On April 26, 1986, a nuclear meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine caused radioactive material to be spewed into the atmosphere, exposing hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe to extremely high doses of radiation.
The effects of the nuclear fallout are still being felt: more than 500,000 people in Belarus, the country most affected by the disaster, have thyroid problems stemming from Chernobyl radiation, and more than 2 million people live in areas of the country that put them at high risk of contamination.
Last week, on the eve of the 31st anniversary of the disaster, a group of Polish adventurers decided to turn the lights back on in Pripyat, a radioactive ghost town located three miles from the Chernobyl reactor.
Pripyat was evacuated the day after the meltdown and has been abandoned ever since—though it has become the center of the disaster tourism industry that has developed in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
Using generators, the Poles were able to electrify some of Pripyat’s buildings, lighting up the abandoned city for the first time in more than 3 decades. The images they posted online quickly spread across social media in the Russian-speaking world.