To many, Chernobyl is little more than a 30-year-old newspaper headline—a blip on the map of the world's notable landmarks. But to those who have seen it in person, it leaves a lasting impression. There are still heightened radiation levels, but it is safe to visit for a short amount of time. (All visitors are sent through body scanners at the end of their trip to make sure radiation levels aren't too high.) Regular tours wind their way around the Exclusion Zone, an area that includes the towns of Chernobyl and the nearby Pripyat—the two villages directly affected by the explosion that tore through the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 26, 1986.
When T+L writer Gary Shteyngart was in Ukraine exploring what Kiev has to offer firsthand, he spent some time 79 miles north of the capital in Chernobyl. What he brought back is so much more than a story of the natural wildlife that has made the Exclusion Zone home, or hilariously real sound bites from the local tour guide ("Use bushes, trees, or abandoned buildings to pee.").
In Shteyngart's words, "Nothing is sadder than School Number Three, its cafeteria littered with children's gas masks." Present-day Chernobyl, as photographed by Ambroise Tézenas, boasts the kind of quiet beauty that can only come from a landmark with such a devastating backstory—shattered floors dotted with blossoming flowers, a massive swimming pool left to deteriorate, a lone Ferris wheel forever paused. Have a look, above.