April 26, 1986. The workers of the power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine were starting a test to see what happens during a black-out, when something went terribly wrong. A nuclear explosion instantly kills 2 workers, heralding a difficult time to come for the people of the city.
The fire that was set free burned for 10 days, fuming a cloud of radioactive smoke that would affect dozens of people. One of the most important things to consider after the explosion was the extent of the contamination zone. Entire towns were immediately evacuated, as people were still dying from radiation sickness. Eventually, the evacuated zone consisted of 4,000 square kilometres, which basically comprehends to more than twice the size of London.
Nobody was granted to return to live. The area remained a no man’s land for over 30 years, up until this very day. The zone was claimed to be inhabitable for the next 20.000 years. The towns are made up of seemingly empty buildings and abandoned squares. Images show ghost towns,evacuated in the previous century and by most long forgotten since. However, recent research shows that the villages aren’t abandoned at all. There is life in the region, and moreover, it’s thriving. Numerous species of animals have found a new home, being able to grow and prosper without having to fear the greatest threat of all: mankind. Despite continuing high radiation levels, animals varying from moose to deer or owls find shelter in the empty streets. The refuge has even attracted more exotic animals such as lynxes, wolves and bears.
Within a decade of the nuclear disaster, plants began to grow again. Without the interference of humans, the forest was able to recover. Former grey streets are now covered in green, with a never-ending treeline. Slowly, with the return of the forest, animals began to explore the forsaken surroundings. At first, they were merely small one-time visitors, such as a lizard or rabbit. Now, however, the number of animals living in the deserted zone is bigger than before the nuclear disaster. The return of nomadic predators such as wolves shows that the wildlife in the region, including suitable prey, is thriving. Thriving so much, in fact, that the number of wolves in Chernobyl is nine times higher than anywhere else in Ukraine.
But what about the radiation? Although officials from the Ukrainian government have declared the land inhabitable for humans, plants seem not to have noticed the high levels of radioactivity in the air. According to scientists, this is because plants have evolved the natural ability to adapt to such contamination, likely to have developed millions of years ago. Radioactivity has always been present on Earth, and it is now suspected that these plants are resistant to it. As such, without the interference of human beings, these abandoned ghost towns have turned into a sanctuary for plant and animal.
Rachelle C. WildeboerSchut
Photographer: Francis Farell
Miley, Jessica.‘The Plants and Animals of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’.Interesting Engineering, November 15, 2018.
Wendle, John. ‘Animals Rule Chernobyl Three Decades After Nuclear Disaster’. National Geographic, April 18, 2016.