Photographer Rüdiger Lubricht has traveled through the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and published a book with photos of the experience. He spoke with DW about his pictures and the story behind them.
Lubricht hopes his work helps people not forget
Rüdiger Lubricht's photographs show ghost towns: communities once situated around the Chernobyl reactor that are now abandoned and indefinitely uninhabitable. But there are also places where the older residents have come back. His work documents how people deal with the region around Chernobyl and what health problems it has created for the second and third generations.
Click on the picture gallery below for impressions of Lubricht's work.
DW-WORLD.DE: Mr. Lubricht, you've been visiting the exclusion zone and the villages around it for eight years. How did your interest in Chernobyl come about?
Rüdiger Lubricht: In 2003, I had the chance to take a trip to the Ukraine through my contact with a German foundation called Children of Chernobyl. I visited various hospitals - especially children's hospitals - because they were operated by the foundation. That was the beginning. I was so moved by the impressions in places like Pripyat and by the houses in the exclusion zones around 10 to 30 kilometers (six to 20 miles) from the reactor that I couldn't shake them from my thoughts.
What is the goal of your work? What do you want to say to the viewer?
I think that I can do a small part to help people not forget the disaster. I also want to bring about understanding. I want to show what happened so that people can get inside the content of the images and make decisions about what they see.
This kindergarten is a symbol of the hectic flight from the area surrounding Chernobyl
You were in the area around Chernobyl for the first time eight years ago. What struck you most back then?
I was especially struck by the abandoned villages and especially the city of Pripyat - especially the schools and kindergartens there. The presence of playthings, books and pictures belonging to the kids made the catastrophe more perceptible. It helped me understand the situation that must have unfolded in 1986. That was a meaningful experience and one that I've never forgotten.
In mid-March, you were in the region again. What is the mood like? Do the people there see themselves as victims?
In some manner of speaking, yes, but they also may not be so eager to explain that to a foreigner. I sensed that emotions were very high among the soldiers and fire department personnel who were ordered to work on the damaged reactor directly after the explosion. They feel as though they were deceived. And they were.
What have the people there heard about the events surrounding the Japanese reactor in Fukushima? What is their reaction?
The land surrounding the reactor is eerily quiet today
When I heard about the catastrophe in Japan, I was near the reactor in Chernobyl and taking pictures. But I didn't have contact with the outside world. In conversations with Ukrainians and Belarusians since then, I've heard that the coverage there about Japan was kept very short. There is very little information being put out, and that is likely a conscious choice.
Will you continue to deal with the topic of Chernobyl?
I've already collected a lot of information and taken many pictures. If I continue in this area, then the fate of the clean-up and recovery workers right after the disaster would interest me. The consequences for them have certainly not yet been fully worked through. So I can certainly imagine that I'll return to the area.
Interview: Viktorija Sarjanka / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen