Leonid Toptunov’s last day in Pripyat

Three years ago, I installed one of my pinhole cameras in Leonid Fedorovich Toptunov’s apartment. On the evening of April 25, 1986, while preparing for night shift at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Leonid looked through his window at the city of Pripyat for the last time. It was a typical warm spring day in Ukraine, historical records show 15’C at 10PM. Many windows would be open, the sound of people chatting and laughing would have echoed on Sportivna Street where Toptunov lived. Pripyat was buzzing with life that Friday evening.

This twenty-five-year-old senior reactor control engineer was in charge of controlling power of the reactor number 4 that fatal night. During a failed test of safety systems, the reactor was put in an unstable state of operation.

Seeing a rapid increase in power generated in the fourth reactor, Leonid reacted according to his training by pressing the AZ-5 switch on the control panel. However, he could not anticipate that a hidden flaw in the design of the control rods would lead to an even greater power surge instead of the expected halt to the chain reaction in the reactor core. That night, Leonid Fedorovich Toptunov unknowingly triggered the largest catastrophe in the history of nuclear energy.

He was initially admitted to Pripyat Hospital but swiftly transferred to Moscow Hospital 6. Despite undergoing bone marrow transplants in an effort to restore his immune system, he succumbed to acute radiation poisoning on May 14, 1986.

When I visited Toptunov’s flat, I simply wanted to see Pripyat through his eyes and record the movement of the sun across the sky on the anniversary of the day when Leonid set out to work at the power plant for the very last time. I didn’t expect that by chance, I would also capture the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, another great tragedy for the country. If you have the patience, you can count the sun’s lines from the lowest point until you reach the 22nd of February 2022.

Chornobyl Solargraphy – Leonid Toptunov’s last day in Pripyat

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