Student Alex Hendriks expected lifeless abandonment when he and his friends visited the center of the Chernobyl disaster area in northern Ukraine.
And although it was certainly gloomy – it was far from lifeless in the radioactive ruins. Hundreds of dogs were walking around.
The 22-year-old said: & # 39; My first thought was: & # 39; Wow, there are many dogs here! & # 39; & # 39;
Alex discovered that Chernobyl is now home to hundreds of stray dogs. Above a dog stuck through the snow between a memorial that mentioned the cities that had to be abandoned due to the nuclear disaster
A dog comes to a halt halfway the road, unwilling to travel further to the Exclusion Zone with the students
Student Alex Hendriks and his friends visited the center of the Chernobyl disaster zone in Northern Ukraine. Above, he looks over the disturbing city from a rooftop terrace
They entered the Exclusion Zone, which includes the city of Pripyat, in a bus from the Gamma Travel group, which was picked up in Kiev and then drove them through the zone all day.
Tourists enter the site via two control points 30 km away and 10 km from the center of the reactor.
You go through them both as you approach the reactor. They are used to track how close you are to the reactor and who is in which part of the zone.
One of the dogs followed the group as they made their way out of the zone. There are more than 250 dogs living within the Exclusion Zone and they can be found in almost every area of the accessible site. These dogs are the descendants of pets that were abandoned 35 years ago by former residents
A pair of children's shoes rest covered with dust on a windowsill left by their owner in a hurry, never to wear again
Once inside, there is no time limit for the stay, but you are not allowed to sleep in the zone.
There is no dress code, apart from the condition to wear long sleeves as protection against radiation.
But a visit to the zone is not dangerous.
The irradiated topsoil has melted away and visitors are advised to hire Geiger counters, who will warn them as they descend to an area with high radiation.
One of the most recognizable landmarks of Pripyat is the Ferris wheel. The ride was to open in May 1986, but never had the chance when the reactor had exploded the month before
Another part of the amusement park in the ghost town of Pripyat that has never been used
The counters start ticking at low levels of radiation (about one millisievert). Typically everyone in a city like London is exposed to around 0.2 mSv a day. But a day in Chernobyl exposes you to about the same amount of radiation as during a long-haul flight of one hour and 3,000 times less than a CT scan.
When Alex passed the first checkpoint, he was greeted by a number of half-wild dogs.
These dogs are the descendants of pets that were abandoned 35 years ago by former residents.
Alex, from the Netherlands, said: & # 39; It blew my mind. Many people have moved or the people who have stayed stay inside.
& # 39; It's like dogs have taken over everything. For the checkpoint soldiers, they act as companions, alerting the guards if wolves get too close. & # 39;
Checkpoints are often visited by dogs because they know they might get something to eat.
And scattered around the site are water bottles that have been converted into collection pots, so that people can donate money to ensure that the dogs are fed.
Charities have even set up funds to ensure that the dogs are protected.
The Clean Futures Fund (cff) has an online page dedicated to the problem.
Cff estimates that more than 250 dogs live in the Exclusion Zone and they can be found in almost every area of the accessible site.
A peek into a battered basketball court in Pripyat. The wooden floor is torn from years of exposure to harsh weather conditions
Debris collects in the deep end of the dilapidated swimming pool in Pripyat, where the mosaic tiles crumble slowly
Despite the loss of part of the paint, the diving platform is still proudly amidst the decline
A sign for the pools is forgotten at the back of the hall, the colors are immaculate by age
Most dogs are driven out of the woods and back into the ruins by wolf packs from the woods.
After meeting the friendly dogs, Alex said that further pressures in more deserted parts of the Exclusion Zone felt oppressive.
The intrepid tourist explained: & # 39; After the last checkpoint, you really felt that you had entered the darkness, not to exaggerate, but it was the last time you felt 100 percent safe. & # 39;
The Chernobyl disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 – and it is one of the biggest nuclear catastrophes in history.
But man leaving the city has created one of the most diverse animal enclosures in the world, mixed with some of the most striking landscapes.
The first explosion in nuclear reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant killed two people with another 29 deaths later due to acute radiation poisoning.
Greenpeace says that 200,000 more deaths were caused by the consequences of a nuclear fallout.
Light flows into the baths from the broken windows and marks what remains of the white tiles
Spotted walls are a common place in the Chernobyl ruins because the buildings are littered with moisture
A statue commemorates the liquidators – the soldiers who risked radiation poisoning to extinguish the deadly reactor and its precipitate
The group hired geiger counters to ensure that they were safe from heavy radiation, causing your skin to itch
At the base of the Duga Radar Array, sometimes called the Russian Woodpecker, for the interference it would cause for radio listeners
Alex and his friends explored deserted fairs, recreation centers and daycare centers.
When he told the experience, Alex said: & When you wander alone in these places, you bathe in silence. It's not creepy, but it's not entirely human. & # 39;
Many tourist destinations have to do with sunshine and beaches, but Alex says he prefers to visit more off-the-wall places.
He concluded: & # 39; You can go to Vienna to see a beautiful church, but there will always be another.
& # 39; There is only one Chernobyl and it really is a unique experience. & # 39;
Alex paid 145 euros (£ 125) for a one-day tour for two. Go to gamma-travel.com/tours/oneday for more information.
The Russian woodpecker stretches out in the fog, the steel structure recalls the technical capabilities of the Soviet era
Alex Hendriks is a 22-year-old journalism student from Leiden, a city in the Netherlands
Children's toys are found scattered throughout the Exclusion Zone, seemingly waiting for owners who will never return
Plastic water bottles have been converted into collection pots to raise money for the dogs
The vast emptiness of the deserted roads of Chernobyl and Pripyat can seem small to everyone