Igor Kostin (1936–2015) was one of the five photographers in the world to take pictures of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster near Pripyat in Ukraine, on April 26, 1986. He was working for Novosti Press Agency (APN) as a photographer in Kiev, Ukraine, when he represented Novosti to cover the nuclear accident in Chernobyl. Kostin’s aerial view of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was widely published around the world, showing the extent of the devastation, and triggering fear throughout the world of radioactivity contamination the accident caused, when the Soviet media was working to censor information regarding the accident, releasing limited information regarding the accident on 28 April 1986, until the Soviet Union′s collapse in 1991.
Within hours of the explosion on April 26, 1986, comrade Kostin knew he witnessed an event that would be engraved in history books. He was right. Reactor #4 at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Plant near Chernobyl exploded, releasing 400 times more radioactive matter than the bombing of Hiroshima. He was a skilled photographer and dedicated to his work. His professionalism and unbreakable will have made him immortal. At the very least, his photography will remain for centuries to come.
On the late evening of 26 April 1986 a helicopter pilot whom he worked closely with for his journalistic activities alerted him that there had been a fire at the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl. The fire had been extinguished by the time they arrived at Chernobyl via helicopter, and witnessed a war-like scramble of military vehicles and power plant personnel down at the scene of the nuclear power plant. He also experienced an odd feeling combined with high temperature and toxic smog, that was unusual for an accident scene. The motor of his cameras began to exhibit symptoms of radioactive-caused degradation after around 20 shots. The helicopter returned to Kiev after the cameras’ failure.
Kostin managed to develop the films, only to realize that all but one was unsalvageable – most of the films were affected by the high level of radiation, that caused the photographs to appear entirely black, resembling a film that was exposed to light pre-maturely. Kostin’s only photograph of the nuclear power plant was sent to Novosti in Moscow, but he did not receive a permit to publish it until May 5, 1986. His visit to Chernobyl was illegal and not sanctioned by the authorities. Pravda published limited information about the accident on April 29, 1986, but did not publish Kostin’s photographs.
The accident was interpreted as a major catastrophe by the global news media, even when the Ukrainian and Soviet authorities were trying to suppress any news regarding the accident. Kostin later received permits as one of the representative of the five accredited Soviet media to cover the accident site and the Zone of Alienation. On May 5, 1986 he ventured into the rubbles of the Chernobyl nuclear plant site and Reactor 4 along with the liquidators.
It was then that he covered the mass exodus of inhabitants of Pripyat and 30 km zone surrounding the nuclear power plant, before the 1 May Labour Day celebration. Dozens had died from the accident, mostly workers at the nuclear power plant.
|A team of human liquidators prepares to clear radioactive debris off the roof of the No. 4 reactor.|
|A liquidator, outfitted with handmade lead shielding on his head, works to clean the roof of reactor No. 3.|