04/2023 The New York Times

The Past and Present cross Paths as War comes to Chernobyl


Not everyone evacuated when the Chernobyl nuclear plant melted down in 1986. The few who stayed lived through another calamity when Russian troops marched in.

The meltdown in 1986 blanketed the region with a hundred times more radiation than that released by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

Chernobyl was one of the first areas Russian tanks rolled through last year as they swept out of Belarus in hopes of seizing Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, about 75 miles to the south. And it was one of the first places they were driven out, forced to withdraw at the end of last March.

Visiting the zone today, past calamity and current tragedy intersect in strange and fascinating ways. Before the war, the ghostly city of Pripyat, once home to tens of thousands of atomic workers before it was abandoned, had become a dark tourist attraction for those drawn to post-apocalyptic desolation. Now, with cities across Ukraine obliterated, the ruins of Chernobyl feel less otherworldly than grimly familiar.