Zones of Exclusion: Pripyat and Chernobyl

by Robert Polidori

Reviewed May 12, 2004

Book CoverThe catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1984, forced the evacuation of more than 116,000 people. Now declared unfit for human habitation, the Zones of Exclusion includes the towns of Pripyat (established in the 1970s to house workers) and Chernobyl. In May 2001, photographer Robert Polidori was granted access to document what was left behind in this dead zone.

This extraordinary book - shot in only 3 days - presents an unexpected look at what remains of Chernobyl and the town of Pripyat. His camera captures the scope of the disaster, from the burned-out control room of Reactor 4, where technicians staged the experiment that caused the disaster, to the unfinished apartment complexes.

Some of the more haunting images are of the ransacked schools and abandoned nurseries. The photographs expertly frame the sense of abandonment. From an auto graveyard, filled with trucks and tanks used in the cleanup efforts, some covered in lead shrouds, to the houseboats and barges lying rusty in the contaminated waters of the Pripyat River.

Polidori captures the faded colors and desolate atmosphere of these two towns. Through the 190 color photos, one gains a sense of the tragedy. As Polidori writes: "Does any generation have the right to risk the safety of so many future generations?... I felt personally compelled to confront and witness this ongoing tragedy that no ritual can heal." After viewing this book, I find myself asking the same questions.