MONUMENTS OF THE CHERNOBYL ZONE
Following the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, an Exclusion Zone was created in a 30-kilometre radius around the reactor. Many thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. Pripyat, the Modernist Soviet city that had housed most of the plant’s employees, became a ghost town whose name is now famous the world over. However, in Ukraine alone, another hundred-or-so former villages today stand empty in the forests of Chernobyl.
During my years of visiting Chernobyl I became increasingly interested in these vanished communities – the traditional wood-beamed homes now overtaken by trees, as well as their post offices, village clubs and bus stops. However the most poignant symbol of broken tradition, for me, was the sight of neglected war memorials. This region suffered greatly during WWII (or the Great Patriotic War, as they described the conflict here) and every single village of the Chernobyl region lost people in the fight against fascism. Afterwards, each village had its own memorial: places of honour and memory, inscribed with the names of the fallen. To see these memorials themselves fall into ruin spoke to a profound loss of place and home.
In the summer of 2018 I embarked on a five-day expedition through the Exclusion Zone, accompanied by a local monument expert. Now a tour guide by trade, in 1996 he had been part of the team who erected the Monument to the Firefighters in Chornobyl town; and he had since helped to restore a number of the village memorials dotted around the Zone. Some of these monuments showed signs of recent visitors, with plastic flowers or freshly mown grass around them. But other villages, deeper in the Zone, were harder to reach. The roads are not all maintained, and at one point my guide had to use a chainsaw to cut through the fallen trees barring our path into a village. Nevertheless, by the end of the week we had managed to document approximately 60 village war memorials.
I hope to publish the full collection soon. In the meantime, I have begun incorporating some of these locations into my own tour routes in Chernobyl; and our 2018 expedition also forms the basis of one full chapter in my book, Chernobyl: A Stalkers' Guide (FUEL, 2020) – where it is accompanied by photographs from roughly 20 of these memorial sites.
TOURSFor upcoming tour dates and a list of past trips, visit the Tours page.
© Darmon Richter 2020