The Jupiter Factory complex lies on the outskirts of Pripyat, the city evacuated in 1986 as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. A series of large multi-storied buildings make up the area which, like most of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, has been abandoned and left to the elements.
The story told by the Jupiter Factory complex is slightly different to other areas of the city and its surroundings. One of the most haunting aspects of Pripyat are the remnants of normalcy; cinemas and supermarkets, cafés and classrooms, derelict apartment buildings with faded wallpaper hanging from the eroding walls.
But at Jupiter, there are mysteries everywhere. The official story of the factory is that it manufactured cassette recorders and home appliances, its output domestic. But there are vast empty warehouses, rooms filled with blueprints for robotic devices, laboratories, libraries, thick steel doors into pitch-black rooms with rows and rows of empty shelves, all suggesting a more military-focussed purpose.
One section of the complex reveals rusted stairs descending deep underground to an inaccessible steel doorway, described to me as a ‘secret bunker’. This whole subterranean section has been flooded, and I was told intentionally, the water black from the darkness it’s hiding in. The dosimeter readings are higher here than they are on the surface where the majority of the radioactive contamination fell.
Intriguingly, I saw documents dated 1991 and 1992, noted calendars for years after the accident and abandonment of the region, suggesting an ongoing presence there, despite the abandonment of the rest of the zone.
In some rooms, trees have sprung through the floor, moss and mould competing with the decaying concrete for dominance.
Scattered throughout the different buildings at Jupiter are various health and safety posters. Some remain intact, others have succumbed to the years of neglect, a palimpsest of vital messages rendered inconsequential by the scale of the disaster.
The design and the intended messages of these posters is often obscure, bordering on abstract. Some are clearer. Some take on a playful tone – a cartoon rendering of somebody slipping on water. Others convey more sinister information, bearing atomic symbols and gas masks, foreshadowing what would eventually happen in a way that nobody could have foreseen. They are surrounded by broken rusted machines, smashed windows, obfuscated activities.