A disaster that not only lowers a city population from 16,000 to about 500, but ends up getting the freakin’ place “quarantined” in what is called an Exclusion Zone, definitely lives up its name as such.
But before any living up was to be had by a calamitous event, there once was a disaster-free city called Chernobyl, an area situated in northern Ukraine. The catalyst to its inevitable destruction was the fourth reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
The plant itself wasn’t the problem. The problem was what happened within. On April 26, 1986, it erupted in a deadly explosion, releasing vast quantities of radioactive contamination into the atmosphere, which spread over much of Europe and over what was then known as the Western USSR. The ramifications that followed are now classified as a level 7 event, the classification of which, on the International Nuclear Event Scale, belongs to just one other—the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that the event in question is now known as the Chernobyl Disaster, and is considered to be the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.
While the effects on human life were severe (31 deaths are directly attributed to the accident, a UNSCEAR report has tallied 64 confirmed deaths from radiation; the World Health Organization says there could’ve been 4,000 civilian deaths; a 2006 report predicted there were 30,000-60,000 cancer deaths; a Greenpeace report increased those numbers to 200,000-plus; and according to Chernobyl, a Russian publication, there were 985,000 premature cancer deaths worldwide between 1986-2004 as a result), this list focuses more so on the devastation that was inflicted on this once prosperous city. And yes, there were mutations, too. But that’s something for you to enjoy on another day. Here are some of the most chilling images from Chernobyl.
15 Fish Farm/Radiological Laboratory
Even though this fish farm (which was reused as a radiological laboratory until 1996) is pretty darn creepy, what’s even more chilling are the studies that partially correspond to what it was originally used for—long-term observations of radioactivity contamination in fish.
Here’s something extra: the fish farm is located in Pripyat, which was originally a nuclear city that served the very plant whose fourth reactor went ka-blooy.
Just in case you didn’t already know, there are both safe and unsafe amounts of radioactivity concentrations that someone can consume. Sure, the actual amount varies, but in the European Union, the amount is approximately 1,000 bg/kg. We’re mentioning this because after the nuclear power accident in Chernobyl, the fish in the Kiev Reservoir were realized to have bio-accumulated several thousand bg/kg. Those are some superhero-making levels right there.
Tourists who have visited (and survived) this particular fish farm have noted that there are recycled food jars filled with fish that have not, surprisingly, decomposed. More amusingly, they claim that lockers fill the laboratory, the doors of which are open, revealing not just empty water bottles, but yes, empty vodka bottles.
14 The Lone Kopachi Building
This photo would probably be a whole lot cuter (and a lot less creepier) if this stuffed bunny wasn’t all dirty and mangled-up in such an unsettling way. That whole forlorn-looking thing its got going on isn’t helping either.
This particular room was once part of a kindergarten located in Kopachi village, which lies on a road between Pripyat and Chernobyl.
Interestingly enough, this kindergarten is the only structure in Kopachi that’s still standing. All the others were not only bulldozed, but buried. And people didn’t do this because the structures were sore sights. It’s because their radiation levels were much too high and had to be moved deep underground. But that’s okay. There’s still this dilapidated creepy kindergarten building to look at.
But hopefully, we can’t get contaminated from just looking at these photos. Plutonium levels in this kindergarten are still freakishly high: cesium-137 and strontium-90.
13 Palace Of Culture
It’s ironic that this particular Palace of Culture was named Energetik, seeing as it’s a play on words that can both mean “energetic” (the irony being that it’s definitely not lively anymore) and “power plant worker” (because the power plant led to its destruction). One thing’s for sure, it definitely doesn’t look like a palace anymore.
But what is a Palace of Culture? Well, seeing as most of the people who frequent this site probably never lived in Russia during the Soviet Union, we’re going to explain it quickly. Basically, Palaces of Culture were large community centers. They were so popular that by 1988, there were over 137,000 of them in the Soviet Union.
Located on Lenon Square, Energetik is right smack dab at the center of Chernobyl and contains the remains of a cinema, theater, library, gym, swimming pool, boxing ring, dancing hells, and, yes, even a shooting range located in the palace’s basement.
Many of the windows are also broken, but not for what you may think. Sure, vandals have broken into the palace over the years to try and scavenge some hidden treasures. But they were also broken to prevent radiation buildup in the palace’s enclosed spaces. Damn!
12 Shmaragd Holiday Camp
Okay, okay! We realize that what makes this particular photo so unsettling is that creepy-looking mural.
The hut, on which this freaky mural was made, is one out of approximately 100, in what was once Shmaragd holiday camp. It was here where Pripyat children would spend their time during summer break. Before the accident, children had access to a cinema, library, boat station, shop, and ballroom.
Outside the cinema lies a fence that’s decorated with three children, possibly dancing in one direction, in front of a strand of film. There are also pictures of dwarfs picking what appears to be giant strawberries and cartoon animals, including a dog holding a fish he’d just caught that’s supposedly just as tall as he is.
Here’s a tidbit of information that makes this picture a little more disturbing—some of the liquidators who were meant to decontaminate the area ended up making use of these rather “off-putting” huts and lived here. But now, they’re completely empty. The only company you can find now are the freaky murals staring back at you.
11 The Big Three
This is another photo of a scene that’s not inherently creepy. Most of what makes this photo so chilling is the way in which the photographer captured it. The immediate juxtaposition of the crucifix with the ethereal-like reflection of the photographer creates an otherworldly effect. This is only exacerbated by the fact that many people (and animals) have died here.
The radiation sign mark, which marks the entrance to the out-of-bounds town of Pripyat, doesn’t help things. But there’s something else in this photo that is pretty intense—the pine forest. Why? Because it lies directly downwind from the fourth reactor (which means that it lay directly downwind of the radiation spewing out from reactor when it exploded in 1986), an exposure that ended up turning all of the pines reddish-brown. That’s why this four-square-kilometer area is now known as the Red Forest.
Within the Red Forest, radioactive caesium-137 isotopes abound. In fact, these isotopes are taken up by fungi, including Cortinarius caperatus, which are, in turn, eaten by sheep. Aww. Poor sheep!
10 Swimming In The Radioactive Waste Of Azure Pool
Out of all the places in a nuclear-exposed area, you’d think a swimming pool would almost always top the “Wow, I am not using that again” list. In other words, who in their right mind would use a swimming pool in a city that’s radioactive?
Strangely, the Azure Swimming Pool was open for quite some time after the disaster. And when we say “quite some time,” we don’t mean that people were swimming around in radioactive waste for a few days afterwards. We mean that people were doing so for a whopping 10 years, done so by those who were working at the power plants.
That being said, the building where the pool is in also contained a gymnasium. Maybe that was the only part of the building that was being used. At least, that’s what we hope. The reason as to why this place, and images of the said place, are so chilling is summed up pretty well on Chernobyl Gallery—“almost everyone has experienced an indoor pool, often with memories from early childhood.”
That’s pretty deep. As deep as the deepest end of a swimming pool. Luckily, Chernobyl Gallery ended their summary on a humerus note: “No waft of chlorine now though.”
9 The Elephant’s Foot
Be so afraid! A terrifying creature now lurks deep within Chernobyl’s Reactor 4. It’s so sinister that the radiation in the area affects any photography taken there, hence, this photo being fuzzy.
Due to immense heat that emanated from the concrete beneath the reactor along with solidified lava and unknown crystalline forms termed “chernobylites,” an intensely radioactive mass soon manifested within. This mass, which now measures more than two meters wide and weighs hundreds of tons, has been given the apt designation, the Elephant’s foot, because of its wrinkled appearance.
The “foot” is comprised of melted nuclear fuel, with a heck ton of concrete, sand, and core sealing material.
Anyone who was unfortunate enough to venture near it in 1986 (and stayed within close proximity for about 30 seconds) would’ve found themselves suffering from dizziness and fatigue about a week later. That’s because the radiation level was measured at 10,000 roentgens per hour! But what would’ve happened if you’d stayed next to the elephant foot for a longer period of time? Well, if you’d stood around for two minutes, then your body cells would’ve begun to cause hemorrhage. After four minutes, you’d have found yourself suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, all which would’ve been exacerbated by a high fever. If you’d stayed a little longer (up to 300 seconds), then you’d have been dead in two days.
8 Of Course There’s A Pripyat Amusement Park
Nothing is freakier than an abandoned amusement park. But what about an abandoned amusement park that’s radioactive?
Speaking of which, if you plan, for whatever reason, to visit the amusement park in Pripyat, then you’d better stay the heck away from areas where moss abounds because, for whatever reason, radioactive levels are dangerously high in these particular spots, emitting 25 µSv/h. It should be noted that it’s one of the highest levels of radiation in the area.
Before all of the craziness and chaos that inevitably ensued the disaster, the park was originally set to open on May 1, 1986. However, seeing as the nuclear power accident occurred on April 26, it’s safe to say that the amusement park was never actually used. However, some sources say that the park was prematurely opened on April 27 just before the official announcement for citizens to evacuate the city. Yikes! If those sources are true, then this picture just got a whole lot creepier.
And for gamers who thought this Ferris Wheel looked familiar, well, you’re not going crazy...at least if you played S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare because it makes major appearances in those games.
7 Reactor 5
Despite Reactor 4 going “boom!” early in the morning, 286 construction workers who were building the fifth and sixth reactors next door still clocked into work that day (due to the government wanting to keep the explosion “hush-hush” before things got really serious).
Sure, construction may have been halted later on, but work soon resumed a few months later on October 10. Luckily, Russian officials decided it would be a good idea to halt the operation once more. But they wouldn’t reach that decision for another six months on April 24. It wasn’t until May 23, 1989 when it was finally decided that they wouldn’t complete the reactors.
At the time of the accident, the fifth reactor was said to be about 70% complete. The sixth was given until 1994 to be completed. Specialists say that if both reactors had been completed, they would’ve been capable of producing 1,000 MWs…each.
6 The “Brain” Of Reactor 4
This is where all the magic happened. But, understandably, there ain’t no magic going on here no more. In this control room, scientists planned and executed the very experiment that would later lead to the disaster that you’re now reading about.
All scientists wanted to do was eliminate the amount of time (60 seconds) it took for three backup diesel generators to attain full speed in the event of a power grid failure. During the test, an emergency shutdown (SCRAM) of the reactor was initiated for unknown reasons, possibly due to a rise in temperature.
Just a few seconds later, there was a power spike that overheated the core, leading to the reactor jumping to ten times its normal operational output (30,000 MW). The last reading on the control panel was 33,000 MW before the explosion.
5 Jupiter Factory
Probably the most interesting thing about the Jupiter Factory is that it was re-purposed to test decontamination techniques up until 1996; which makes sense, seeing as the factory also housed radiology laboratories.
But other than that, the history of the factory is pretty bland. Before the explosion, its main purpose was to pump out electrical components, especially tape recorders. Oh, boy! That being said, there are rumors that it was somehow linked to the military. And that theory makes sense, seeing as the Cold War was in full swing during the time.
While its main purpose was a factory, many of its rooms have either been adapted or converted into living accommodations (back when people still lived there). They’re filled with sofas, chairs, beds, and other random stuff. As many visitors have noted, there are many things in the factory that are very much live and radioactive.
4 Supermarket...Like From That Movie
No matter how eerie this photo might be, it can’t scar anyone more than someone who’s watched the film Dawn of the Dead. You know what I’m talking about. Even people who haven’t seen that zombie post-apocalyptic film can still get a little weirded out by the pure devastation that has manifested in this Pripyat supermarket.
At least we’re not subjecting you to the graffiti that’s right outside the building’s broken down doors.
Back when this place was actually a store, it is said to have been one of the few places that sold Chanel Number 5 in the Soviet Union (even though this might just be a rumor). However, it’s no question that this supermarket served people who lived a high quality of life, which only makes this scene all the more depressing. If you lived in Pripyat back in the day and walked up the stairs of the supermarket, you’d have found, not food, but furniture. Yup. It was kinda like a USSR WalMart!
But there’s hardly anything there now, except for pieces of the ceiling on the floor.
3 Right After Reactor 4 Went Radioactive
A massive hole in any building is not always pleasant to look at.
While Reactor 4 has been encased in a sarcophagus for a number of years, photos were taken before it was covered, allowing us all to see the devastation of the nuclear power disaster first hand.
The first encasing was constructed in 206 days after the event, from June to late November of 1986, to prevent additional radiation from entering the atmosphere. Aptly named Obyekt Ukrytiye, which means shelter or covering, the sarcophagus covered about 16 tons of uranium and plutonium, 30 tons of contaminated dust and a whopping 200 tons of radioactive corium.
However, it was recently replaced by the New Safe Containment this year. And that’s a big deal. In 1996, it was said that the original sarcophagus was beyond repair because radiation levels were much too high (10,000 rontgens per hour). To put that number in perspective, background radiation in cities is generally 20-50 microrontgens per hour. Not 20-50 regular rontgens. Micro.
What’s crazy is that the new covering is the largest man-made movable structure on the planet. And, yes, you read that correctly. It’s movable. It was originally constructed away from the reactor and, once it was finished, pushed over the top of the failing sarcophagus on train tracks. Yes, train tracks.
2 Nothing More Creepy Than Dolls In A Kindergarten School
It’s hard to imagine that there were 15 kindergartens in Pripyat for 4,980 students. While this picture is pretty off-putting, it should be noted that many of the dolls in the Pripyat schools aren’t lying in the same places where their owners had originally left them. Many have been arranged by visitors who were brave enough to not only walk these haunted grounds but to touch the things within them. As it says in an article in IBTimes, “These macabre tableaux have been placed by visitors, either as a tribute to the children who lived here, or – more probably – simply to make a more dramatic Instagram post.”
But images such as this one, where the dolls seem to have been erratically cast aside by some frenzied child in an effort to escape the radiation, may be legit.
Still. Even “choreographed” shots are pretty creepy. This is especially the case when you realize that visitors are always warned not to touch anything. Strangely enough, it’s clear that many of the props you’ll find online were undoubtedly brought by tourists, especially the newer-looking, less-destroyed stuff. These types of people are referred to in the same IBTimes article as “ruin p*rn” enthusiasts.
But probably the most twisted act of all is when people actually take some of these items home with them; people just being plainly stupid sometimes.
1 Yes, This A Photo Of A School: Middle School Three
There’s nothing creepier than an empty school, let alone an empty school filled with gas masks. Interestingly enough, Middle School Three, one of five secondary schools in Pripyat, houses the most photographed collection of gas masks in Pripyat.
But why were there gas masks at a school? We’re glad you asked. Basically, the Cold War was scary. Schools kept Russian-made masks (all child-sized) on-site to provide protection in case there were nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks.
But a more important question is, "Why are hundreds of gas masks now strewn across the floor at this particular school?" We’re glad you asked this question as well. This answer will be more interesting, though.
Over the years, looters originally removed them from storage so they could easily take out the tiny amounts of silver that are inside mask filters. They didn’t even bother putting them back. How rude!
Sources: USA Today, 9News, BBC, News, NRC