More than 120,000 people from hundreds of towns and villages were forced to abruptly flee their homes in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
The exclusion zone stretched more than 30 kilometres from the power plant, where an explosion in reactor four on April 26 sparked one of the worst catastrophes in modern human history.
Terrified residents left behind almost everything, including beloved family pets.
Now, in the radioactive ghost towns within the no-go area in Ukraine’s north, especially Pripyat, some 900 stray dogs roam among crumbling buildings, the descendants of those abandoned canine family members.
Participants of the Dogs of Chernobyl initiative capture the canines, study their radiation exposure and vaccinate them against diseases, before tagging and releasing them.
Some are also being outfitted with special collars equipped with radiation sensors and GPS receivers in order to map radiation levels across the zone.
Experts say it’s unclear how the potent radiation impacts animals in the exclusion zone, but wildlife populations have prospered in the three decades since the disaster.
Scientists are divided on the true health of animals, with some studies examining abnormally high rates of cataract blindness in wolves and conditions like albinism in birds.
“(Scientists) agree that radiation is bad for people and bad for animals ... the debate is over how bad and whether it has caused populations to decline,” National Geographic wrote.