When Darmon Richter and three friends headed into the closed wilderness around Chernobyl in the summer of 2018, they took two essential items: A Soviet-era map that listed all of the area's World War II memorials, and a chainsaw.
Richter, a British-born photographer and writer, explained to RFE/RL that "many of the roads on that map were no longer there, having been blocked or eroded away over the years. There was one village where fallen trees had completely barred the road going in."
Darmon Richter, a British writer and photographer who is known for extensive exploration and research of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
After firing up the chainsaw, the group was able to buzz a path to the long-abandoned settlement. Near the village, Richter was able to capture one of the scores of World War II memorials that remain in Ukraine and Belarus's radiation-tainted exclusion zone. The adventurer has made it his mission over the past eight years to photograph and research the poignant monuments. He agreed to share several of his images with RFE/RL.
Novoshepelychi, Ukraine. An obelisk with the inscription: "Here were buried residents of neighboring villages who died at the hands of fascist invaders during the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945." The village of Novoshepelychi has largely disappeared into the forest after being heavily contaminated during the nuclear disaster, but the memorial appears to be well tended by former residents.
Richter says in many areas of the exclusion zone Ukrainian authorities allow former residents to visit their lost villages once every year.
"In the weekend after Easter, these people drive back to their former homes to visit their monuments, churches, and the graves of loved ones. So often they'll use this opportunity to maintain graves and memorials, leaving plastic flowers there, too."
Krasne, Ukraine. A statue of a soldier with the dedication: "No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten. Eternal glory to the soldier-villagers who died on the fronts of the Great Patriotic War. 1941-1945." In the Soviet Union, World War II was known as the Great Patriotic War.
The Briton describes "a strange but somehow beautiful sight to drive through a completely derelict village, all the houses in the process of collapsing, then at its center find a war memorial with mown grass around it and colorful flowers strewn at its feet."