In the Zone

A couple finds inspiration in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster

Special Dispensation: Philip Grossman and Elizabeth Hanson secured special permission to marry at an abandoned Russian Orthodox Church in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Courtesy of Philip Grossman and Elizabeth Hanson

What began as a one-time trip to photograph the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine has evolved into a long-term project for Elizabeth Hanson 95C and her husband, Philip Grossman.

The couple has amassed tens of thousands of photographs and more than 60 hours of video footage of the 1,000-square-mile zone. Their work was recently exhibited at the United Nations for the 30th anniversary of the catastrophic nuclear accident. They also are creating a documentary on what has happened to the zone since the disaster.

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has turned into a lifetime journey,” Hanson says.

“Eventually, these places will be completely closed,” Grossman says. “We have to pay attention to it now.”

This fall, they will travel to Belarus—whose border is less than 13 miles from the ruined nuclear site—to document areas within the 834-square-mile Polesie State Radiation Ecological Reserve, an area where journalists have not been allowed before.

Grossman was working as an information technology engineer and pursuing photography in his spare time when Hanson encouraged him to pursue his art in earnest. It was around the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and Grossman seized an opportunity to travel to the exclusion zone to take photographs.

So far, the couple has self-funded their project, continuing their full-time jobs–Hanson as a principal designer at Westbrook Interiors and Grossman as the director of enterprise solution architecture for Imagine Communications.

On the last day of their most recent trip, they got married in the Russian Orthodox Church, St. Michaels, in the abandoned village of Krasne, about five miles from the Chernobyl complex.

“Chernobyl was like the third person in our relationship. It is a place that is special to us, so it just made sense,” Hanson says.

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