WINNIPEG —; It’s been three decades since the world’s worst nuclear disaster.
It was on April 26, 1986 the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl failed, releasing radioactive material for kilometres.
The incident exposed millions in the region to dangerous levels of radiation while forcing permanent evacuations of many towns and villages.
READ MORE: Chernobyl 30 years later: One man’s journey into ‘apocalyptic’ city (in photos)
It’s a piece of the world that has been left behind. One that intrigued a Winnipeg photographer so much that he’s traveled to the hard hit core 19 times since 1994.
“It was surprising to see how much was left,” said David McMillan. “You could imagine what it would mean to leave. 135,000 people were evacuated.”
The abandoned city of Pripyat lies still and untouched under the deadly radioactive dust of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
A school gymnasium in the evacuated town of Pripyat. Taken by David McMillan in April 1995. David McMillan
A school gymnasium in the evacuated town of Pripyat. Taken by David McMillan in April 1995.
That’s where McMillan has spent the majority of time.
“The changes in one sense are obvious. Decay, buildings have crumbled, anything that was man made are falling apart, roofs are caving in,” he said. “On the other hand there is the incredible growth that has taken place.”
PHOTO: Taken from the same place with the reactor in the distance. The first in 1998 and the second in 2013.
McMillan has been traveling almost annually to the decimated area looking to find the beauty in tragedy. From former hotel rooms now overgrown with trees to areas that were once vast and wide open turned into forest.
WATCH: Not brave enough to enter the Exclusion Zone? Enter virtually
A few dozen of the photographer’s more than 10,000 images are being displayed for a limited time at the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre in Winnipeg.
“It was important to do something to mark this anniversary because it affected so many people on a world level,” said Sophia Kachor, executive director at the Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre. “It was important to have people become aware of what was the results of the disaster.”
From the dichotomy of the decrepit and decaying to the overflow of new growth that has started to reclaim the soiled land.
“There is beauty, maybe a kind of perverse beauty, in that decay and destruction and collapse that you see in these images,” said Kachor. “It's not a Ukrainian story, it's a human story.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the realization of how many lives were forever changed.
“To think so many children were affected by the accident… one is very conscious of all the people’s lives that were disrupted,” said McMillan. “It’s a striking reminder that people have lived here and were affected.”
About 600,000 people, often referred to as Chernobyl’s “liquidators,” were sent in to fight the fire at the nuclear plant and clean up the worst of its contamination. Thirty workers died either from the explosion or from acute radiation sickness within several months.
The final death toll from the disaster rangers due to the long-term effects of radiation. The World Health Organization estimates it at around 9,000 people however, Greenpeace believes the number dead is closer to 90,000.