To date, I have made seven trips inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Until just relatively recently though, I had never taken the time to see the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum in Kyiv. Not only is the Chernobyl Museum utterly fascinating (and highly photogenic too), but it serves as the perfect compliment to visiting the Zone. The museum is located in the Podil area of Kyiv, just a block or two from Kontraktova Ploshcha Metro reports Darmon Richter on his Bohemian Blog.
Built inside a former fire station, crews were dispatched from this site to respond to the nuclear accident in 1986. The museum tells a very human story. I have previously written about my cynicism regarding tourism to Chernobyl; how the debris of gas masks and personal effects seems sometimes rather staged (I think I called it a Disneyland for ruin photographers), whereas the true history inside the Zone is best read from its urban architecture and built environments. Well, it turns out the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum contains many of the pieces otherwise missing from the story.
The museum takes an apple tree for its logo, representative of genealogical roots, families, and fallen fruit that stands for displaced lives. The walls are covered in photographs, in documents and homewares. Uniforms – replicas, not the radiation-soaked originals – hang from ceilings; while a cross-sectioned power plant model gives a colourful lesson in the production of nuclear power.
Any and all attempts at documentary narrative are nevertheless served with a strong side helping of kitsch – a glamorisation that felt sometimes out of place with its subject matter. Ghastly figures in gas masks loom at visitors, while lights pulse through shades of purple, pink and blue across walls of faded portrait photographs. Religious iconography blends with radiation warning signs.
A broken helicopter rotor dangles in mid-air, suspended over a display case featuring a mutated pig foetus. In the second hall, the ceiling is comprised of hundreds of metal panels lit with spotlights from all angles… it almost feels like being inside a disco ball, or the control room of some futuristic space craft.