“MY MOTHERLAND is the Soviet Union,” reads a sentence written in cursive script in one of the exercise books scattered on the floor of an abandoned school in Pripyat, a Soviet-era ghost town in Ukraine next to the Chernobyl nuclear plant. The town, built for the plant’s workers and their families, was evacuated on the afternoon of April 27th 1986, some 36 hours after the worst nuclear-power disaster in history. Today Pripyat is being reclaimed by nature and tourists. What were once streets have become forest paths. Concrete blocks of flats decorated with Soviet symbols and slogans are barely visible through the trees.
Some 200 pensioners eventually returned to villages in the area, but Pripyat itself remains dead, a Soviet Pompeii. Tourists and journalists stroll past rusting propaganda stands, taking photographs of scattered gas masks, clothes, toys and textbooks in abandoned schoolrooms. Some may have been positioned there deliberately by tour organisers.