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April 25, 2011

Chernobyl disaster 25th anniversary

On April 26, 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power facility in what is now Ukraine exploded. The largest civil nuclear disaster in history led to mass evacuations, and long-term health, agricultural, and economic distress. The nearby city of Pripyat has been abandoned, and a 19-mile radius "exclusion zone" established where radiation contamination makes continued habitation dangerous. Collected here are archival pictures of the catastrophe, as well as more recent images of the area. In addition, two photographers who've made extensive studies of the aftermath have been gracious enough to share their work with us here. Diana Markosian documented the lives of pensioners Lida and Mikhail Masanovitz, who continue to live in the abandoned ghost town of Redkovka, Ukraine. Her work is found here in photographs 13 through 16. Michael Forster Rothbart has produced one of the most extensive records available of life near Chernobyl. His work is found here in photographs 23 through 29. Links to the websites of both photographers can be found below. -- Lane Turner (34 photos total)

Graffiti adorns a wall April 4 in the ghost city of Pripyat near the fourth nuclear reactor (background) at the former Chernobyl Nuclear power plant, site of the world's worst nuclear disaster. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant sits crippled two to three days after the explosion in Chernobyl, Ukraine in April, 1986. In front of the chimney is the destroyed 4th reactor. (AP) #

A helicopter sprays a decontaminate over the region surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power station on June 13, 1986. (Reuters/Itar-Tass) #

An engineer working at the Chernobyl plant is checked by doctors of the sanatorium of Lesnaya Polyana on May 15, 1986, a few days after the No. 4 reactor's blast. (Stf/AFP/Getty Images) #

People hold a rally to protest against a Ukrainian initiative to cut social benefits for "liquidators", emergency workers who fought the blaze at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, near the government's headquarters in Kiev on March 16. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters) #

A child wears a mask in a hospital for leukemia patients in Donetsk, Ukraine on March 23. The blasts at the Soviet-era plant created a cloud of radioactive dust that drifted over a large swathe of Europe and still haunts millions of people in Ukraine and its neighbors. (Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images) #

A Ferris wheel sits abandoned in the deserted town of Pripyat, less than two miles from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. (Sergey Ponomarev/AP) #

A gas mask and children's toys gather dust in a kindergarten in the ghost city of Pripyat on April 4. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images) #

Beds sit in disarray in a kindergarten in the ghost city of Pripyat on April 4. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images) #

A man visits his ruined house in the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Lomysh, Belarus on March 18. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

Seventy-two year old Natalia Makeenko (left) hugs eighty-two year old Galina Shcyuka in the abandoned village of Savichi on April 21, close to the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images) #

Villagers dine in memory of Maria Borisenko, 76, at a cemetery in the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Lomysh on March 18. Borisenko had been evacuated many years ago after the Chernobyl blast, but after her death was carried back to her homeland for burial. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

Lida Masanovitz, 74, a former nurse, was born and raised in the now-abandoned ghost town of Redkovka, Ukraine. She is now a pensioner earning 1,000 grivnia ($125) and gets no additional government support, despite living in a radition zone. (Diana Markosian/Redux Images) #

Lida Masanovitz plants onions and radishes in a field in the ghost town village of Redkokva, Ukraine. After the Chernobyl accident in 1986, villagers were asked not to eat home grown food in risk of radiation. (Diana Markosian/Redux Images) #

Lida Masanovitz stands beside her husband, MIkhail Masanovitz, 73, as she speaks to her daughter on the phone. After the Chernobyl accident on April 26, 1986, Masanovitz's daughter was hospitalized and treated for thyroid issues. An estimated 7 million people in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine suffered from radiation-linked ailments, including thyroid and circulation problems after the accident. (Diana Markosian/Redux Images) #

Lida Masanovitz sleeps beside her husband MIkhail Masanovitz in their home. The two met in the now ghost village of Redkovka, Ukraine 50 years ago. (Diana Markosian/Redux Images) #

A Belarussian villager pushes a trolley in the village of Tulgovichi, near the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor on February 22. Today, the Belarus border region from which the locals were evacuated in 1986 is a weird, overgrown wilderness - teeming with wildlife but virtually devoid of people, its shops and homes fast disappearing under a tangle of foliage. The village of Tulgovichi, which once had about 1,000 inhabitants, is still home to a handful of pensioners who have stubbornly resisted moves to get them to leave. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

A hunter chases a fox just outside the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Novosiolki, Belarus on January 11, 2009. Despite radiation levels, wildlife in and around the exclusion zone has been teeming since people left the area after the 1986 nuclear disaster. Wolves, foxes and racoon dogs can be hunted all year around. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

A worker feeds bison at the state radiation ecology reserve in the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Babchin, Belarus on February 21. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

A deer stands in the state radiation ecology reserve in the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the village of Babchin, Belarus on March 18. Still inhospitable to humans, the Chernobyl exclusion zone - a contaminated 19-mile radius around the site of the nuclear reactor explosion - is now a nature reserve and teems with different wild animals. (Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters) #

A woman is screened for thyroid cancer by doctors from the Red Cross in the village of Ukrainka, Ukraine on April 19. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters) #

A cancer patient leans against the window of a special treatment chamber in a hospital in Donetsk, Ukraine on April 25, 2006. (Alexander Khudotioply/Reuters) #

Viktor and Lydia Gaidak in their apartment in the Desnyanskiy district at the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine on April 27, 2007. Viktor Gaidak worked for 24 years as an engineer at the Chernobyl plant, including nine years after the 1986 accident. In 2004 he had surgery for colon cancer. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

Olya Podoprigora, 13, and 18-month-old Parvana Sulemanova, recover in the ICU one day after open-heart surgeries in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Both girls had congenital heart defects, and every year, 6,000 children in Ukraine are born with genetic heart disease. Radiation is suspected as the cause, but is not proven. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

Ornithologist Igor Chizhebskiy holds a nestful of newly hatched chicks on a wooded hilltop above the Chernobyl cooling pond. His research compares birth and survival rates of birds born in highly radioactive sites to those in less contaminated areas within the Zone. Surveys of birds, insects, and spiders by Igor and his colleagues indicate that many species are either absent or exist in very low numbers in the Chernobyl region. The diminished bird populations could be caused by radiation directly or may be due to a decrease in food sources such as insects. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

Late on a long winter's night, Nina Dubrovskaya and her friend Lena Priyenko walk home to their village Sukachi, Ukraine, from the nearby town of Ivankiv, 2 miles away. The two women, both divorcees, went out to the bars in Ivankiv in search of company, but found all 4 bars they visited nearly empty. "When the money gets short, people just get drunk at home," says Dubrovskaya. Sukachi is a village of 1,200. Half the people of Sukachi are Chernobyl evacuees, relocated here from the abandoned village of Ladizhichi. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

In Slavutych, Ukraine, a memorial hall in the city museum is dedicated to the Chernobyl accident, with photographs of the men and women who died immediately following the explosion. Former Chernobyl plant worker Sergii Kasyanchuk manages the Chernobyl Information Center museum now that his health no longer allows him to enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. More than half the families in Slavutych have a member who still works at the plant, and everyone knows colleagues who became ill or died due to the Chernobyl accident. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

Teenage dancers wait backstage for their turn to perform during a Slavutych, Ukraine city concert. Slavutych is the new city built after the accident to house evacuated Chernobyl personnel. The Chernobyl plant once funded many programs in the city. Now the city struggles with decreased resources due to layoffs at the Chernobyl plant. (Michael Forster Rothbart) #

This photograph has been removed. “Mostly, people do not get sick because of radiation. They get sick because they believe they are victims,” says Sergii Mirnyi, a "liquidator" - a Chernobyl emergency worker. Mirnyi rolls in the snow after a sauna in Chernigiv, in February 2009. In 1986, during decontamination efforts, Sergii served as commander of a radiation reconnaissance platoon working directly around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. An eternal optimist, he now hopes to produce a comedy feature film about the lives of soldiers cleaning up after Chernobyl. Six million people still live in the entire contaminated region, an area of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia covering 56,700 square miles, about 1.2 times the size of New York state. #

A geiger counter shows a reading of the radiation levels in the air by the 4th power block of Chernobyl's nuclear power plant, covered with a "sarcophagus" as it lies derelict on March 31. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images) #

Vehicles contaminated by radioactivity lay dormant on November 10, 2000 near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Some 1,350 Soviet military helicopters, buses, bulldozers, tankers, transporters, fire engines and ambulances were used while fighting the nuclear accident. All were irradiated during the clean-up operation. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP) #

Employees of the Polessky State Radiation Ecological Reserve wear facemasks on April 20 as they plant trees on contaminated land near the abandoned village of Bogushi, Belarus, inside the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, to form a natural windbreak to stop radioactive particles from blowing away. One-fifth of the country's agricultural land was contaminated following the blast at the nuclear reactor and around 70% of the fallout fell in Belarus. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images) #

Workers from the State Radiation Ecological Reserve test radiation levels on pigs at a farm in Vorotets, Belarus on April 21, close to the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. (Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images) #

Schoolchildren wear gas masks during nuclear safety training lessons in Rudo, Ukraine near an isolated zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant April 3, 2006. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev) #