Igor Fedorovich Kostin (27 December 1936 – 9 June 2015) was one of the five photographers in the world to take pictures of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster near Pripyat in Ukraine, on 26 April 1986. He was working for Novosti Press Agency (APN) as a photographer in Kiev, Ukraine, when he represented Novosti to cover the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. Kostin′s aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant showing the extent of the devastation was widely published around the world, triggering fear throughout the world of radioactivity contamination. Soviet media was working to censor information regarding the accident, releasing limited information regarding the accident on 28 April 1986, until the Soviet Union′s collapse in 1991.
Kostin had captured the ongoing problems with contamination suffered by human beings and animals. His photos include the deformities of the many infants and animals born within the Chernobyl area. Kostin returned many times to the Zone of alienation to bring the problems to the attention of the world. His efforts exposed him to five times the acceptable level of radiation and he was inflicted by illness related to this. Kostin died in Kiev in 2015 at the age of 78 in a car accident. He was married to Alla Kostin.
Kostin photographed Chernobyl from a helicopter within hours of the disaster, this is the only photograph to survive the intense radiation.
27 April, 1986:
The first photo to be taken of the reactor, at 4pm, 14 hours after the explosion. This was taken from the first helicopter to fly over the disaster zone to evaluate radiation levels. The view is foggy due to radiation, which also explains why the shot was not taken too close to the window. Later, radiation experts learnt that at 200 metres above the reactor, levels reached 1500 rems, despite the fact that their counters did not exceed 500 rems
A helicopter decontaminates the disaster site. After the explosion, the nuclear power station was covered in radioactive dust. Aircraft and helicopters flew over the site, spraying sticky decontamination fluid that fixed the radiation to the ground. Workers known as 'liquidators' then rolled the dried remains like a carpet and buried the nuclear waste
To mark the end of the clean-up operation atop reactor 3, the authorities ordered three men to attach a red flag to the summit of the chimney. A group of liquidators had already made two fruitless attempts by helicopter, so the three men had to climb the 78 metre chimney via a spiral staircase, despite the dangerous radiation levels. Radiation expert Alexander Yourtchenko carried the pole, followed by Valéri Starodoumov with the flag, while lieutenant-colonel Alexander Sotnikov ascended with the radio. The whole operation was timed to last only 9 minutes given the high radiation levels. At then end, the trio were rewarded with a bottle of Pepsi (a luxury in 1986) and a day off
Following orders issued by Soviet authorities to mark the end of cleanup operations on the roof of the No. 3 reactor, three men were requested to post a red flag atop the chimney overlooking the destroyed reactor, reached by climbing 78 meters up a spiral staircase. The flag bearers were sent despite the dangers posed by heavy radiation, and after a group of liquidators had already made two failed attempts by helicopter. The radiation expert Alexander Yourtchenko carried the pole, followed by Valéri Starodoumov with the flag, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Sotnikov with the radio. The whole operation was timed to last only 9 minutes, given the high radiation levels. At the end, the trio were rewarded with a bottle of Pepsi (a luxury in 1986) and a day off.
12 October 1991:
Few people know that there was a second explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station on 11 October, 1991 in the turbine hall of reactor 2. Liquidator friends contacted Kostin, who immediately visited the site accompanied by his wife, Alla, who, too worried to stay at home, spent the whole night at a control post as she was not authorised to enter. The roof was blown off but, fortunately, there was no radioactive leak
The majority of liquidators were men called up from military reserves because of their experience in clean-up operations or chemical protection units. The army did not have adequate uniforms for use in radioactive conditions, so those enlisted had to cobble together their own clothing made from lead sheets measuring 2-4mm thick. These sheets were cut to size to make aprons covering their bodies in front and behind, especially to protect the spine and bone marrow. 'The clever ones also added a vine leaf for extra comfort,' said Kostin
A liquidator, outfitted with handmade lead shielding on his head, works to clean the roof of reactor No. 3.
After the evacuation of Chernobyl on 5 May, 1986, liquidators wash the radioactive dust off the streets using a product called “bourda”, meaning molasses. Chernobyl had about 15,000 inhabitants before the accident.
Liquidators clean the roof of reactor 3. Initially, workers tried clearing the radioactive debris using West German, Japanese and Russian robots, but they could not cope with the extreme radiation levels, so the authorities decided to use humans. Employees could not stay any longer than 40 seconds any one time, before the radiation dose they received reached the maximum a human should receive in his entire life. Many liquidators have since died or suffer from severe health problems
In the 30km no-go zone around the reactor, liquidators measure radiation levels in neighbouring fields using antiquated radiation counters, wearing anti-chemical warfare suits that offer no protection against radioactivity, and "pig muzzle" masks. The young plants will not be harvested, instead used by scientists to study genetic mutations in plants
Liquidators clean the roof of reactor 3. Initially, workers tried clearing the radioactive debris using West German, Japanese and Russian robots, but they could not cope with the extreme radiation levels, so the authorities decided to use humans. Employees could not stay any longer than 40 seconds any one time, before the radiation dose they received reached the maximum a human should receive in his entire life. Many liquidators have since died or suffer from severe
he majority of the liquidators were reservists ages 35 to 40 who were called up to assist with the cleanup operations or those currently in military service in chemical-protection units. The army did not have adequate uniforms adapted for use in radioactive conditions, so those enlisted to carry out work on the roof and in other highly toxic zones were obliged to cobble together their own clothing, made from lead sheets and measuring two to four millimeters thick. The sheets were cut to size to make aprons to be worn under cotton work wear, and were designed to cover the body in front and behind, especially to protect the spine and bone marrow.
A team of human liquidators prepares to clear radioactive debris off the roof of the No. 4 reactor.
The village of Kopachi is buried, house by house in August 1987. It was located 7km from the Chernobyl reactor that housed the control room and decontamination area in the months after the disaster. A bulldozer would dig a large trench in front of each house before burying the building and covering it with earth and flattening the soil. Entire villages would be buried this way..
A bulldozer digs a large trench in front of a house before burying the building and covering it with earth. This method was applied to entire villages that were contaminated after the Chernobyl disaster.
Hans Blix (centre), the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, watches a video detailing the clean-up operations with members of a government commission. Blix became a central figure of the disaster clean-up, visiting the Chernobyl site several times and overseeing the building of the sarcophagus
In a specialist radiation unit in Moscow, a liquidator is examined by a doctor in a sterile, air-conditioned room after an operation
At Moscow’s No. 6 clinic, which specializes in radiation treatment, a patient recovers after a bone-marrow operation. A doctor examines the patient in a sterile room. The examination is carried out in an individual, air-conditioned chamber via specially created openings to avoid direct contact and contamination.
1988: Relatives attend the funeral of radiation expert Alexander Goureïev, one of the liquidators who cleared the roof of reactor 3. These experts were often referred to as “roof cats”. Goureïev died as a result of contracting a radiation-related illness.
Dead fish are collected by an artificial lake within the Chernobyl site that was used to cool the turbines, June 1986. The fish, which died from exposure to radiation, are abnormally large and flabby. They jumped out of the lake where they could be picked up by the bare hands of any passerby.
Ukrainian Academy of Sciences member holds a mutated colt in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The colt was dubbed “Gorbachev colt” after a life-size photo of it was brought to the Supreme Soviet in 1988 to show Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev what Chernobyl was doing the country’s wildlife.
Kostin can be seen here, reflected in the window of a control post at the Pripyat entrance. The ghost town contained very high radiation levels of 171 microroentgen/hour five years after the catastrophe
Jitomir, Ukraine. Contaminated and abandoned fields and a disused road lie within the no-go area around the Chernobyl site
Kostin discovered this deformed child in a special school for abandoned children in Belarus, 1988. The photo was published in the local Belarus press and the boy nicknamed ‘the Chernobyl Child’. It was then subsequently printed in German magazine Stern and became a world-famous image. The child was adopted by a British family, underwent several operations and is now living a relatively normal life
The evacuated city of Pripyat. Before the disaster, it housed 47,000 inhabitants, including 17,000 children. Due to its contamination by plutonium isotopes, Pripyat cannot be inhabited for another 24,000 years. It was built to house Chernobyl workers in the 1970s, and was one of the "youngest" towns in the USSR with an average age of 26. Other unofficial evacuations also took place including in Kiev, where children were reported to have been put on trains in great numbers
Contaminated apples hang unharvested from a tree within the 30km no-go area around the nuclear site, three years after the explosion