I went to McNally Robinson, our local independent bookstore, last night to view the most recent photos by David Mcmillan (click here to see a collection of his older photos) and also to hear a story excerpt by Larry Frolic - both were in Ukraine recently. It was shivers-down-the- spine stuff.
Mcmillan's artistic photos were of the Chernobyl area - empty of people, but overgrown with trees now - kids' playgrounds, basketball courts, hotels and ordinary streets totally immersed in jungles where wild boars roam freely. When the people evacuated, their pets had to stay. The dogs were shot en masse - but some avoided death - and so they still breed in the people-less spaces. (There must be cats, too.) Mcmillan said he deliberately goes in the fall, when the trees aren't as dense.
Most of the photos I saw last night were of Pryipat - a town of about 45, 000, two kilometers from the reactor. It's a modern town that was built in the 1970s for the workers. This still Soviet world is frozen in 1986 forever, perhaps - a kind of "I am Legend" place (okay, I only watched that movie to spend time with my son :) )
I'm blabbing on here, when last night, a picture could tell a thousand words. A fallen bust of Lenin, an empty kindergarten room, yellow walls peeling, a ferris wheel in a forest of deciduous trees, the faded flag of the old USSR, huge helicopters left to rust - all contaminated by the invisible radiation. Even people's personal documents had to stay behind.
The photographer, David Mcmillan, says he plans to return as often as possible to continue his photo essay of Chernobyl. It's just amazing stuff about how a city vanishes as nature takes over. And you know what has so far stayed bright and untouched? Plastic toys. Long live plastic. Scary.
I hear you can now take bus tours of this uninhabitable place. When I was in Ukraine, back in 2004, I did tour the Chernobyl museum - where every village that was evacuated is mentioned and children's dolls stare at visitors. That museum was a spooky place, too.