Updated at 18:07,08-09-2017

Charnobyl 30 years later Belarus photo digest

Siarhei Leskiec, BelarusDigest

On 26 April 1986, an explosion at Charnobyl Nuclear Power Plant released huge amounts of radiation into the atmosphere contaminating large territories of Europe. Belarus ended up the most badly affected.

The Soviet Union sought to cover up the accident. The news about the explosion came out only two days later, after Sweden registered an increase in radiation levels on its territory. The evacuation of the population in the immediate vicinity of the plant began only several days later.

Among the health effects of Charnobyl was a spike in thyroid cancer, especially among children. Among the political effects was growing distrust of the Soviet authorities. In 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev went as far as to call the accident the real cause of the Soviet collapse.

Although the power plant was located in the Ukrainian town of Prypyac, two thirds of the fallout landed on Belarusian territory. Photographer Siarhei Leskiec documents life in the contaminated parts of Belarus today, thirty years after what is considered the worst nuclear plant accident in history.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Entering the contaminated zone through the checkpoint at Babchyn village. The information on radiation levels is updated daily. The zone can be entered only with a special permit; cars are checked for beta-particles amounts before they are allowed to leave.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
A scientist measures radiation levels near the entrance to the abandoned village of Babchyn, where more than 700 people lived before the accident.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
In 2012, residents of Hubarevichy, situated just outside the protected territory, installed a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Just seven people live in Hubarevichy today. They credit the Virgin Mary for being able to live in the radioactive zone.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Mikalai Satsura, 43, lives in his fathers house in Navasiolki village, near some of the most contaminated areas. In the 1980s, most residents of the village were resettled, but some people stayed behind. Mikalai said he does not worry about the radiation content of honey that he makes.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Maryja Satsura, 78, holds a portrait of her late husband Yauheni, who refused to leave his native village following the explosion. Yauheni died in 2001, at the age of 59. Maryja spends winters with relatives in the city but comes back to the countryside each spring.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Vasilina Mazyrec, 85, is the only woman in her village who refused to surrender her cow following the accident. Despite her age, she lives alone. Is she not afraid of radiation? She says drinking raw milk every morning and evening keeps her healthy.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
People fleeing the radiation left some family photos behind.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Most abandoned homes in the contaminated area were destroyed by the authorities. This is what the interior of the few houses that are still standing looks like.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Kaciaryna Kryvenchyk sits on the bench in front of her house. Before the tragedy, this was a busy street, but now the house stands in the middle of an open field. Kaciaryna spent her entire life in the village, working in the forest service and later on a state farm.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
An elderly couple, Safija and Sciapan, in their front yard, in Dvaryshcha village. The village lies further away from highly polluted areas, and even families with young children live here.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Ivan Bylicki, 70, was resettled from his native village to Kirau, Zhlobin district, after the explosion. He later returned to his native region and now lives in the house that remained when his wifes parents died.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
This is what an abandoned village looks following the clean-up. Only a cemetery has remained in the middle of a green field.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
An abandoned house in Savichy village, Brahin district, is marked as uninhabited on modern maps. Today, just a dozen of the former inhabitants still live in the village.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
Nature is taking over an abandoned house in Savichy village. The silence is deafening.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
An abandoned school in Savichy village, Brahin district.

Charnobyl 30 years later  Belarus photo digest
An employee of the Navasiolki checkpoint walks a horse through a gate into the radiation zone.

About the photographer: Siarhei Leskiec is a freelance photographer whose work focuses on everyday life, folk traditions, and rituals in the Belarusian countryside. Originally from Maladzeczna region, he received a history degree from Belarusian State Pedagogical University.