April 25, 2016 2:04 pm
Updated: April 26, 2016 2:41 pm

Chernobyl 30 years later: One man’s journey into ‘apocalyptic’ city (in photos)

A doll is left out in Pripyat, the town evacuated near Chernobyl.

George Kourounis
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On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear accident in history rocked the world. Thirty years later, the town it devastated remains largely abandoned.

Canadian adventurer George Kourounis wanted to see firsthand the toll such a disaster took on a town that once housed the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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The town of Pripyat, about 15 km northwest of Chernobyl, was home to roughly 45,000 people — all of whom were forced to abandon their homes within 24 hours of the explosion. By mid-May, more than 116,000 people living within a 30-km radius were evacuated. Within the following months, about 1,000 people returned to live in the radiation zone, known as the exclusion zone.

Kourounis visited Pripyat, a place that he described as being surreal.

“Eerie would be an understatement,” he said. “Apocalyptic, would be a better word. It does feel like you’re in a zombie movie. And you’re expecting some pack of flesh-eating undead to come scurrying around the corner.”

Reactor 4, the site of the explosion at Chernobyl.

George Kourounis

To get into the exclusion zone, Kourounis had to go through three different checkpoints. He spent three days there.

Among the places he visited, was an abandoned travelling amusement park. The park was set to open a few days after the explosion.

A travelling amusement park was set to open days after the Chernobyl explosion. The children were never able to enjoy it and now it sits abandoned.

George Kourounis

A toy rabbit sits on a ride at an amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

Bumper cars sit unused at a travelling amusement park in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

“It’s a very surreal experience to go there and there’s this strange, green moss that’s growing over everything, that seems to be thriving … and this rust peeling off of everything and the paint’s coming off,” Kourounis said.

“The creepiest was the hospital,” he said. “You go in and there’s been looting, there are medical records strewn across the floor. There are examination rooms; jars of medicine and different medical instruments strewn around. You go to the maternity ward and there are rusting cribs and radioactive paint peeling off the walls. It’s just so, so very surreal.”

A doll lies beside a bed pan and a vial of medicine in a hospital in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

Radioactive paint peels from hospital hallway walls in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

A building entrance at a hospital in Pripyat.

George Kourounis

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster started during a systems test of Reactor 4. A sudden power surge occurred, and when the workers attempted to shut it down, it resulted in an even bigger energy spike. A reactor vessel ruptured and a series of steam explosions rocked the plant. Another part of the reactor ignited, sending a highly radioactive cloud into the atmosphere.

WATCH: UN holds Chernobyl tribute as Ukraine, Russia exchange icy rhetoric

At the time of the explosion, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. Kourounis said the communist and Soviet influences are still evident all around town.

Rusted out cribs sit in a hospital in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

Chernobyl-papers

Books and medical records are scattered across a hospital floor.

There are no cars in Pripyat; massive trenches were dug and all vehicles were buried in order to prevent any radioactive cars from leaving the area. About 25 km south of Chernobyl lies a massive graveyard of airplanes and military equipment (it used to be visible on Google Maps, but has since been redacted).

A school gymnasium in Pripyat, Ukraine, about 15 km northwest of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

George Kourounis

A gas mask sits on a classroom table in Pripyat, Ukraine, just 15 km northwest of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

George Kourounis

Kourounis wasn’t too worried about getting high radiation doses; as a seasoned adventurer and storm chaser, he did his research. And today, there are even tours offered in nearby Kyiv to the deserted town. No special clothing is needed, however, you are checked thoroughly upon leaving the zone. In a particularly contaminated area, Kourounis said they were only allowed to stay for 15 minutes. And the guide was serious: as soon as they arrived, he started his stopwatch.

An abandoned classroom, complete with Soviet-era images of Lenin and slogans.

George Kourounis

Old newspapers and crumbling paint in a building in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

Kourounis  would go back to visit Pripyat again. He appreciates the beauty of a town left to its own devices, but he also sees it as evidence of humankind’s folly in underestimating the power of nature.

“As a photographer, I think it’s fantastic. As a testament to man’s arrogance, I find it fascinating.”

An abandoned building in Pripyat, Ukraine.

George Kourounis

A rusted boat is abandoned, too contaminated with radiation to be salvaged.

George Kourounis

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