A month-long monument hunt, and what I learned along the way.
14 December 2020
Following the disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on 26 April 1986, more than 115,000 people were evacuated to form a vast exclusion zone – spreading 2,600 square kilometres into Ukraine, and 2,100 square kilometres in Belarus. Andrey Drozdov, a scientist from the USSR’s Kurchatov Institute, visited the region shortly after the evacuations and in his journal he wrote: “In all things you could feel the breath of irreversibility.” Even in those first days, there was already a palpable sense of permanence.
Today the name Chernobyl has become synonymous with the events of 1986. However, if trauma could be weighed by the toll of the dead, then the three worst things that ever happened to this region all took place before that, in the first half of the 20th century: the Holodomor, the Holocaust, and the Great Patriotic War. These communities endured through two genocides and a conflict the likes of which had never been seen before. When they left, decades later, chased out by a new invisible foe that they could neither fight nor endure, these people left behind stories, carved in stone, of the hardships they had already known.
The Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko wrote in 2005 about the monuments of Chernobyl. “Here, the monuments to the soldiers are not the same as in other places. Elsewhere they are more stereotypical… But here they are not very skilfully made, and therefore are quite different from everywhere else. I call them ‘stone guards of the dead villages.’ Young men peeping from the dark thickets, cherry blossoms falling [on them] in spring. One is already collapsing while the next is in full bloom.”
This project aims to provide a photographic record of all those “stone guards” that still remain – documenting more than a hundred sites of memorialisation and monumental art, located throughout the evacuated regions of Ukraine and Belarus.
A Map of the Territory
Great Patriotic War Memorials in Ukraine
Great Patriotic War Memorials in Belarus
Post-War Monuments, Utopian Art & Town Signs
Notes & Acknowledgements
A few months ago I released a book called Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide (Fuel Publishing, 2020).
The book explores different perspectives on the modern Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, spending time with the scientists, with villagers, and the so-called ‘stalkers,’ to paint a realistic human portrait of Chernobyl as it is today. Chapter 6 of the book, titled ‘Monumenteering,’ details a five-day expedition I made through the Chernobyl Zone in search of village monuments to the victims of the Great Patriotic War. While the book chronicles what it was like to conduct a project like that in Chernobyl, what follows here is the final body of research.
I have been photographing monuments in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone since 2013. The official group tours that go through the Zone today pass a handful of village monuments along the way – but this evacuated region is so much larger than what tourists typically see. As I came to know the place better over my 20 subsequent visits, these monuments began to serve as an illustrated measure of scale: each village monument that appears below stands for a whole unique community displaced. Think about that as you scroll through.
Most of the sites below are located in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. In Belarus, the evacuated region is called the Polesie State Radio-ecological Reserve, and I made my first visit there in 2019 – travelling from village to village, documenting war memorials. While this project includes almost all of the monuments in the Ukrainian Zone (I am sure I probably missed a few), there are still many more in the Belarusian Reserve that are not featured here.
A few of the places below are neither in the Zone, nor the Reserve. Radiation is insidious – it does not obey administrative borders. Similarly, the effects of the Chernobyl disaster are felt outside of this evacuated territory today, and included below are numerous Chernobyl-related monuments in the cities of Kyiv and Slavutych, as well as in a handful of villages located just outside the perimeter fences.
This project began with a focus solely on war memorials. In time I expanded the collection though, to include all the monuments I encountered – even monumental art such as town signs, or statues of Lenin. I believe that they are all essential, together, in telling the story of this region.
For several decades following the Great Patriotic War (the 1941-1945 conflict between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany), the communities of the Chernobyl region remained focussed on the past. However, in time they rebuilt – growing collective farms (with names like “Victory” and “Progress”), factories and industry, until in the 1970s this rural, marshy region was chosen as the site for the USSR’s most prestigious new nuclear power plant. Many of those same artists who had previously been commissioned to make monuments to the dead, were now enlisted to make monuments to the future. Then, when that utopian future vision ended with a meltdown in 1986, the region’s sculptors and memorial artists continued to work… only now their focus shifted back, once again, to themes of tragedy.
The monuments below are sorted into four categories: Monuments to the Great Patriotic War in Ukraine, and then those in Belarus; Post-War Monuments, Utopian Art & Town Signs; then finally, Post-Disaster Memorials in the years after 1986. Taken together they tell one single historical narrative, tracking the turbulent history of this extraordinary region.
A Map of the Territory
Great Patriotic War Memorials in Ukraine
Jewish Memorial Barrow. Chornobyl, Ukraine. Before the war, the town of Chornobyl was an important centre for Hasidic Judaism in the region. Many Jewish citizens were murdered however, when the Nazis invaded and occupied the region beginning in 1941. After the war, most Soviet memorials were dedicated to the soldiers, while the Jewish tragedy was largely sidelined – in favour of a more political message, which presented the average Soviet citizen as the target and victim of Nazi aggression. However, alongside the Jewish cemetery in Chornobyl, this memorial barrow was established with the inscription: “Here lie the ashes of residents who were brutally murdered by fascists on 19 November 1941.”
[NB: “Chornobyl” is the Ukrainian spelling of “Chernobyl.” Wherever it seemed appropriate, native Ukrainian or Belarusian spellings have been used here for town and village names.]
Monument to Our Soldier-Countrymen. Park of Glory, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Before the creation of Pripyat in 1970, Chornobyl was the largest town here, and the region takes its name. The Park of Glory is a green space near the town centre, originally established to commemorate those who fought in the Great Patriotic War (though later, it would receive monuments to the victims of the Chernobyl disaster as well). The central installation in the park is the Monument to Our Soldier-Countrymen – a star-topped pillar before a sculpted red flag, which features the inscription: “To our soldier-countrymen who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.”
A memorial wall to the right of this pillar lists the names of fallen soldiers from Chornobyl, as well as those from elsewhere who died in the conflicts here. Its inscription reads: “The town of Chornobyl was liberated from the Nazi invaders on 16 November 1943, by the troops of the First Ukrainian Front under the command of General Nikolai Fyodorovich Vatutin.”
Monument to the Telegram to Moscow. Park of Glory, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Though not strictly a war memorial, this monument was added to the park in 1984 – two years before the disaster. It was designed by Taras Yukhymovych Myskovets and commemorates the sending of a telegram in 1922, from military conscripts in the Chernobyl region to “The Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Comrade Lenin.”
The text reads: “We, recruits born in 1901 in Chernobyl district of Kyiv province, having heard the report of the district secretary and the joyous message about the recovery of Comrade Lenin, send our fervent greetings to Comrade Lenin, along with our vow to observe with honour the will of the leader of the proletarian global revolution. Signed: the Recruits, 1922.”
Chornobyl, Ukraine. A small memorial on the site of the former shipyard in Chornobyl, this marker commemorates the dates of the Great Patriotic War.
Chapayevka, Ukraine. Located in the centre of the former village, this monument features a solemn statue of a soldier, accompanied by the names of villagers who died in the war. An inscription reads: “Glory to the heroes. To the soldier-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945. Eternal memory to those who saved the fatherland from fascism.” Former residents of the village have returned to leave plastic flowers at the soldier’s feet.
Chystohalivka, Ukraine. This monument commemorates soldiers from the village who went away to fight in the war – and is also the resting place for several men who died while liberating Chystohalivka. Their dedication reads: “Eternal glory to the heroes. Here are buried Ivan I. Baranov of the Yepifan district of the Tula region, and three soldiers whose names are unknown.”
Dibrova, Ukraine. This black granite monument features the engraved likeness of a grieving mother. It was designed in the 1980s by Taras Yukhymovych Myskovets, who also created a similar monument for the village of Zalissya. An inscription reads: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.” Detailed photographs of the list of names can be found here.
Gorodishche, Ukraine. Memorial obelisk located beside a cemetery on the edge of the village. Its caption reads: “Stop, bow low! They gave their lives for your happiness! Eternal glory to the soldier-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941–1945.”
Hubyn, Ukraine. The village of Hubyn sits just outside the perimeter of what is now the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – the fence cutting across the road that once connected this village to its regional town, Chornobyl. Hubyn has experienced severe depopulation and decline since the evacuation of its neighbouring communities, and this monument to the Great Patriotic War sits on a main street lined with empty and dilapidated buildings.
Hubyn, Ukraine. In the village cemetery, amongst much older graves, a memorial was created to honour soldiers from this village who died in the fight against fascism. Engraved metal panels carry the lists of names, while a black granite memorial column shows the face of a grieving mother.
Klyvyny, Ukraine. This village has become so overgrown by the forest, that the obelisk is now lost deep in the trees. Former residents have still found their way to it, however, to leave offerings of plastic flowers. The painted plaque appears to have been restored at some point in the years since the evacuation. It reads: “In memory of our fellow countrymen who were killed in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland during the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.”
Kopachi, Ukraine. Of all the village monuments in the Zone, this one at Kopachi is perhaps the most visited today. The village itself was located close to the power plant, and due to high levels of contamination it was largely bulldozed and buried following the disaster. The village kindergarten remains though, and has long been a popular stop on Chernobyl tours. This monument stands immediately outside the kindergarten. The inscription beneath the central statue reads: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland.”
The blocks positioned to the left and right of the main list of names read: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten,” and: “Eternal memory for those who saved the fatherland from fascism.” On the main memorial panel, the list of names is divided into two columns: for residents of Kopachi who died in other battles of the war, and for Soviet soldiers who died during the 1943 liberation of Kopachi.
Korohod, Ukraine. This monument at the village of Korohod features a statue of a soldier, and an engraved banner reading: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. Eternal glory to the warrior-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941–1945.”
Kotsiubynske, Ukraine. This unusual monument marks the site where two Soviet airmen were downed in combat. “Here on 3 October 1943, while performing a combat mission, the crew of the 59th Guards Air Regiment was killed – the pilot Junior Lieutenant A. I. Pryadko, born in 1922, and flying gunner Junior Sergeant A. N. Dudko, born in 1922.” A further inscriptions adds: “Glory to the heroes who died in the battles for the Soviet Homeland.”
Krasne, Ukraine. A statue of a soldier carrying a thin-barrelled rifle stands above memorial plates that list the names of local fallen soldiers, with the dedication: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. Eternal glory to the soldier-villagers, who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.”
Kupovate, Ukraine. In the village cemetery, this monument to the Great Patriotic War has an inscription that reads: “Eternal glory to the soldiers who perished for the freedom and independence of our Homeland. 1941–1945.”
Ladyzhychi, Ukraine. The village of Ladyzhychi was held by a Nazi garrison during the war, but the local ‘Stalin’ partisan unit made numerous attempts to liberate it. In 1943, the Soviet Red Army arrived in force and defeated the Nazis at Ladyzhychi, though 72 Soviet soldiers were killed in the conflict. This monument was created in 1963. The statue of a soldier, measuring 2.5 metres, has since disappeared – leaving only the pedestal on which it stood. Here (in Russian) appear the words: “Eternal glory to the soldiers who died for the freedom and independence of our Homeland. 1941-1945.”
Alongside it, the 5-metre obelisk commemorates Pasha Osidach – a native of this village, who acted during the war as a messenger for the partisan detachment at Bragin. According to the story, Pasha would hide the messages in the braids of her long hair. In 1943 however, she was captured by Nazi forces in Belarus, and then subjected to torture and interrogation. When she still refused to reveal information, the Nazis buried her alive. She was later reburied here in Ladyzhychi, in 1965. The inscription on her obelisk, in Ukrainian, reads: “P. N. Osidach, 1924-1943. Partisan messenger.”
Monument to Pasha Osidach. Park of Glory, Chornobyl, Ukraine. In 1965, the partisan messenger Praskovya “Pasha” Nikolayevna Osidach was re-buried beneath an obelisk in Ladyzhychi. Two decades later, her family commissioned a more personalised monument to her, which was made from bronze, and designed by the region’s most prolific memorial artist, Taras Yefimovich Miskovets. However, the creation of the new monument in 1986 coincided with the disaster at the power plant, and Ladyzhychi was evacuated before it could be installed. The bronze monument was stored for some years, before being erected first on the site of Chornobyl school. More recently it was moved to the town’s Park of Glory, where it can be seen today.
Martynovychi, Ukraine. This statue of a soldier is partially hidden now, amongst new trees that have grown up since the evacuation. The buildings around it are severely decayed and collapsing. An inscription on the pedestal reads: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battles for the freedom and independence of our great Homeland.”
Mashevo, Ukraine. The base of this monument lists the names of fallen soldiers from this village, which is located right on the border with Belarus. Its inscription reads: “Eternal glory to the soldiers who died for the freedom and independence of our Homeland. 1941–1945.”
Nahortsi, Ukraine. The village of Nahortsi was evacuated a decade before the disaster – its citizens were relocated in the 1970s when the village was flooded to create the cooling reservoir for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. This war memorial that was originally located on the edge of the village, still stands today at the edge of the reservoir. It consists of a simple concrete panel with a metal star, and an inscription that reads: “Here in October 1943, the soldiers of the 310th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division stood and defeated the enemy, under the command of Hero of the Soviet Union, Lieutenant-Colonel P. I. Zhdanov. Eternal glory to the heroes.”
Nova Krasnytsya, Ukraine. This obelisk-shaped monument sits on the edge of former farmland – now wild and overgrown. It was badly damaged during a forest fire, and was subsequently restored in 2015 (see photograph here). However, in the years since then it has once again begun to decline. A memorial plaque reads: “Eternal memory. 1941-1945.”
Novoshepelychy, Ukraine. This village memorial consisted of a mass grave, along with an obelisk bearing the inscription: “Here were buried residents of neighbouring villages who died at the hands of fascist invaders during the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.” The village itself has since been largely destroyed, as it was located close to the power plant and so was heavily contaminated during the disaster. However, the memorial appears to be well tended still by former residents, with many plastic flowers placed around the site.
Opachychi, Ukraine. This memorial in the centre of the village reads: “Eternal glory to our fellow villagers who died for the freedom and independence of the Soviet Homeland. 1941–1945.” In 2002, this monument was modified with the addition of a Christian cross, which was welded directly onto a Soviet star.
Opachychi, Ukraine. In a cemetery on the village outskirts, this statue of a kneeling soldier bears the inscription: “1941-1945. Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland.” Today it is decorated with plastic flowers, left by former residents.
Orane, Ukraine. Orane is one of the more prosperous villages that sit just outside the border of the Exclusion Zone. Located 7 km from the checkpoint at Dytyatky, where tour buses enter the Chernobyl Zone, many local residents have found ways to capitalise on tourism, with a number of guesthouses and independent tour guides operating from this village. The village memorial is well maintained, and features the slogan “Nothing is Forgotten,” above a list of the names of the fallen.
Paryshiv, Ukraine. Located at Paryshiv – a village in the north, close to the border with Belarus – this memorial site consists of an ensemble of three monuments. The obelisk on the left has an inscription in Ukrainian, and commemorates soldiers from this village. It reads: “Their memory will not be erased for centuries.”
On the right, the soldier’s statue carries a dedication in Russian: “In eternal memory of the soldiers of the Soviet army who fell liberating the village of Paryshiv.” It names two fallen soldiers as Heroes of the Soviet Union: Junior Sergeant Kaigeldy Aukhadiev and Lieutenant Georgi Danilovich Butaev.
The central trellis structure also carries text written in Russian. “Stop, passer-by! Worship this land! Here in the terrible years of the Great Patriotic War fought the brave soldier-guards of the 6th Red Banner Order of Lenin Rivne Order of Suvorov Rifle Division. Glory to you, brave, honoured, fearless, the people sing eternal glory to you! Valiant in life, victorious over death, your memory will never die!”
Poliske, Ukraine. Poliske was not originally part of the Exclusion Zone. However, due to the changing spread of contamination in the years after the disaster, the borders of the Zone were adjusted, and in 1993 the order was given to evacuate this town of almost 12,000 people. It now stands largely abandoned, although the former fire station is currently used as a training base for the Ukrainian National Guard. Outside that building is this war memorial, with the inscription: “Eternal glory to the heroes fallen in the battles for the freedom and independence of our great Homeland.”
Poliske Memorial Park, Ukraine. In the town centre, a memorial park was established in memory of those who perished here during the war (a time before industrialisation, when Poliske had been a much smaller settlement). Symbolic concrete flags on either side of the central pillar carry the slogans: “We remember forever,” and “We honour the holy.” Memorial graves list the names of victims, while a plaque explains: “In the period of the fascist occupation, 281 residents of the village were shot. Eternal glory to our soldier-countrymen who died in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Motherland.”
Poliske, Ukraine. On the town’s outskirts, stands this memorial dedicated to victims of the Great Patriotic War. A simple dedication reads: “1941-1945. We remember.” Statues arranged around the main memorial stone represent a soldier protecting a child, and a woman holding a wreath.
Triumphal Arch. Poliske, Ukraine. This memorial arch was created in 1954, to commemorate the end of a much earlier conflict. It marks 300 years since the “Reunification of Ukraine with Russia” – referring to the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav, between Moscow and the Cossacks under Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
Pripyat, Ukraine. Situated between Pripyat and the power plant, this memorial site features a number of monuments dedicated both to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War, and added later, monuments to those who participated in the disaster clean-up after 1986. Prior to the war, this was the location of a distinctive three-trunked tree, which Nazi occupiers allegedly used to hang partisans from (a story which is explored in depth in Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide). A likeness of that tree now appears on the main obelisk. An inscription reads: “Your names are known and your feat is immortal,” while other plaques commemorate specific military brigades (from the Carpathians and from Odessa) who joined the fighting here.
Post-disaster monuments appearing alongside the main obelisk use similar language to the war memorials, as they commemorate the actions of disaster clean-up crews: “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten – Dedicated to the Engineering Technician Battalion of Siberian soldiers who participated in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, March 1987.”
A newer plaque summarises the two events: “Glory to the hero-partisans! Your feat will be forever remembered, here in the staging area for the liquidation of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.”
Pripyat, Ukraine. This simple stone memorial close to the city’s hospital is now almost completely hidden in the undergrowth. Its plaque reads: “Here the 8th Yampol Red Banner Order of the Suvorov Rifle Division, from 25 September to 20 October 1943, led persistent bloody battles to keep the bridgehead on the Pripyat River, and then from 16 to 20 November 1943, finally completed the liberation of the Chernobyl rayon of the Kiev oblast from the fascist invaders. Eternal glory and national memory to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War.”
Richytsya, Ukraine. Located beside the village club, this memorial was originally painted silver with a red star. It consisted of a memorial obelisk, along with a panel of names, marking the location of a soldiers’ mass grave dating from the Great Patriotic War. However, it has been severely vandalised since the evacuation of the village. The elements of the memorial have been rearranged, stacked into a pile, and painted with crude symbols. Images of the Richytsya monument before its vandalisation can be found here.
Rozsokha, Ukraine. This village was liberated from Nazi control in November 1943, and during the operation seven Soviet soldiers were killed. In battles elsewhere, 68 men from this village died fighting in the Great Patriotic War. This monument remembers them all. It was created in 1969, above a mass grave for those who died here. The banner behind the statue reads: “Eternal glory to the soldiers who died for the freedom and independence of our Homeland. 1941-1945. No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.”
Rozyizhdzhe, Ukraine. This small memorial commemorates those who fell while liberating Rozyizhdzhe from Nazi occupation. “People, stop for a moment in silence. Here rest in eternal sleep the heroes who fell in battle for the liberation of our village from fascist enslavers in November 1943.
“Hrebennykov Illya Martynovych, Stavropol territory.
Hubanov Evhen Pavlovych, Kaluga region.
Hrinko Dmytro Tarasovych, Kharkiv region.
Ivanov Oleksandr Vasylvich, Krasnoyarsk territory.
Lakhmastov Semen Mykolayovych, city of Novosibirsk.
Kraykov Oleksandr Petrovych, Voronezh region.
Murtazaliev Ahmed Ahmedovych, Dagestan ASSR.
Nosovskoy Mykola Antonovych, Luhansk region.
Telesov Mykola Afanasovych, Moldovian ASSR.
Khrulk, Fedir Fedorovych, Kazakh SSR.
Charkyn Evgen Mykolayovych, city of Rostov-on-Don.
Shramko Hrygoriy Maksymovych, Kirovohrad region.”
Rudnya Illinetska, Ukraine. This unusual monument is formed from upright wooden panels, painted gold, and affixed with polished metal details. It commemorates the place where a Soviet fighter pilot was downed during the Great Patriotic War. An original inscription reads: “Passer-by! Bend your head before the grave where lie the remains of an unknown Soviet pilot killed on 4 October 1943, when our Homeland was liberated from German fascist invaders.” However, it seems that the pilot’s identity was later discovered, as another, more recent-looking plaque, adds: “Junior Lieutenant Kurbanov Safar Abutalyb-ogly. 4.10.1923-1943.”
Stara Rudnya, Ukraine. The memorial obelisk in this village was painted a striking shade of purple. It bears a gold (coloured) star, the names of the fallen, and the words: “Eternal glory to our fellow villagers who died for honour, freedom, and for the independence of our Homeland. 1941-1945.”
Stari Shepelychi, Ukraine. This monument featured dedications in both Ukrainian and in Russian. Beneath the red star, Ukrainian text reads: “Eternal glory to the soldiers from Stari Shepelychi who perished in the years of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.” The figure of the soldier, meanwhile, holds a stone bearing an inscription in Russian: “Eternal glory to the heroes fallen in battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland. 1941-1945.” The soldier has been given a floral wreath by recent visitors.
Starosillya, Ukraine. Twin headstones mark the site of this mass grave at the former village of Starosillya. A dedication reads: “To the soldiers who perished during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, protecting our Homeland from fascist invaders.”
Stechanka, Ukraine. This interesting flame-shaped monument in the village of Stechanka (also note the star-shaped metal support) commemorates: “Our soldier-countrymen who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War.” It features a very long list of names, along with a verse: “Let us remember everyone by name / With our sorrow we will remember / This is not in service of the dead / This is needed by the living.”
Terekhiv, Ukraine. Now heavily overgrown, the base of this star-topped obelisk is badly decayed and no inscriptions are legible.
Teremtsi, Ukraine. During the war, two men from this village joined the Nazi-allied police force and they were instrumental in helping to capture a local antifascist partisan brigade. The partisans were held prisoner in a house here, before being executed without trial. This monument was built in the place where that prison-house once stood. It takes an unusually expressionistic style, with the dates “1941-1945” on its pillar, a list of names of the fallen on its base, and beneath a plate that once held a ceremonial flame, an engraved poem reads: “In the memory of the stone / In the memory of the heart / Each of these names will never be erased.”
Tovstyy Lis, Ukraine. This solder memorial is severely damaged, its concrete cracked into many pieces that are now barely held upright by the metal inside. An inscription on the base reads: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in battles for the Homeland.” A Lenin bust on a plinth, that once stood nearby, was destroyed sometime in 2006, allegedly by vandals who fired at it with a kalashnikov rifle (it can be seen here in older photographs).
In 2005, the Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko wrote about this place: “In Tovstyy Lis there’s a young boy between two trees. When there was a fire, the trees were on fire too, and the monument got so hot its chest cracked open. It’s frightful to look at. When we arrived, the smoke was still rising from the chimneys of the burnt houses. No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. Everything was burnt, blackened, but this soldier was still standing between two charred trees, his chest cracked open like in a war … We found an old can, filled it with water, plucked some small white flowers, and left these for the soldier.”
Vesnyane, Ukraine. A simple monument stands in the middle of the former village of Vesnyane. It lists the soldiers from this village who died in the war, with the dedication: “Eternal glory to our fellow villagers who died for honour, freedom, and the independence of our Homeland. 1941-1945. No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.”
Vilcha, Ukraine. This monument originally featured a statue of a soldier, positioned on a central pedestal amongst symbolic graves. The pedestal is now empty, but the original statue can be seen in older photographs (for example here and here). An inscription on the central pedestal reads: “In the struggle against the Nazi invaders, on the fronts of the partisan detachments, in the underground of the temporarily occupied territory, and in German prisons, 178 village residents were killed. 1941-1945.”
Yaniv Memorial Complex, Ukraine. The former village of Yaniv sits on the south side of Pripyat, and over time became absorbed into the outskirts of the new city. Yaniv train station was the main train station serving Pripyat, for example, and nearby sat this memorial plaza commemorating the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. It consisted of a public courtyard and stage, where presentations could be made. A sculpted sign displayed the dates 1941-1945, beneath which appeared the painted slogan (now heavily faded): “Your feat is immortal! Comrade! Bow your head before the Homeland’s fallen.” Nearby, marble headstones list the names of Soviet soldiers buried here in a mass grave.
Yaniv (Red Forest), Ukraine. This monument commemorates battles fought for the liberation of Yaniv village in 1943. It is located between Yaniv and Pripyat (both to the north) and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (to the south), in an area that has become known as the ‘Red Forest.’ Following the disaster in 1986, tons of radioactive material from the power plant fell on this forest, killing off many of the trees. The old trees now lie buried beneath a new, young forest, and this area remains one of the most radioactive places on the planet. Close to this monument, a hotspot of 10 millisieverts per hour was measured – almost 100,000 times higher than normal outdoor levels.
A metal crest which once decorated this monument now lies on the ground nearby. An inscription reads: “Here in 1943 fierce battles took place for the Pripyat bridgehead by the 8th Yampol Red Banner Order of Suvorov Rifle Division, 11th Division of the 13th Army. Commanding the division was Hero of the Soviet Union Colonel Gudz Martyn Porfirievich.”
Zalissya, Ukraine. The village of Zalissya is located just south of Chornobyl, and this monument overlooks the main road into the town from the direction of Kyiv. As a result, tour buses pass in front of the monument, and it is visited more often than most memorial sites in the Zone. Its inscription reads: “During the Great Patriotic War in November 1943, the soldiers of the Rivne Order of Lenin Red Banner Order of Suvorov Division, fought heroically on this land. Many of them gave their lives for our bright future. Eternal glory to the fallen heroes!”
Zalissya, Ukraine. Nearby, on the opposite side of the road, appears this memorial designed by Taras Yukhymovych Myskovets. Created in 1985, the central composition consists of black granite slabs engraved with the face of a grieving mother, and the words: “To the soldier-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War.” The design of this monument is very similar to the one at Dibrova, by the same author.
Zamoshnya, Ukraine. In November 1943, units of the 13th Army 151st Infantry Regiment liberated the village of Zamoshnya (an Old Believers settlement) from the Nazi invaders. In the battles for the liberation of the village, six Soviet soldiers were killed. They were later buried here in a mass grave. This statue of a soldier, made from reinforced concrete and measuring 2 metres in height, was added in the 1960s along with a marble commemorative plaque. A slogan in Ukrainian reads: “Eternal glory to the soldier-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945.”
Beneath, a dedication is made in Russian to the six soldiers who died in combat here: Privates Gonchar, Korkishko, Kurnosov, Muravyev, Hahaev, and Petrov. “Eternal glory to the soldiers of the Soviet Army, who perished liberating the villages of Zamoshnya and Glinka from the Nazi invaders, November 1943.”
Zymovyshche, Ukraine. A tall metal obelisk at the edge of the village was accompanied by a memorial stone, bearing an engraved plate that features a list of names, and the words: “They died in the name of the Homeland and for the life of generations.”
Arevichi, Belarus. This monument on a hillside outside the village marks the location of military graves, dating from the Great Patriotic War. It has no inscription – but the monument has been painted in protective green paint, it features a bouquet of flowers, and a modern sign listing it as a numbered heritage site of Belarus.
Arevichi, Belarus. Outside the administrative building in the centre of the village, this monument was dedicated to the soldiers who fought in the Great Patriotic War. There is no text or plaque left visible, though the monument has been left with flowers, and painted – its figures appearing green with yellow capes.
Babchin, Belarus. Outside the village, this memorial site was constructed in 1970 to commemorate local losses under the Nazi occupation of Babchin. A total of 294 villagers died fighting fascism in the war, and on one day alone, the Nazis executed a further 21 here in the forest. A dedication reads: “Here the inhabitants of Babchin village are buried, shot by German fascist invaders in May 1943.”
Babchin, Belarus. This monument appears in the town centre, alongside the former Palace of Culture, and directly opposite the building that is now used as a radiological testing lab by Belarusian scientists. Two soldiers, a man and a woman, stand on a base which carries the inscription: “No one is forgotten.”
Dronki, Belarus. A simple monument on the edge of the forest bears the message: “In this area, during the years of the Great Patriotic War, were based the Khoiniki underground district committee of the Communist Bolshevik Party of Belarus and the Chapaev Partisan Detachment.”
Khoiniki, Belarus. Khoiniki is an inhabited town, located 12 km outside the modern borders of the Polesie State Radio-ecological Reserve. It has suffered from the evacuation of the region however, with its population shrinking dramatically in the wake of the disaster. This monument remembers the Soviet horseback battalion who liberated Khoiniki from Nazi occupation: “To the cavalrymen as a sign of grateful memory from residents of the Khoiniki region.”
Krasnosele, Belarus. Another green-painted monument in the Reserve, this one has an inscription that reads: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland.”
Pirki, Belarus. A small courtyard inside a painted picket fence contains a number of military graves. Beneath a statue of a kneeling soldier, their names are listed on a memorial plaque along with the words: “Eternal glory to the heroes who fell in the battles for the freedom and independence of our Homeland.”
Pogonnoe, Belarus. The small memorial plaza in front of this monument has been kept tidy, the bushes pruned back, and a wreath of flowers left at the feet of its military sculpture.
Vygribnaya Sloboda, Belarus. In this former village a large memorial cemetery was built, containing marble-topped graves for the soldiers who died here during the 1943 liberation of Vygribnaya Sloboda. The statue of a Soviet soldier, painted silver, watches over them from a plinth bearing the words: “1941-1945. No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten.” To either side this statue is flanked by concrete wings, which feature painted symbols of eternal flames, and the painted phrases: “Eternal glory to the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of our Homeland,” and: “You fell in battle for the freedom of the country, the living are forever in your debt.”
Zherdnoe, Belarus. The black granite memorial in Zherdnoe consists of an upright pillar and a name plate, arranged by a ceremonial grave. An inscription features a Red Army crest, with the message: “1941-1945. The grateful Homeland will forever be proud of the heroic deeds of its brave sons and daughters.”
Post-War Monuments, Utopian Art & Town Signs
Lenin Monument. Arevichi, Belarus. Lenin’s face appears in profile on this simple monument outside the former administrative building of the village.
Lenin Monument. Chornobyl, Ukraine. On the outskirts of Chornobyl, a shipyard was built on the River Pripyat. Beside its administrative building stands this statue of Lenin. In line with Ukraine’s ‘decommunisation’ law, most of the country’s former Lenin monuments have now been removed. The town of Chornobyl, however, still has two.
Lenin Monument. Chornobyl, Ukraine. Another statue of Lenin was erected in the centre of Chornobyl. Today it watches over the main street, from a lawn outside the police station.
Komsomol Monument. Chernobyl-2 Military Complex, Ukraine. This secretive military town was located 7 km from Chornobyl, and was home to the massive Duga-1 radar array. Just off the parade ground, now partially hidden in bushes, stands this monument to the “VLKSM” – the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol” organisation.
Komsomol Monument. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. Youth brigades from the Komsomol organisation took part in the construction of the power plant in the 1970s. This torch monument was dedicated to the Komsomol, and stood beside the entrance to the plant complex. Originally it was accompanied by a sculpted sign bearing the name of the power plant, though this has since been removed.
Prometheus Monument. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. This 6-metre bronze statue of the Greek titan Prometheus was originally installed on a pedestal in Pripyat, outside the Prometheus Cinema. It was common throughout the Soviet Union to build likenesses of Prometheus at places associated with the production of power (a tradition which is explored in more detail in Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide). After the disaster and the evacuation of Pripyat however, the Prometheus monument was relocated to the Chernobyl Power Plant, where it can be seen today standing outside the entrance to the administrative block.
Pripyat Sign. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. The city of Pripyat was founded in 1970 to accommodate the power plant’s workers. This Modernist sign, at the edge of the plant complex, pointed in the direction of the city 4 km away.
Town Sign. Pripyat, Ukraine. Located in Microdistrict 4, beside what was the northern road into Pripyat. It appears here after illegal tourists have painted it in the colours of the Ukrainian flag, with a graffiti slogan that reads: “We make money from tragedy.” Other illegal visitors have since painted the sign to restore it to its original grey colouring.
Town Sign. Chornobyl, Ukraine. The southern road into Chornobyl is marked by this sign, created in the 1970s. It features symbols representing the shipyard on the River Pripyat, heavy industry (the town had a number of factories, and a facility that produced dairy products), and an atom representing the nearby nuclear power plant, as well as the ever-present Soviet symbols of the hammer and sickle. This sign is a popular stop on tours through the Zone, and it has been regularly repainted and maintained in the years since the disaster.
“1193” Town Sign. Chornobyl, Ukraine. The town of Chornobyl first appears in historical texts from 1193 AD, when it was included in the territory of the Kievan Rus. This sign on the north side of town – on the road between Chornobyl and the nearby power plant – commemorates that date.
“Chernobyl Rayon” Sign. Dytiatky, Ukraine. Situated just outside what is now the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, near the well-trafficked checkpoint at Dytiatky, this sign bids visitors welcome to “Chernobyl Rayon” (“Chernobyl Region”). It was designed by the artist Taras Yukhymovych Myskovets, and depicts a wheat field alongside symbols representing heavy industry and communist ideology.
Atomic Industrial Relief. Chornobyl, Ukraine. This small decorative panel near the centre of Chornobyl echoes similar motifs. Cogs, atoms, and chimneys belching smoke, rendered in a striking Modernist style, represented the rebirth of Chornobyl from a rural provincial town to a modern industrial centre.
Star Monument. Martynovychi, Ukraine. This small monument in the centre of the village consisted of a stone star, painted red, on the front of a square column. Some time after the evacuation however, the base has tipped over and the monument has fallen on its face. The star smashed, and its five points now lie scattered about nearby.
Star Monument. Pripyat, Ukraine. A small monument in the centre of Pripyat, now hidden in overgrown bushes, features a star alongside a hammer and sickle motif.
“Friendship of Nations” Monument. Pripyat, Ukraine. This steel structure stood at the end of Druzhby Narodiv Street in the atomgrad, consisting of a public address system styled as trumpets, and surrounded by fifteen crests bearing the emblems of each of the Soviet republics. Designed by Ivan Semenovych Lytovchenko, it was installed in 1975. Whereas once it stood on a grassy lawn, now the area is completely overgrown and the monument is almost lost in a thicket of new trees.
“Skazochnyi” Pioneer Camp Sign. Ilovnytsya, Ukraine. Many power plant employees would have sent their children to summer retreats at this popular camp. Its name means “Fairytale,” and this woodland area was decorated with sculpted characters from Slavic myths and Soviet cartoons alike. This sign marked the entrance, and featured a power pylon design above the logo of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.
Chernobyl Forest Sign. Cherevach, Ukraine. A Korogodsky Forestry sign marks the beginning of Chernobyl Forest, near the village of Cherevach. This area suffered severe damage during the forest fires of April 2020.
Hammer and Sickle Sign. Stechanka, Ukraine. This stylised political emblem appeared outside the village club in Stechanka. The village is now largely overgrown by the forest, but parts of the old community notice board remain – including a sign for the nearby “Victory” Collective Farm, which it says was renamed: “By decision of the general meeting of the collective on 8 October 1957, the 35th anniversary of the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War.”
“Communard” Collective Farm Sign. Richytsya, Ukraine. The farm itself is mostly destroyed now – only ruins are left. This metal sign still stands at the turning though, identifying this as the “Kommunar Kolkhoz.” A circular inset on the sign displays a relief of Lenin’s face in profile.
“Progress” Collective Farm Sign. Maryanivka, Ukraine. This farm sign is located outside the borders of what is now the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – though much of its land lies within, and many former workers would have been evacuated from their homes after the disaster.
“Friendship” Collective Farm Sign. Zalissya, Ukraine. Not far from Chornobyl town, this collective farm covered an area of 5300 hectares, on which it grew crops and bred cattle. Originally there was a statue here, depicting a man taming a bull – but it has since been relocated, and can be seen today in the centre of Chornobyl. The sign at the turning to this farm has since been modified. The original name plate for the farm appears to have been removed from its metal frame. A newer plate lists warehousing services, under the banner of “State Specialised Enterprise” – the typical designation for companies operating inside the Exclusion Zone today.
“20th Party Congress” Collective Farm Sign. Illintsi, Ukraine. Near the village of Illintsi, this sign marks the entrance to a former farm, named in tribute to the 20th (XX) Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR. It was at this congress in February 1956 that new premier Nikita Khrushchev gave his “Secret Speech” denouncing his predecessor, Joseph Stalin.
Orthodox Crucifix. Pripyat, Ukraine. The atomgrad was designed as an atheistic city. It had no churches, and officially, no religious symbols of any kind. The first cross to appear in Pripyat was erected after the disaster – installed at the entrance to the abandoned city on 25 March 2009, after campaigning by the Church of St. Elijah in Chornobyl, and the archivists behind the website Pripyat.com. It appears here draped in a rushnyk, a traditional Ukrainian embroidered cloth. These often appear in graveyards, and their intricate patterns vary from region to region.
Monument to the Liquidators. Poliske, Ukraine. Across the street from the town’s Great Patriotic War memorial park, aligned directly opposite the central pillar and star, this concrete structure originally supported a large bronze bell. It was installed after the disaster in 1986, and before Poliske was itself evacuated in 1993, commemorating the victims and the liquidators of the Chernobyl disaster. The bell itself has been stolen since Poliske’s evacuation however, as the metal would have had significant scrap value.
Grave of Sergey Bobruyenko. Martynovychi, Ukraine. There are many graves and graveyards in the Zone. This one is unusual, however, as it was dug in 1988 – after the evacuation. While it is difficult to find information about this person now, the grave shows that he was aged just 21 years old, and served with the Soviet Airborne Troops. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that perhaps Sergey Bobruyenko died in the Soviet-Afghan War, before being buried back in his native village, now inside the exclusion zone.
Monument to Valery Khodemchuk. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. Believed to be the first victim of the Chernobyl disaster, Khodemchuk was the night shift circulating pump operator on duty at the time of the disaster. His body was never recovered from the semi-collapsed building – so instead this monument was created in a corridor of the power plant, in front of a bricked-up entrance to Reactor 4, to mark his final resting place.
Monument to the Liquidators. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. This memorial is positioned next to the Prometheus monument, immediately outside the administrative block of the power plant. A central panel, beneath the arch and bell, features a stone with the words: “Life for Life.” On either side of this are arranged black granite nameplates of those liquidators and engineers who died in the disaster. Behind this memorial, the Orthodox cross bears an inscription that reads: “Give rest, O Lord, to the soul of Thy servant who paid his life in the fire of Chernobyl. He hath made an everlasting memorial.”
Monument to Those Who Protected the World From Disaster. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukraine. Immediately following the disaster in 1986, a concrete and steel sarcophagus was built over the destroyed reactor, which was sufficient to contain the radiation leakage for a period of 30 years – until the New Safe Confinement structure (pictured in the background here), could be installed in 2016. The monument in the foreground here was erected in 2006, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the completion of that first protective sarcophagus.
Monument to the Helicopter Pilots. Chornobyl, Ukraine. On 2 October 1986, during the decontamination effort at the Chernobyl Power Plant, an Mi-8 helicopter crashed when a dangling cable became caught in the rotor. All four occupants were killed. This monument was dedicated to them, and it features a metal rotor design, the blades of which are inscribed with the verses: “For the twentieth century soldier’s duty / Those who turned back the evil atom [literally: whose chest met the evil atom] / In honour of the helicopter pilots / Pay respect at this memorial.”
Beneath are listed the names of the crewmen:
Capt. Vorobyov Vladimir Konstantinovich
Sr. Lt. Yungkind Alexander Evgenievich
Sr. Lt. Khristich Leonid Ivanovich
W.O. Hanzhuk Nikolay Alexandrovich.
Monument to Those Who Saved the World. Chornobyl, Ukraine. This monument, installed on 26 April 1996 to mark the 10th anniversary of the disaster, is one of the more iconic new monuments in the Zone. Unlike other state-funded monuments, this one was funded and actually built by the firefighters of Chornobyl. Its designer, Ivan Simonov, was a firefighter himself. The monument stands outside Fire Station No. 3 in Chornobyl (formerly known as PPCh-17), where teams of first responders had been dispatched from on the night of the disaster.
The monument consists of three elements. The central double pillar measures 11 metres, is topped by a Christian cross, and carries a globe representing the earth. This globe is formed from wrapped steel ribbon, said to symbolise the fragility of our world. The chimney that once served Reactor Blocks 3 and 4 rises beneath the main column, and a plaque beneath that carries the dedication: “To those who saved the world.” Four figures appear on each side of the monument – firefighters to the right, rushing to extinguish the blaze, while the figures on the left represent a dosimetrist, an engineer, and a doctor treating a fourth figure who is shown succumbing to the effects of radiation exposure.
This powerful monument for a while faced an uncertain future – very little budget was available for its maintenance, and by 2019 the monument was beginning to erode, to the point that it was eventually wrapped in plastic until necessary funds could be procured. Throughout 2020 however, an online campaign was able to secure donations from all around the world. This funded a full restoration of the monument, which was once again unveiled to visitors from November 2020.
Green Murmur Memorial Park. Chornobyl, Ukraine. In 1996 there was a plan to create a new memorial park marking the 10th anniversary of the disaster. The project was never completed however, and now this stone – bearing an engraved Orthodox cross – stands alone in an overgrown field outside the town. Its inscription reads: “Here, on the 10th anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, the Memorial Park ‘Green Murmur’ was unveiled, in memory of the dead, and the victims of the largest industrial disaster in the history of mankind.”
Beneath are written the lines from a poem: “Save, O Lord, the mother and child / Do not allow the Chornobyl fires / Ukraine already drank her shares of woe / She has seen enough prison towers…”
ChGPMTS Memorial Square. Chornobyl, Ukraine. A stone with a plaque, marking the Memorial Square established by the workers’ collective of ChGPMTS (a local tractor maintenance station) on the 10th anniversary of the disaster. Today this stone is buried beneath bushes and wild hops, making it very easy to miss.
Monument to the Liquidation Vehicles. Chornobyl, Ukraine. This monument was erected on the town’s former football pitch, and depicts an atom formed from industrial chains, atop a metal pillar. Originally it was part of an ensemble, surrounded by technical vehicles used in the liquidation effort. Those vehicles have since been removed however, leaving the pillar alone and unmarked.
Monument to the Liquidators of the ChNPP Accident. Park of Glory, Chornobyl, Ukraine. On the 10th anniversary of the disaster, this monument was added to the Park of Glory in Chornobyl. It features a dedication written in Russian: “We remember, we grieve for the untimely departed friends, comrades in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe.”
20th Anniversary Disaster Memorial. Park of Glory, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Also located in the Park of Glory, the message on this newer monument is written in Ukrainian, and reads: “Established in deep sorrow by the former inhabitants of Chornobyl on 26 April 2006, on the day of the 20th anniversary of the ChNPP accident. In eternal memory of the fallen and the dead. Immortal faith and hope for the revival of life here – both for those now living and their descendants.”
The Third Angel. Wormwood Star Memorial Complex, Chornobyl, Ukraine. This angelic monument was designed by People’s Artist of Ukraine Anatoly Gaydamaka, and installed on 26 April 2011 – the 25th anniversary of the disaster – at a ceremony attended by the presidents of both Ukraine and Russia. The sculpture references a passage from the Biblical Book of Revelation, in which angels blowing trumpets break open the Seven Seals of the Apocalypse. According to this prophecy, the third angel heralds the arrival of a star called ‘Wormwood,’ which poisons the earth and waters. In local Bibles the star’s name is written as ‘Polyn’ – a word which is used here for various plants in the mugwort or Artemisia genus. The town itself is named after one of these plants: the species of polyn called ‘chornobyl.’ This connection led some Christians to believe that the 1986 disaster was foretold by the Bible.
This and the following three sites between them constitute an open-air memorial park in the centre of Chornobyl, known as the Wormwood Star Memorial Complex.
Memorial to the Lost Villages. Wormwood Star Memorial Complex, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Leading away from the Third Angel monument, this path was designed as a garden of reflection. It is framed between road signs, the kind that mark the beginning or end of a village, with each sign here listing the name of one of the 81 Ukrainian villages evacuated in the first wave of resettlements after the disaster.
Bull-tamer Monument. Wormwood Star Memorial Complex, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Originally located at the “Friendship” Collective Farm at Zalissya, which bred cattle, this Classical-style sculpture is reminiscent of ancient depictions of Heracles capturing the Cretan Bull. It was relocated first to the village of Kupovate following the disaster – and then around the time of the 25th anniversary, was incorporated into this new memorial garden in Chornobyl. There is supposedly a long-standing local tradition amongst the re-settlers of the Zone, to paint the bull’s testicles red and white on the Eve of Easter.
Monument to the Victims of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Wormwood Star Memorial Complex, Chornobyl, Ukraine. Added to the Chornobyl memorial park in 2012, this monument honours the victims of the nuclear disasters that occurred both here, in 1986, and at Fukushima, Japan, in 2011. The design represents origami cranes – as in both these two cultures, the crane sometimes appears as a symbol of hope.
Monument to the Heroes of Chernobyl. Slavutych, Ukraine. Following the evacuation of Pripyat, the plant workers’ city, a new atomgrad was built for these displaced citizens: Slavutych. Today it is home to many of those who still work at the power plant as it undergoes decommissioning. According to the architectural plan for the city, a Museum of the Chernobyl Tragedy was to be built in the city centre. The city’s chief artist M. Lynnik oversaw the installation of a granite slab on the spot, with the message: “Here will be built a museum complex dedicated to the brave acts of the liquidators of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant accident.” On 26 April 1990 – the fourth anniversary – another plaque was installed listing the names of those who died during the disaster.
The Soviet Union was dissolved the following year, and that planned museum would never be built. The memorial that stands here now was designed by Slavutych’s chief architect V.P. Belyk, with architect L.G. Aptukova, in 1991. It features portraits of the liquidators, and its central column is topped by a bell (initially made of concrete, but later replaced with bronze). The plaque which once advertised the coming museum was simply reversed… and on the back, now visible, was engraved: “We bow low. Eternal glory.”
“White Angel” Monument. Slavutych, Ukraine. Created in 2012 by sculptor Jan Neiman, the angel holds a shield bearing the protective star of the Virgin Mary – and with his other hand, blesses the city with a laurel wreath. This monument was placed opposite the Monument to the Heroes of Chernobyl to form a common composition in the centre of Slavutych – the earlier monument remembering the tragedy, while this new one looks optimistically forwards to the future.
Prometheus Monument. Heroes of Chernobyl Memorial Complex, Kyiv, Ukraine. During the first wave of evacuations, before Slavutych had been built, many of Pripyat’s residents would be settled first in the Troyeschina district of Kyiv. Soon after, plans were made for a new memorial park situated in the middle of this district, which would honour the ‘Heroes of Chernobyl.’
The first installation appeared in 2007 – a monument to Prometheus, designed by Valentin Znoba. However, unlike the Prometheus statue that previously stood in Pripyat and celebrated the gift of fire, stolen from the gods, this monument depicted a scene from a later part of the myth. Here Prometheus is shown being punished for the deed, bound to a rock, and accompanied by the eagle that would peck out his liver again for every day of his imprisonment. The Titan still appears to be holding a burst of flames above his head – though some have described this as Prometheus offering the fire back to the gods, returning it to its rightful owners after humankind misused the gift. (The monument’s designer, Znoba, passed away shortly after completing this work, so his intended symbolism remains subject to interpretation.)
The Wall of Memory, visible behind, was created in 2010. It features 48 panels, each illustrated with stone-engraved images of the abandoned towns and villages of the Zone.
Bells of Chernobyl. Heroes of Chernobyl Memorial Complex, Kyiv, Ukraine. This installation was designed by architect Oleksand Kolomoyets, and was added to the complex just after the 30th anniversary of the disaster – on 26 August 2016. It consists of a granite arch housing 15 bells of different materials and weights, which between them play a range of notes across four octaves. The monument contains a mechanism that allows pre-programmed melodies to play at different times of day, based on music arranged for the installation by National Artist of Ukraine Georgy Chernenko.
Pantheon of Memory. Heroes of Chernobyl Memorial Complex, Kyiv, Ukraine. In December 2016, the Pantheon was officially unveiled in the complex. At its centre stands a 2.5-metre statue of the Virgin Mary, who often appears on crests as the symbolic protector of Ukraine. She appears here in dedication to the fallen liquidators.
Unusually, this is perhaps the only post-Soviet Ukrainian monument to make reference to the Soviet Union (except for in the context of commemorating its victims). The rotunda measures 14 metres across by 8 metres tall, and it is supported on 15 columns – one for each of the former Soviet republics, with their coats of arms decorating the columns in cast bronze. In golden letters on the arched frieze above, appears the following verse:
“Brothers! We’ll prevail over death a hundredfold, we’ll win over pain and loss.
Give me your hand, my Chernobyl brother, let our hands be warm.
We will meet here again as the rivers meet at the sea:
It’s all of us, you hear, Lord? Us who saved the world that April.
Despite the pain, our children will grow – our joy through the taste of the wormwood.
Oh Lord, forgive us, forgive us! And save us if you can. We atone for the guilt of others.”
Notes & Acknowledgements
It is tremendously difficult to find information about many of these monuments, and a lot of work has gone into researching and presenting the details here. I also plan to keep this page updated in future with any more details I can add. So if you notice errors, or if you can contribute extra information about any of these places, I would be glad to hear from you.
This project would not have been possible without help. Many thanks go to Anton Lebedev and Jesse Nagel, both of whom have contributed countless hours to translating memorial inscriptions and digging through archive documents. I would also like to thank all the people who support me on Patreon. Particularly in such a difficult year, this kind of in-depth work simply would not have been feasible without their support – and it is very much appreciated.
For their independent guide services within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, I am very grateful to the team at Chernobyl Zone. In Belarus, I arranged my trip with Walk to Folk – who not only provided an excellent educational tour experience, but also continued to help me with my research long after I went home.
For more about Chernobyl, its rural communities, its scientists, stalkers and modern folklore, my book – Chernobyl: A Stalkers’ Guide – provides much more depth than I am able to offer here. It combines essays and photography from my 20 visits to the region, and was named by Financial Times as one of the “Best Books of 2020.” Read more about the book here.
Finally, I also lead small-group tours in Chernobyl, a couple of times a year. These trips are very different to the standard package tours – with a focus more on architectural heritage and rural communities, and visiting many of the sites detailed above. In 2021 I will be leading several of these trips for Atlas Obscura. Dates and itineraries are available here.