Time has effectively stood still in the Ukranian city of Pripyat, which was evacuated in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear explosion.
At the time of the disaster during the Soviet era, about 49,000 people lived in Pripyat, located less than two miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. They left behind schools, homes, factories, parks and gyms that have remained largely undisturbed for the past 30 years.
Armed with a camera and a dosimeter geiger counter, cinematographer Danny Cooke explored the remains of Pripyat and Chernobyl. He pieced the footage together in a three-minute video that boasts drone footage of sweeping shots of abandoned buildings and parks. He also photographed building interiors on foot, capturing haunting scenes of empty schools and homes.
Cooke visited Pripyat and Chernobyl in June while working for CBS News on a “60 Minutes” episode. He created the video to showcase his camerawork from the shoot for his portfolio.
It was his first time there, though he has memories of Chernobyl’s effect on his family living in Italy at the time.
“The nuclear dust clouds swept westward towards us. The Italian police went round and threw away all the local produce and my mother rushed out to purchase as much tinned milk as possible to feed me, her infant son,” he said. “It caused so much distress hundreds of miles away, so I can’t imagine how terrifying it would have been for the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who were forced to evacuate.”
The visit was a life-changing experience, he said.
“It’s very hard to explain, however, I feel different from when I set foot into the zone to when I left. My perspective of life changed slightly,” he said in an email to CNN.
“On approaching the zone, I was aware that radiation is an invisible sensation but regardless my body reacted in a psychological way. My brain was telling me that perhaps I’d made the wrong choice and this wasn’t such a good idea,” he said.
“It was too late to go back now, but I’ll never regret ever entering the zone. The sight of the school canteen floor in Pripyat will be something I will never forget in my lifetime. What the evacuees must have gone through is unthinkable.”