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Chernobyl victims

The Long Shadow of Chernobyl – A 20 Year Retrospective Photo Book
Forfatter: Gerd Ludwig
Forlag: Edition Lammerhuber (Østerrike)
ATOMIC ACCIDENT / While scientists are arguing over whether Chernobyl is the cause of malformations and cancer, photographer Gerd Ludwig is working diligently to document the victims of the world's largest nuclear accident.


In the previous issue of Ny Tid we wrote about the popular series Chernobyl, which is streamed on HBO. The series has sparked renewed interest in and awareness of nuclear power and the dangers of nuclear power, and not least – awakening to the memories of Chernobyl, the largest nuclear disaster ever.

It took two days before the Soviet news agency TASS reported the accident. The fax from TASS is the cover of the book The Long Shadow of Chernobyl from 2014, which is still relevant. The award-winning photographer Gerd Ludwig has visited Chernobyl several times, the first time for National Geographic in 1993. It made such a strong impression that he later started a public financing to publish the book.

Ludwig has photographed the control room in both reactors 3 and 4.
© Gerd Ludwig

The photographs and their stories cover all aspects of the disaster: from the victims' history – those who fell ill and live with the consequences of the radiation they were exposed to for the rest of their lives. Those who died. Those who had to leave their homes at full speed and barely managed to bring anything but the most needed. Even pictures of one's loved ones are left, covered by radioactive cobwebs. In other rooms are dolls that will never be played with.

Reactor 4

Gerd Ludwig is among the few who have been so far inside the accident reactor 4 it is possible to come. He has voluntarily visited one of the world's most hazardous areas. His motivation is the victims of the accident and their history. He says, "I've met people who have allowed me to showcase their suffering, hoping to prevent similar accidents in the future." That is his driving force.

Ludwig also documents the clean-up and security work in progress. The nuclear power plant is located in the middle of the Exclusion Zone, where radiation is still so powerful that workers are not allowed to work more than a 15-minute shift per day. Nevertheless, the adverse effects from Chernobyl are still debated.

Ludwig has been deep in the dark passages and tunnels of the reactor together with workers who are cleaning up and securing the reactor. In some places the radiation is still so strong that you are only allowed to be there for a few seconds. © Gerd Ludwig

Many institutions that treat Chernobyl victims are dependent on the support of various aid organizations while researchers argue. Ludwig does an important job by documenting the harmful effects. The photographs are sober, documentary and realistic. Ludwig has not succumbed to the temptation to paint the motifs with artistic color. The reality is eerie and scary enough. To emphasize the seriousness, he has included a supplement with censored documents from the CIA, maps and explanations in the trilingual book.

Opachichi, Ukraine, 1993
Opachichi, Ukraine, 1993. When the Soviet authorities finally ordered the evacuation of Chernobyl, Pripyat and other nearby areas, residents had to leave the home on short notice. Often they had to leave personal belongings behind. © Gerd Ludwig

To die at home

Near the reactor is the "red forest". The name it is given after the red color the trees get when they die. Scientists measure radiation there regularly. Much of the forest is burnt and buried in large landfills called "garbage cemeteries".

Kharytina Desja (92) is one of those who have moved back and live in the fenced and dangerous Exclusion Zone. Although her house is barely connected and is a patchwork of plank pieces and simple repairs, it is her home. She is surrounded by death and destruction and lives in isolation, but this is where she will spend her last days. She will die on her own soil, as she says.

Others live in fear of their own health: “My friend died. He was big, heavy and fat like a barrel. And my neighbor, who worked as a crane operator, was black as coal. He shriveled in, and eventually he wore children's clothing. Even I don't know how I'm going to die, ”says Oleg Pavlov.

Minsk, 2005. Oleg Shapiro (54) and Dima Bogdanovich (13) are both operated on for thyroid cancer.
Minsk, 2005. Oleg Shapiro (54) and Dima Bogdanovich (13) have both undergone surgery for thyroid cancer. Oleg worked with cleaning up after the accident and has just undergone his third operation. Dima's mother is above proven that radioactive waste (cesium) has made her son ill. She encounters little understanding from the authorities, who try to downplay the harmful effects. 50 percent of the population in Oktyabrski have malformations of the thyroid gland. © Gerd Ludwig

"I have met people who have allowed me to showcase their suffering in the hope of preventing similar accidents in the future"
Gerd Ludwig

Women who were young children when the accident happened are now of childbearing age. They are worried about the children's malformations. Ludwig is present in the delivery room. He has visited countless hospitals, and a separate chapter is devoted to victims and survivors. There are strong testimonies from life marked by illness and death: from cancer to skin damage due to direct exposure, wounds reminiscent of burns. There are sick children. Children born to parents who got to feel the nuclear power of the body. Ludwig has photographed the children that no one wants. Those who have such great physical and mental disabilities that they can not manage on their own.

disaster Tourism

It was in Pripyat that the employees of the nuclear power plant lived, those who lived and even the nuclear power. Today, buildings like kindergarten and old school are abandoned and deserted: Pripyat is a ghost town. Nature has moved in and taken back man-made structures.

Pripyat, 2005. The school.
Pripyat, 2005. The school in Pripyat had been abandoned for 19 years when Ludwig photographed it. Nature takes over, and the wild lushness of the trees contrasts sharply with the fear that characterized the children who attended school here.

"Tourists travel here," says Ludwig. "The most popular motif is a broken doll with a gas mask."

The disaster is good store. A tourist guide wears contact lenses with a nuclear symbol and a cap that can be purchased as a souvenir. Everything to make the visit to the Exclusion Zone more memorable. Pictures of tourists with and without protective suits who can be photographed in front of the abandoned amusement park in Pripyat, trigger a bad aftertaste after pictures of the victims. "Hurry up," urges the tourist guide, who wants people to leave quickly when they brave the radiation danger and are immortalized in front of the sarcophagus that huser the reactor.

Close by live Anna, Eva and Vasily Artyushchenko: "Nobody can fool us, we don't move. There are no shops, no hospitals. We don't have power. We have oil lamp and moonlight. And we like it! Because we are at home. ”

Watch the series Chernobyl on HBO and read the review here.
The our report from Chernobyl November 2016

Iril Kolle
Iril Kolle
Freelance journalist, translator and graphic designer.

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