The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

By Robert Sorokanich on at

Chernobyl's desolation is ruin porn's hallowed ground. But photographer Darmon Richter says the image of an abandoned Soviet city, untouched since its nuclear disaster, is a carefully constructed facade, a powerful and profitable myth perpetuated by the money-makers of dark tourism.

Richter's fascination with abandoned landscapes brought us chilling shots of the modern ghost towns of China, sprawling uninhabited cities in Byzantine twist of China's burgeoning economy. But on a recent tour of Pripyat, the Ukrainian city built for Chernobyl's workers and abandoned in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster, Richter saw the flip side of that coin: a sparsely inhabited, still-dangerous landscape, but one that's more lived-in than the pictures suggest.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

Not only does Chernobyl's popularity among urban explorers mean that the location is far from vacant; Richter suspects that many of the most harrowing and chilling photos coming out of the location are completely staged.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

Within my own group alone, I observed countless instances of tourists moving these artefacts around, or repositioning furniture for a better shot. I watched a photographer arrange stuffed bears and little dolls so that they sat in line along the edge of a bare, metal-framed bed. I'm sure it made for an excellent photograph… but if my group was by any way representative, then just imagine the cumulative effect of as many as 10,000 visitors interacting with the Zone every year.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

Businesses near the accident site have been making money on Chernobyl tourists for over a decade, Richter writes. The practice of bringing visitors to Pripyat is fraught with allegations of profiteering and corruption.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

Naturally, there is probably some truth hidden among it all — miniature stories, like the upright piano abandoned on the seventh floor of an apartment building, too big for the elevators, too heavy to drag down the stairs—but these genuine insights felt few and far between.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

Despite the "radioactive Disneyland" aspect of his tour, Richter was still able to sneak off and do some exploring in areas perhaps more out of reach for casual tourists, where the harrowing truth of Chernobyl still looms.

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

The Myth of an Untouched Chernobyl

For lots of gorgeous photos from Pripyat, and a deeper look at dark tourism in the Chernobyl exclusion zone (as well as the shocking tale of what happens when you eat an apple grown in Pripyat), you simply must visit Darmon's website, The Bohemian Blog. Just don't expect it to conform to your assumptions about Chernobyl in the 21st century.

All photos republished from The Bohemian Blog with permission.