6/9: The Earth view above Chernobyl, Pripyat, Ukraine
At the centre of the Earth view above is Chernobyl, in Pripyat, Ukraine. It is the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, where rare and endangered species now thrive in the absence of humans. After the historic meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, the surrounding area was evacuated and has been uninhabited by humans ever since. In the immediate aftermath, radiation caused the leaves of thousands of trees to turn a rust color, lending it the nickname ‘Red Forest’. Chernobyl became synonymous with death.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone straddles Ukraine and Belarus, and, over the decades, it has become a giant experiment in rewilding – though perhaps it hasn’t been rewilded so much as de-humaned. By definition, an exclusion zone removes people, and an unintended by-product of such a measure is space freed up for wildlife to roam. Research on the effects of the disaster has found numerous mutations in the local wildlife due to radiation, but overall not as fatal as one might expect. Today, animals that are usually scarce from human-occupied landscapes, especially larger ones like wolves, bison, and bears, are relatively abundant in the Pripyat region. Countless birds, many endangered, also make their homes there.