which once the disaster was triggered, which has been widely regarded as the worst accident in the history of nuclear power in the world: On Saturday, April 26, 1986, here there was a meltdown and explosion of the reactor core, whereby the block was completely destroyed. After the disaster it has been enclosed in a concrete and lead sarcophagus. Since then the access is limited to certain workers only. The levels of radioactivity inside the control room of reactor no. 4 are 30 times higher than the normal level.

  • Tourists while taking selfies inside Chernobyl nuclear power plant control room of reactor number 2
    There are now dozens of tour operators from Kiev organizing the all-inclusive "Chernobyl tour", a day in the most significant places of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The classic one-day tour includes a visit to the city of Chernobyl, the stop in front of the sarcophagus covering the reactor exploded, and the monument in memory of the firemen burned by radiation in the early hours of the incident. The visit to some abandoned villages where the so-called "settlers" returned to live and the visit to Pripyat, the town of 50 thousand inhabitants located three kilometers from the nuclear power plant and evacuated two days after the explosion. For the more adventurous there are custom tours, even more days. The tourists are welcomed into a guesthouse in the town of Chernobyl built at the time for scientists, journalists and photographers and recently renewed for tourists, with good accommodation and an excellent restaurant where they served three good and abundant meals a day.

  • Hanna Zavorotnya, 83, her sister Sofia and her friend Maria, preparing lunch at home
    They are among about 230 elderly Ukrainians who live within the Exclusion Zone despite an official ban on living in the restricted area. But authorities have long stopped bothering to enforce the prohibition.
    When reactor no. 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded on April 26, 1986, strewing lethal radiation over a wide area, the Soviet government evacuated the 1000 square miles of Ukraine where the radioactive contamination from fallout was highest and took the zone under military control. About 120 000 local residents were displaced and forced to resettle in cities like Kiev or later Slavutych, leaving behind the pastoral life that once dominated their homeland, traditions and culture. So also Hanna and her relatives.
    But nobody could prevent their return. Only a few months later Hanna, her sister and other relatives (like other 1200 returnees) turned back to their homeland. Since then they live a life of self-settlers as self-sufficient persons.

  • YitzTwersky and Rabbi Leibel Sirkes in the old synagogue watching old pictures of the synagogue
    Rabbi Leibel Sirkes lives in New Square, 40 miles from New York. Today New Square is considered the new Chernobyl, because after 1920 all the Chernobyl Jews community escaped from Chernobyl and moved to United States founding a new city that today is considered, by the Hassidic Jews community, the new Chernobyl City: New Square. He was the first person to find the graves after the nuclear disaster, and thanks to the Jews community he restored and preserved them from the oblivion.

  • Vladik and Igor in the garden of their house in Radinka
    Vladik, 7 years old his one year younger brother Igor live with their family in a small village called Radinka. Even if it lies 300 m outside of the restricted area, it’s still highly contaminated.
    The scientist Prof. Dr. Yuri Bandajevski from the Analytical Center “Ecology and Health” in the last four years conducted many clinical studies to explore the impact of absorbed radioactive substances through the food or inhalation, on the health of those children who live in Radinka, Ivankiv and other villages of the province of Ivankiv. 80% of the 3700 examined children, who live close to the border of the Exclusion Zone, are suffering from heart rhythm disorders, which are directly related to the amount of cesium incorporated in their bodies. Besides that, 30% of children accumulated in their bodies large quantities of the radioactive isotope 137Cs, over 50 Bq per kilo; exactly that level in which any kind of disease can be developed.

  • Maxim and other stalkers on the roof of a building in the ghost town of Pripyat.
    Stalkers spend their days exploring abandoned sites and buildings, reading old Soviet magazines or books found around, hiding and escaping from guards and living as the last survivors on earth. In the evening they organize parties, often based on vodka and marijuana, in their apartments or on the roofs of buildings, drowning and watching the sunset on the ghost town of Pripyat and the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, tasting the taste of freedom and silence, the end of the world, far from prejudices. As one of the stalkers of the Illegal Group told me: "Being part of my group gives me a continuous sense of security and reliability, I know I can rely on other guys just as they know they can count on me. Here we feel alive, free, bond, see what exceptional people I've met here. The area is our life, and for this reason our intent is to bring Pripyat to life again, to preserve it from ruin and oblivion. Pripyat is no longer a ghost town, now we are here”.

  • Sunken ships in the port of Chernobyl.
    Chernobyl is located in Polesia, a national region rich in rivers and lakes. Through the evacuation zone around the power plant flow rivers like Prypiat, Uzh, Sachan, Braginka, Glinitsa. Many large cooling basins of the power station, oxbow lakes and reservoirs are situated here. Especially in the first two weeks after the reactor accident many spring water, marsh and water protection areas have suffered a strong radionuclide contamination. Even today many waters present a high amount of radioactive materials which are particularly accumulated by the ground segments. Only the measured values of cesium-137 are at 11 to 30 million Bq/ m2 (the security level is below 2000 Bq/ m2). In the course of the years the radionuclides pass through numerous outlets in the only a few kilometers distant reservoir of Kiev and thus in the Dnieper, which supplies 30 million people with water.

  • A tourist while having a souvenir photo with a cow's skull in hand, scientific laboratories
    Today, tourism in this new Pompeii has become fundamental. It helps the local economy, 60 thousand people a year are not few for a place that should be an exclusion zone. The atomic amusement park here works well, so well that the Ukrainian government expects to reach the number of tourists by one million over the next few years. But forgetting that everything is contaminated here, and it will be for millennia. Forgetting that the area is classified as “exclusion zone", precisely because it should exclude people's access, to avoid risks to their health, even if the tour operators ensure "no risk". And also to preserve respect for the memory of this tragedy as a warning to humanity, and not to turn it into an amusement park for dark tourism, as Chernobyl has become today.

  • Vitali, 7 years old, suffers from a congenital defect called craniosynostosis.

    The craniosynostosis is a disease where the bones of the skull are welded together since birth and does not allow the development of the skull during growth. For this reason, to give a chance to survive to the people suffering from this disease, the crown is replaced with a titanium plate which must be periodically changed with a surgery during the growth phase.
    Natalia, the mother of Vitali, is showing the mold of his son's skull. The mold is used to build the titanium plate, which will help for a certain period of time to develop the growth of Vitali.
    When it happened the Chernobyl accident Natalia was 4 years old and lived at Ukraine, on the border with Belarus, one of the areas most affected by the Chernobyl radioactive fallout.
    Pediatric Clinic of Neurosurgery, Kiev

  • Jews inside the abandoned Chernobyl Synagogue
    Chernobyl City had 5 synagogues, which were destroyed during the pogroms and communism period. Only one is still standing today but under the Soviet period became a military recruitment center and all the traces of the synagogue were erased. The graves are located in Chernobyl City, near the former school, forgotten for many years and recovered in the early 90s thanks to the Jewish community that restored and preserved them. Each year, with the anniversary of the death of the Grand Rabbi Menachem Nachum Twersky Admur of Chernobyl, which occurred on 31 October 1787, a pilgrimage takes place to pray at the graves of their founders and venerate the places of worship of their religion, such as the synagogue, now reduced to an anonymous abandoned building, but still steeped in history. Chernobyl is not only the place of the worst nuclear accident ever, but it is also the place where the history of Hassidic Twersky Dynasty was born

  • Renewed fresh painted warning signs concerning radioactive substance
    Fresh painted warning signs concerning radioactive substances or ionizing radiations are ready for the distribution inside the restricted area, which was established around the site of the wrecked reactor block of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
    In the ghost town of Pripyat there is a workshop where workers repair and renew the damaged warning signs, worn by time and weather. After repair they can be installed to indicate the most contaminated and dangerous places. A job, which, considering the rate of decay of the various radioactive substances, probably still have to be done for thousands of years.


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