Forgotten Chornobyl?


The old people had been talking with great anxiety.

Black storks had been seen not far from the village.

Black storks – a bad omen.

At 1:23am on April 26 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine suffered a catastrophic explosion and resulting fires. a radioactive plume was carried across large parts of western Soviet Union and Europe. The most severely contaminated areas were Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

The nearby city of Pripyat was quietly evacuated on April 27, with the authorities not informing residents of the scale of the disaster, nor the likely health risks from radiation exposure and contamination. Pripyat is now an abandoned city within the 30km exclusion zone around the reactor site, known as ‘The Zone of Alienation’. Many personal belongings still remain scattered around the streets, parks and buildings, as residents were told it would only be a temporary move.

The true cost of the disaster is hard to quantify. 47 people died – mostly plant workers and the firemen who came to their aid, and over 350,000 people have been relocated. A possible 1 million people are likely to have been exposed to radiation and it is estimated by the World Health Organization that 4,000 deaths may ultimately be attributed to the disaster.

• • •

At the 2004 Adelaide Fringe, Conscious Theatre presented the multimedia music play Chornobyl Story – written by Adelaide musician Ray Rains.


The play delivers its story by focussing on one family – the Banduras. Their ‘babusia’ – or grandmother – Svitlana, recalls the incident and acts as narrator as the play unfolds the tragedy of a way of life that had existed for centuries only to be destroyed over night by the invisible enemy of radiation. Svitlana fights government secrecy about the incident in an attempt to honour the memory of the heroes, including some of her family members, who saved the world that terrible day.

Following this in 2008 was the release of the 3-track CD Children of Chornobyl by Gone Troppo, featuring music from the play:


These two projects were great opportunities for me to be involved in something beyond just another print design or marketing strategy. As seen above, the CD booklet is a three panel fold out, with an additional inlay for the back of the jewel case. My intention with the artwork was to illustrate the decay, destruction and confusion at the plant, and also the hopelessness and despair of the people who were affected and quickly excluded from their homes.

A timeline of key events runs across the outer panels, ending in clear space on the front cover with the final and fatal explosion time highlighted in red. The design features various texture overlays, distressed type, hand drawn scribbles and scattered graphical elements.

The colours were chosen to reflect the nature of the events and also technically allowed the use of overprint text, which expanded the story surrounding the disaster.

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