In 1986, in the blink of an eye, Chernobyl became an alien world. As the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, Chernobyl drove the city of Pripyat, Ukraine (the U.S.S.R. at the time), into an overnight dystopian empire that’s become a haunting landscape of ruins that time gnaws on. An enveloping portrait of post-human environment before any kind of flourish, Pripyat is bleak and desolate. So what better place for art?
That’s where Guido van Helten steps in. The Australian artist scored permission and access by the Ukrainian government to paint a mural in reactor No. 5— only 70% built at the time of the accident — in tribute to Russian photographer Igor Kostin. If it wasn’t for Kostin, the world would have less of an idea about the impact, the devastation, and the collapse of a community that Chernobyl caused.
Working for Novosti Press Agency (APN) at the time, Kostin was one of only five photographers who covered the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on the day it actually happened (April 26, 1986), with his aerial shot of the buckled plant becoming one of the most notable around the world. He would return to the site of the meltdown several times in the years afterward. He was committed to documenting the catastrophe, a way of showing the world the effects in hope of a better future made by better decisions, so that dozens don’t die and thousands aren’t wrecked with fallout-related disease. He died in a car accident last year.
See the mural in the long-lost world of Pripyat below, and check out more murals of Guido van Helten by way of his Instagram.