I’ve been contacted by the University of Turin, which recently found a collection of photographic prints in their archives made thirteen years after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown. In 1999, a team of Italian roboticists was allowed to send rovers equipped with cameras into the Ukrainian city of Pripyat and its surroundings. Venturing deep into the radioactive exclusion zone, the remotely controlled rovers returned with hundreds of stunning photographs, some of which were of abandoned cars and trucks left exposed to the elements.
The University is planning an exhibition of these photos, but they are struggling to identify the cars, trucks and buses in them. So they’ve asked if CC could assist in that process. I’m really not an expert on older Russian vehicles, but since we have readers who undoubtedly are, I’m sure we’ll be able to help them out.
These photos have never been seen before by the public, so in any case, it’s a privilege to share them with you and the world. I’m sure you’ll be amazed as much as I was.
FM-01 (Foto Mobile 01) and the smaller FM-02, nicknamed Madre and Bambino, were conceived and built before the advent of high-resolution digital photography. Heavy shielding and thick lenses served to protect the film from radiation, but some damage was inevitable. Nonetheless, the pictures are a fascinating time capsule into the Ukrainian automotive landscape of 1986, if obscured somewhat by some extreme patina, to put it lightly.
As I said, I am no expert on Russian cars, but I’ll do my best and leave it to the Russophiles to correct me. I believe this is likely a Lada VAZ-2104 and a Moskvitch-2115. Something about their conditions—perhaps the radioactivity—has made them appear more difficult to identify than I expected, although I don’t know how that would happen exactly.
Given the condition of these vehicles, it would not surprise me if many of them were abandoned long before the evacuation of Pripyat. Another Lada, I assume, and what maybe is a hatchback variant?
IzhAvto-2202, I think. But please help me out here.
Amur-131L? Or a 146M?
A GAZ-21TP (“Volga”), presumably. Maybe a custom-built version of the Volga for an apparatchik? Maybe the director of the plant, even?
Are these UAZ buses?
This one I can recognize! The odds of a genuine 911 in the Ukraine in 1986 are very low, and its not quite right; look at those crude fender flares and headlights. Almost certainly a home-brew clone, probably on a ZAZ Zaporozhets chassis, as the Zaporozhets also had an air cooled rear engine.
I believe that is a Lada Niva in the foreground, but I can’t identify the other car.
A ZIL-50F airport shuttle, it would seem.
Some of the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor can be seen in the background behind these UAZ buses.
A Moskvitch-2041(?) keeping company with a late-model Lada. Or?
This UAZ bus looks like it is straight out of the 1950s, but the Soviet Union was known for using the same bus body tooling for decades with minimal changes.
A KAMAZ bus with a UAZ bus in the background.
I admit that I’m struggling some here, and more than a bit embarrassed, as some of my guesses are probably wildly off the mark. Something about these photos is making me feel a bit woozy and nauseous, as if I’m having mild radiation sickness by proxy. How is that possible?
Someone has been playing with AI software again, haven’t they?
Yup, that’s my guess too. There’s something distinctive about how AI creates headlights: it tries to mix square and round bulbs into the same shape, not realizing that they’re mutually exclusive. There’s also some pseudo-Cyrillic in one of the pics.
Nice try, Paul! You really had me going for a minute with your red herring about how the radiation affected the film, making it hard to recognize the cars.
My first impression was also these looking like AI images brought to real life, though actual Soviet cars actually did have the generic look of AI images in person. The van here looks like a mashup of ’70 VW, Chevrolet, and Dodge shapes; other cars look vaguely like early Corollas or Subarus without being any of those.
I’m not familiar with the vehicles, but I have read that those who worked at nuclear power plants lived a privileged life compared to the general population of the USSR. This might account for the wide variety and count of sedans.
This is clearly not Chernobyl, but Fukushima in an alternate universe where the nuclear disaster there happened in 1972. Look closely and the cars (and buses) are more typical of 1960s/early ’70s Japan, not mid-1980s Soviet Union. Top pic is an Assan Giselle (or Assan Snively depending on which dealer channel it was sold through), the vaguely Jaguar-esque sedan is a Satsuma Mr. Manager (simply Satsuma 2000 on export markets) and I suspect the left-hand-drive 5-door hatchback is French.
Fun fact: The basic prompt I used was “Journalism photo of rusted old Russian car outside a dirty warehouse in New Jersey in summer 1985.”
No soviet cars here, but happy April Fool’s Day!
Happy April Fool’s Day everyone! 🙂
I was a bit puzzled by some of callouts for Ladas, so I was starting Google up…..
That has to be the best April Fool ever on CC or a similar site – well done. You had me searching Google for the Lada VAZ-2104 and Moskvitch 2115.
I think the winner (a favorite) might be this one, originally published April 1, 2015. Some of us fell through the trap door, envisioning an XJ-6 two-door sedan with a three-speed column shift🙃.
The consistent radial blurs around the sharp centre of every pic, besides the desaturation, gave these away as a ‘batch’ of edited photos. Technically, at least. Besides, the patchwork design details of each car, of course. Nicely done enough, to fool some casual observers.
You got me. I didn’t do it in batch, but I used RNI Films to add the same lensed / old film effect to all of them. Without it the pictures looked a little too much like a diorama. The lensing seemed to give it some depth. Here’s a raw image from the AI.
The effects in AI are giving them away as edited, non-original photos.
Average observers may not notice. But people who do image enhancements or photo editing, see the clues immediately. The applied white sheen on the windshield, is an instantaneous giveaway, for example.
Did anyone think to go there at night and see if they glowed in the dark?
Excellent ! .
Funny how AI looks like A(pril)1.
LuAZ-922V and ZAZ Zaporozhets in your photos are famous Ukrainian cars. It’s embarrassing not to know.
I’m waiting for RLPlaut to tell us more about the AvtoVAX, a little known collaboration between Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), the New England maker of the VAX and MicroVax computers, and UAZ. It featured an innovative engine management and infotainment system based on the VMS operating system. Unfortunately the radiation destroyed the functional capability of this example, while the US prototypes were scrapped by Compaq management under the cash for clunkers program.
The first couple had me, but there are certain details the AI seems to consistently do that give me the uncanny valley, the way it does light surrounds/bezels often seems too clunky and odd to be real – the IzhAvto-2202 being the one that made me go “wait a minute”. The GAZ-21TP with its Jaguar XJ midsection was where I realized I had been duped lol
Various filters and effects you can apply in batches to pics in a folder. Like Photoshop. As I mentioned above, the consistency of effects, was the immediate giveaway.
April 1 was yesterday here, good effort tho.
Very nicely done. You had me going for a second with this one. The ZIL-50F airport shuttle certainly looks like it could have been real.
At this stage of the game, I need to credit Fuzzyman for these.
All cars left in the streets of Chernobyl were removed and buried on site, because radioactive, I learned this week in an BBC documentary.
I think the Amur is in fact a first gen Kaiser Söze, infamous for its horrific handling.
Gotta love the Pseudo-Porsche
Wow one epic post! Thanks for all the hard work & creativity to pull it together!
Ahhhhhh… You guys suck! You dun did a good job on this one, and had me scratching my head until I was almost to the end of the photos! I was even still aware of the date, and that the story didn’t line up with reality… people were rummaging around inside the exclusion zone well before 1999, the reactor, etc.
Now, scanning back through the photos again, I am seeing the bits and pieces of actual cars “The Machine” was drawing from, as well as its tendency to overdo front and rear lighting. Still, nice work, @Fuzzyman and Paul. If Comrade A.I. had been on the job in 1984, the Lada Sputnik might not have ended up with such a goofy looking grille.
When I first looked at the title, I thought “Oh goodie, more weird soviet vehicle photos”, but like Pete.Z said above, I had heard all the vehicles and construction equipment had been removed and buried, out of a fear of scrappers taking them for their metal content. I checked a couple of other websites displaying photographs of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and none showed any vehicles.
I’ve owned a few Soviet bloc cars, and still have a Tatra, so I started looking a bit closer at the cars, and they really didn’t match any Soviet bloc vehicles I had seen. I was about to chalk it up to a lack of knowledge of Soviet bloc cars from the 1980s, when I realized Paul had pulled off one of the best automotive April Fools jokes I’ve seen in years.