Project

Chernobyl in Arthur Bondar’s Photographs

Photographer Arthur Bondar spent a week with illegitimate settlers in the abandoned Teremtsy village upon the Pripyat river and found out about the Zone’s mystical state of being.

Ukranian photographer Arthur Bondar visited the alienation zone about 50 times. To commemorate the 29th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster Bird In Flight publishes his photo project, “Shadows of Wormwood Star,” with the author’s comments.

The Shadows of Wormwood Star

“The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water — the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” (Revelation, 8:10 — 11.)


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For a long time I kept hearing a lot of stories about Chernobyl nuclear disaster and saw a few projects created mostly by foreign photojournalists. Everyone spoke about Chernobyl with a share of both fear and curiosity. Probably because of my own curiosity I decided to go there and see it for myself.


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_07.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}

I first came to the Chernobyl alienation zone in 2007. It was a press tour organised to commemorate the disaster’s anniversary. At that time I was working for online news media. The trip was another state-organised “press-tour” with no time for anything, not a chance to linger anywhere for a moment, or to have a thought, an idea, or an experience. Strangely, it was on that trip that I — for the first time in my life — experienced some kind of strange calmness and deafening silence that is spilt thickly all around the Zone. The next year, thanks to some friends’ intermission, I and another photographer were able to go to the Zone for a longer period of time.

It was on that trip that I — for the first time in my life — experienced some kind of strange calmness and almost deafening silence of that place.

We spent a whole week in Teremtsy village, upon the Pripyat river, inside a barbed wire enclosure. I was genuinely impressed by the hospitality of the illegal settlers (people who voluntarily returned to the contaminated area). They were kind enough to let us for free live in a house of one of the villagers who was temporarily away to “The Big Land.” We lived very close to the settlers, ate and drank the same food and water as them. Almost all the settlers have their own kitchen garden, keep poultry and domestic animals. They have to provide for themselves because there is no help from the government. They survive by their own means.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_08.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_09.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_10.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_11.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_12.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_13.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}

After that trip I had a lingering nostalgia, a longing for the Zone experience and the virginal nature that reigns there. I had a feeling that people had annihilated themselves there, left the radioactive dirt behind them and left. And nature digested all that crap and survived. Nature is a much more powerful and perfect organism than man. For me the Zone is a mystery, an enigma. My aim was to show the mysticism of the Chernobyl area — of the land saturated with human suffering and pain, yet living its own life, in spite of everything.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_14.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_16.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}

Most of the people living in the Chernobyl area are very religious. They believe that the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was foretold in the Bible, “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water — the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” (Revelation, 8:10 — 11.)


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_27.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}

Some time ago the Ukrainian government turned the Chernobyl area into a giant machine for stuffing its own pockets with money. Scrap-metal hunters, often allied with the police, leave the Zone with huge truckloads of radioactive iron. At the same time the people who suffered from the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster don’t get sufficient financial aid or medical assistance.


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_17.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_18.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_19.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


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I visited the Chernobyl area up to 50 times and every time I talked to the people who live there. I asked them what they know about radiation and whether they are afraid of it. Summing up their answers, I concluded that they know next to nothing about it:

— The radiation did a lot of woe. Everyone resents it. It crippled us. But where can we go? What God gives us we have to take and put up with it. As for me, I have long needed to move to another place — to the cemetery.
(Gubin village, 1 km from the Zone)

— The barbed wire is right behind my house. The zone is 50 meters from my house. From there one can see the road that the patrol drives along as they watch over the Zone, but we go there — to the forest — all the same. We live here and we will go wherever we want. We are past being afraid of anything. (Gubin village, 1 km from the Zone)

— Radiation? What radiation are you talking about? All radiation was left in the Zone.
(Gubin village, 1 km from the Zone)

— We are not afraid of the radiation. We have got used to getting doses of radiation. Our bodies have sucked in as much radiation as possible.
(Medvin village, 300 meters from the Zone)

— Radiation? Of course not. There’s no radiation here, everything’s clean. When the 4th reactor blew up, the radiation did not come down at once, but flew many kilometres before it came down to the ground. That is the reason why here (in the immediate proximity of the nuclear plant — Editor’s note) everything’s clean. That’s so simple — it’s physics, you know!
(Strakholesye, 3 km from the Zone)


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Nikolai Yakushin, the prior of the only functional church in the Chernobyl area, once said, “If you have no respect for this area, the Zone for sure will kill you, but if your heart is full of sympathy and commiseration for this land and the people who sacrificed their lives here, the Zone will spare you.”


{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_28.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}


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{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Chernobyl_AB_30.jpg”, “alt”: “The Shadows of Wormwood Star”}

“Shadows of Wormwood Star” project is a reminder to all of us that it is too simple to come off balance and disrupt the harmony of man and nature. And how very important it is to love and appreciate everything around us.

The Shadows of Wormwood Star

The Shadows of Wormwood Star

Text and photos: Arthur Bondar.

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