Creepy dolls and forced abortions: What you didn't see in the Chernobyl mini-series.


In the early hours of April 26, 1986, residents of Pripyat in the Ukraine woke to a sound. They didn’t know at the time, but the Chernobyl nuclear power plant had exploded.

33 years on, a HBO mini-series has re-awakened interest in the power plant explosion that changed history.

You can watch the trailer here. Post continues after video. 

Video by HBO

The death toll from the disaster is contentious, with everything from 31 deaths to 93,000 predicted to be a result of the radioactive event.

But the mini-series only focuses on the events during and directly after the disaster.

The things that have happened in the decades since range from sad to scary, to just plain weird.

Here’s a round-up:

1. The creepy dolls.

If you’ve seen photos of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone as it is now, chances are you’ve seen the creepy dolls that pop up on couches, and in window sills.

They give the whole scene an extra air of creepiness.

chernobyl disaster
An armchair in an abandoned kindergarten classroom in the Chernobyl zone. Image: Getty.

Turns out, they aren't former resident's dolls as you might be inclined to assume.

They've been placed there by "disaster tourists," no doubt to add dramatic effect to their happy snaps.

12,000 tourists visit the Exclusion Zone every year.

Since the HBO series, there's been a spike in the number of people headed to the site, curious to see the abandoned ghost town for themselves.


2. There's an endangered horse species just chilling out there.

The wild Przewalski horses that exist in the city didn't turn up there by themselves.

They were released into the wilderness near the nuclear power plant in 1998 as part of a conservation effort to save the species from extinction.

Przewalski's horses
There's a whole generation of Przewalski horses living in the exclusion zone. Image: Holger Hollemann/picture alliance via Getty. Images)

It worked, they're thriving.

British ecologists even worked out that some of the original horses that were released there are still alive as the population continues to expand.


3. It's against the law to live there.

350,000 people were evacuated from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia after Chernobyl.

The city of Pripyat once home to 50,000 people, is now a ghost town.

There are however, a few thousand souls who've continued to live in the affected areas which still suffer from radiation.

According to CNN, today there remains 130 survivors who live within the Exclusion Zone. Overwhelmingly, those who illegally returned to the area are elderly women known as “Babushkas” – the Ukrainian term for grandmother.

chernobyl disaster
A Ukrainian women who refused to leave and still lives in Chernobyl with her husband, six kilometres from the reactor. They live off self grown crops and vegetables. Image: Getty.

The Ukrainian government eventually gave up with the Babushkas and gave them permission to stay.

However it continues to be illegal for younger inhabitants – those who are not well past child bearing stage – to reside there.

One woman who lives there told CNN journalist Holly Morris, "Radiation doesn't scare me. Starvation does".

4. "Radiophobia" forced women to end their pregnancies.

Long term studies suggest that babies exposed to Chernobyl in the womb, had increased odds of developing thyroid cancer as adults.

However, according to the World Health Organisation, there's no substantive evidence birth defects were appreciably more common in babies delivered by women who were near the disaster compared to those who were not exposed.

chernobyl bassinets
Between 100,000 and 200,000 women had abortions after Chernobyl. Image: Getty.

But in the weeks and months after Chernobyl first happened, misinformation and "radiophobia" spread and many people, including doctors, thought they couldn't trust authorities to give them the truth about how bad the risks of contamination were.

As a result an estimated 100,000 - 200,000 women chose to have abortions. It's a decision that became very evident in the birth rate data from 1986-1987.

There is still debate as to whether a congenital birth defects can be linked to radiation from the nuclear disaster.

"A modest but steady increase in reported congenital malformations in both contaminated and uncontaminated areas of Belarus appears related to better reporting, not radiation," said WHO in 2006.

5. The dogs of Chernobyl.

As thousands of people were packed into buses and driven away from the Exclusion Zone, families were forced to leave their pets behind.

The HBO series touches on the fact that even little puppies were left stranded in Pripyat, with soldiers instructed to shoot any remaining dogs they came across.


But many of the abandoned dogs survived, and there's an estimated dog pack of 900 strays living in the area.

The Stray Dogs Of Chernobyl
Stray dogs loiter inside the high-security "local zone" outside the new, giant enclosure that covers devastated reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant on August 18, 2017. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images).

They often don't live for more than four years, and while they carry increased levels of radiation in their fur, their shorter life expectancy is mostly attributed to the harsh Ukrainian winters, as well as malnutrition, disease and exposure to predators.

There's also evidence according to SPCA International that a lot of the new dog descendants are half wolf.


In 2018, for the first time, a number of stray dogs living in Chernobyl were rescued and permitted to be released for adoption.

Before the dogs are cleared to leave the area, their fur is cleansed of radioactive dust and they're thoroughly examined, to establish if they pose no risk to humans.

6. It's attracted some eerie graffiti.

The Exclusion Zone has become a popular hang out for graffiti artists.

They've painted creepy silhouettes of the missing residents that give the illusion of being "permanent shadows".

30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
The permanent shadows of Chernobyl. Image: Alexey Furman/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

There's a little girl with pigtails reaching for a light switch, a boy pulling a toy truck toward the corner of a building, people dancing, jumping and holding on to each other in an embrace that could be interpreted as either joyfulness or terror.

The shadows are reminiscent of those left on the walls and steps of buildings in Hiroshima after the nuclear attack that ended World War II.

7. Vegetation refuses to die.

In possibly the most bizarre post-Chernobyl activity to occur in the Exclusion Zone, a weird supernatural preservation of expired plants has been noticed.

According to Smithsonian, vegetation in the Exclusion Zone just doesn't decompose at the same rate it does in the rest of the world.

Organisms such as microbes, fungi and some types of insects that drive the process of decay (responsible for an essential component of any ecosystem ) suffered contamination at the time of the explosion.

Chernobyl, Nearly 30 Years Since Catastrophe
There are certain organisms that just refuse to die at Chernobyl. Image: Getty.

Issues with this basic level process appear to have had ramifications for the whole ecosystem.

Nearby pine trees near the site turned red and died shortly after Chernobyl, but as of 1991 they didn't appear to be decaying according to a study published in Oecologia.

In an even creepier revelation, scientists in 2002 discovered fungi inside the damaged fourth reactor, where radiation levels are still extraordinarily high.

The scientists learnt that the more radiation they exposed the fungi to, the bigger and faster it grew.

So yes, it appears there is radiation-eating fungi living in the depths of Chernobyl.

Cheers Mother Earth, that creepy tid-bit will be in our nightmares tonight.