My name is Michael, and I live in the Southsea area of Portsmouth. I became interested in photography around seven years ago after the passing of my mum. I went through a really rough time, shut myself away from everyone, and did not venture out for two years.

Beginnings in Photography

My first camera was a Nikon 3200, a gift from my partner Mellisa to help me get through my rough patch. It took some time, but I eventually started going out again and slowly started interacting with new people via social media. The more I went out to take pictures, the more interested in photography I became—I self-taught everything I knew from books and magazines. I have taken pictures for family and friends to practice, including a prom, a wedding, and general everyday family pictures.

Fascination with Chornobyl

I always had an interest in urban exploring and came across Chornobyl through TV documentaries and the internet when I was a teenager. I started researching more about Chornobyl, thinking of all the amazing images I could capture if I went there. I decided to start sharing some images via social media once my confidence had grown more. I followed some local photographers and started seeing some images of Chornobyl from someone I followed.

Planning the Trip

Sarah had visited Chornobyl before, and her images were brilliant! We began chatting about Chornobyl, and she mentioned she wanted to take the trip again. Following some time planning, we managed to book a trip for August 2018. It was booked via a third party, so I knew there were others going. This was a big thing for me as these people were complete strangers. I struggle with meeting new people, so this was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I invited my niece Toni to come along with me as she is also interested in photography, and it meant I had someone I knew going on the trip.

Arrival in Ukraine

The camera I took with me was a Nikon D810, which I had recently purchased. We booked a hotel for just under a week in Kyiv, Ukraine, with two nights and three days staying in a hotel in Chornobyl.

The Journey to Chornobyl

We were met at Kyiv airport by our guide, Nikolai of Gamma Travel, who took us to the Hotel Ukraine in central Kyiv. From the moment we arrived in Ukraine, I was impressed, as there were so many potential images I saw just driving to the hotel. Our first night was spent in Hotel Ukraine, and I had stunning views from my room window. Nikolai came by early the next morning to drive us to Chornobyl for our two-night stay in the zone; it was a few hours' drive to Chornobyl from our initial base.

Exploring the Chornobyl Zone

Reactor Number 5

When we arrived in Chornobyl, we made our way to the hotel, checked in, and left our luggage, then made our way to the zone, having to go through a few military checkpoints on the way. We also had to sign a waiver stating that we understood the risk of high levels of radiation and that we wouldn’t sue if we fell ill in the future. We were then given Geiger counters to measure the levels of radiation in the different areas we were visiting.

Once we made it through the checkpoints, the first place we visited was the unfinished reactor number 5. This reactor was under construction at the time of the accident on reactor 4 and was 70% complete when the building stopped. The reactor was a massive structure; from looking inside through an opening, we saw that materials inside the building were being removed by the remaining workers. This meant that all that remained were mostly concrete pillars and metal beams. In addition to this, tower cranes that were being used to build the structure were left there when construction was halted; they have since collapsed into the water, making the building seem even more eerie.

The Workers' Canteen

We were then shown to the Chornobyl workers' canteen to join them for lunch. This canteen is where we ate breakfast and dinner for the next few days. Once in the building, we had to go through a radiation detector machine before going into the canteen. The food being served was very interesting, containing lots of different versions of eggs, chicken, pasta, and salad. It was quite tasty and definitely filled us up, giving us the energy needed for all the walking we did.

Various Locations in the Zone

Pripyat Hospital

Over the next few days, we visited various locations throughout the zone. This included the Pripyat hospital. This was a very creepy building with loads of medical equipment still lying around. We visited the maternity ward, which still had baby cots in the nursery, the labor bed with the leg supports still attached, as well as loads of books, paperwork, and medicine jars.

Obviously, the buildings are decaying, so there are loads of dust and mold around, and the floors and walls are crumbling and peeling. Unfortunately, we were not allowed access to the hospital basement as the levels of radiation there are still very high due to this being where the fireman’s uniforms and the clothes of the first patients admitted after the accident were dumped before the evacuation. The clothes are in a pile on the floor of the basement, emitting radiation.

The Morgue

We visited the morgue, which is a separate building from the hospital but nearby. This building, again, was in a state of disrepair. Here we saw small jars of unknown samples in storage cupboards, and there was a room with an autopsy table that had the sink and drainage pipes still attached.

Pripyat Apartment Blocks

Continuing our exploring, we headed to the city of Pripyat, which contained numerous apartment blocks. We walked to the top floor of one of the blocks; this was hard work but fun. We walked up approximately 16 flights of stairs to get to the roof, as the lifts were out of order, probably due to the block having no power.

The view from the roof was amazing and peaceful; it was a strange feeling seeing all the abandoned buildings with nature slowly taking over. Walking on the roof in the heat was a tad scary. It felt very spongy and unsafe, with only a rusted handrail to stop us from falling.

The Amusement Park

The amusement park was another eerie place that we visited. It was built brand new the year of the accident and was due to be opened in time for Mayday celebrations but was canceled due to the disaster. The amusement park included a Ferris wheel, bumper cars, a paratrooper ride, and swing boats. The Ferris wheel is still standing tall, but some of the other rides only have the framework remaining due to weathering and looting. The amusement park is an amazing site to get some brilliant images.

The Local School

We also visited the local school. This was a large complex with various buildings. One building had some creepy dolls lying around, which allowed us to capture some creative images. There were a few small cot beds and some lockers. Another building had loads of textbooks, writing books, reading books, work tables, and science equipment lying around. There was also an abandoned library in one of these buildings full of books.

The Azure Swimming Pool

Another location we visited was the Azure swimming pool. Here there were two concrete diving boards over the swimming pool. I managed to climb up to the top-level diving board, which was a bit nerve-racking, but this was something I wanted to do to get some quality images.

The Jupiter Plant

The next location we visited was a building called the Jupiter Plant, which officially made cassette recorders and components for home appliances but also secretly made semiconductor components for the military. This building was very interesting; cassette players were smashed up all over the floor. The front of the building appeared official looking, but at the back of the building, there was a set of secure, safe-locked doors—possibly where the secret components were made. It is a massive building with a large warehouse and a slowly collapsing roof.

The Abandoned Ferry Terminal

The trip continued with a visit to the abandoned ferry terminal. At this site, there was a docking area with a lovely view, and there were abandoned sinking boats on the water. There was also a nearby café which was architecturally amazing. I could picture the way it used to look when it was in full use. There were huge stained-glass windows in the largest open area, some of these still fully intact; they were brilliant to look at!

The Duga Radar Station

After clearing another checkpoint, next on the tour was the Duga Radar Station, also known as the Woodpecker. From looking at photos, you can’t really understand the scale and size of this structure; it is huge! We went down into the underground control center, which monitored US missile attacks. Lots of equipment is still at the damp underground bunker, such as control panels, cabling, and switches.

The North Villages

We visited the North villages, which included St. Elias Church, which is still an operating church. Mostly made from wood, this gives an unprecedented look into life before the disaster. It retains a large number of its original artifacts, including artwork and murals. Occasionally, priests return to the church to hold special rituals. This is an amazing church that makes you feel as though you are going back in time.

Also in this village was a small post office which still has a post box and a collection of stamps and letters inside.

New Friends in the Zone

We also made some new friends in the zone: packs of wild dogs, and Simon the fox, who can be hand-fed, though you are not supposed to touch them. After our two nights and three days in Chornobyl, we traveled back to our hotel in Kyiv and spent the last few days sightseeing in Ukraine and doing some street photography.


If you are considering making this trip yourself, I highly recommend Nikolai from Gamma Travel, as he has a vast amount of knowledge of the area and the disaster. He is also a very talented photographer himself, so he can easily recommend good areas for photos. He will also tailor your visit specifically to your requirements, which means you can visit specific locations.

The zone can also close at any time with no warning due to military training or other undisclosed reasons; therefore, I would advise booking more than one day in the zone so you are not disappointed.

WORDS: Michael Rutter