On April 26th, 1986, a catastrophic accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine sent radioactive particles into the air, distributing toxic pollution over a vast area. It has since gone down in history as one of the worst disasters of its kind.
31 people died in the blast, but the long-term effects have been felt ever since. Cancer and other radiation-exposure problems still plague citizens, and contamination in their water and soil remain a burden.
No people know these problems better than those who live near the “Nuclear Exclusion Zone,” the area within a 19-mile radius of the plant, where radiation levels are still exceedingly high. 350,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes after the accident, and many still form a community on the edge of a wasteland.
Photographer Thom Davies, who is also a trained geographer and ethnographer, has been working to understand and document this community since 2008. As part of his studies, Davies gave people who lived close to the Exclusion Zone disposable cameras and asked them to document their everyday lives in their extraordinary surroundings.
“The photographs give a rare glimpse into the unseen realities of everyday life in this post-atomic hinterland,” Davies says of the project, called “Disposable Citizens.” “No one understands the realities of Chernobyl like those who live there.”
The sign reads 'Chernobyl' and the red line means the car is leaving Chernobyl town. Once a year around Easter, people who have relatives buried inside the Exclusion Zone are allowed to visit the graves of their ancestors. The cemeteries are often overgrown and hard to access.
Sitting outside her home near Chernobyl, an elderly lady whiles away time by stitching a traditional servetka (doily).
This is the field where Olga (34) first found out about the nuclear accident when she was a young child. She told Thom: 'I was helping my parents plant potatoes here when it happened. I remember a convoy of army trucks driving along that track towards Chernobyl. They were staring out of the windows at us, through their gas masks.'
Beyond the more famous abandoned buildings in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, there are hundreds of forgotten village houses that are slowly being taken over by vegetation. Many people illegally enter the Exclusion Zone to collect scrap metal that they can sell informally.
Posing for his friend in his Ferrari jacket, a boy leans on the window frame of his house near Chernobyl.
A boy who lives near Chernobyl takes a selfie in his garden.
A young girl poses for her friend in her garden.
While talking on the phone, a mother stares at her son who is taking a photograph of her in their garden near Chernobyl. She is preparing sausage meat and salo (lard) from a recently slaughtered pig.
An elderly lady stands on a vegetable field near Chernobyl in Ukraine: 'We eat everything. Everything, everything, everything. Tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, everything is grown by ourselves in our own soil. We have milk, we give food to cows and to pigs, and we go to get mushrooms and berries in the forest.'
The photographer's finger partially blocks the lens as she photographs a man and his horse on the outskirts of a village near Chernobyl.
Fish drying in barn near Chernobyl. They were caught in a river that runs through the Exclusion Zone.
Potatoes being planted in a village near the Exclusion Zone. Many people remember planting potatoes when they first found out about the disaster in 1986. People who live near Chernobyl receive compensation to buy healthy food, but as many people told Thom, 'It's not even enough to buy a loaf of bread.'
A girl poses as her friend takes her photograph. There are few jobs near Chernobyl and most young people move to cities such as Kyiv and Ivankiv as soon as they are old enough.
A memorial to the Great Patriotic War seen in a village near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, photographed by a resident of the village. His thumb partially blocks the lens. Many people compared Chernobyl to war.
A schoolboy stands in his classroom, a few kilometres from the Exclusion Zone fence.
10: A guard dog sits in the yard of a typical farmstead a few kilometres from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
A mother photographs his son as he climbs into bed in their house, adjacent to the Exclusion Zone in Ukraine.
A cat stares at its owner as he photographs some half-prepared fish. The fish were caught that morning in a river that runs past the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor inside the Exclusion Zone.
A woman who lives near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine hangs washing on the line.
A guard dog walls by its kennel in a garden near the Exclusion Zone. Many people in this rural region are very self sufficient and keep animals such as pigs, chickens and cows.
Partially blocked by the participant's finger, a cow can be seen drinking from a boggy field near the Exclusion Zone. 'After the accident, vehicles came to take our cows and animals. The animals died in the next few days,' Thom was told. Today many people continue to drink cows milk, despite official advice that warns against it.
In front of garish wallpaper and table cloth, a young man stares at his younger sibling in their house near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in north-central Ukraine.
A boy rolls down a hill a few kilometres from the Chernobyl nuclear Exclusion Zone in Ukraine.
Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.