Igor Kostin

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Igor Kostin - a man of legend

Everyone who shows interest in the topic of the Chernobyl disaster at least once has met unique photographs at different periods of liquidation or unique photographs taken on the roof near the most destroyed reactor. We owe this evidence of that terrible time to a real person with a capital letter. Today we will tell you the story of a photographer who connected his life with Chernobyl and became world famous.

Igor Fedorovich Kostin was born on December 27, 1936 in Bessarabia. Three years after birth, Kostin’s father was sent to war, and Kostin and his mother moved to a suburb of Chisinau where they lived 32 years. Starting in June 1941 during the German occupation, the family was going through hard times. Father was sent to a concentration camp. Later, Kostin will tell in his photo book that his mother hoped to find her father in the camps, but later realized that his father was killed during the bombing several years later.

In August 1944, the Soviet Union regained control of Moldova and expelled German troops from the Moldavian SSR. The entry of Soviet troops was launched by aerial bombardment. Because of this, the house in which Igor Kostin lived with his mother was destroyed.

After regaining control of the Moldavian SSR, the Soviet Union began purging indigenous Moldovans. The deportation of wealthy peasants and intelligentsia to concentration camps in Siberia began. Running a private business has become illegal. At that time, Kostin's mother ran a small family business. All this could lead to the same deportation to Siberia, but this was the only way out in that difficult, post-war time. It was at this moment that Kostin lost interest in studying. His youth turned into a kind of game for the survival of the fittest. Most people at that time were puzzled precisely by survival.

In 1954, Igor Kostin joined the ranks of the Soviet Army where he became a sapper. By the end of his service, he deserted and disappeared without official leave, adding seven months of imprisonment to his three-year military service. While serving his sentence at the guardhouse, the deputy commander instructed him to repair the Lenin Room, after which the prison term was revised.

In 1959, after demobilization, Kostin began playing volleyball in the Chisinau regional sports team. After a while, he already played for the team of the Moldavian SSR, later becoming part of the Soviet team, representing the union at international volleyball competitions. In 1969, his sports career ended in multiple injuries of the spine and knee with complications due to the negligence of medical treatment. He began to study at the Chisinau Agronomic Institute and later graduated from the Moscow Civil Engineering Institute. He worked as a senior engineer at a construction company in Chisinau. It was then that he received a job offer at the Kiev Construction Bureau.

In Kiev, they first applied the framework construction method, which accelerated the construction of buildings. Then Kostin was appointed construction manager where he led a staff of 50 people. At that time, his wife Galina, who was also an engineer, helped him discover and realize his true talent in photography. For many sleepless nights, she displayed and printed his photographs, which ultimately earned him recognition at international photo exhibitions.


By the mid-1970s, Kostin had lost interest in the construction industry and was disappointed with the low fixed salary. He was sure that the passion for photography was the meaning of his life. Subsequently, Kostin participated in more than 80 photo exhibitions around the world. Kostin’s career as an amateur photographer brought him almost twice as much profit as his career as a construction manager.
In the mid-70s, Kostin applied for the publication of his work at the News Agency (APN) in Moscow. However, his application was rejected by Galina Pleskova, then editor-in-chief of the agency.

When Kostin returned to Kiev and finally ended his career as a civil engineer, he had to practically sleep on the street to continue his photographic career. The Kiev branch of APN gave permission to use its photo laboratories. Laboratories became his temporary home for about 5 years, after which he worked as a war reporter for the Novosti news agency.

Igor Kostin was one of those who covered some of the most difficult wars in the third world in which the Soviet Union participated, for example, during the Vietnam War and Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. At that time, he acted as a reporter for Novosti, which did not belong to the Communist Party. Due to non-membership in the party, he was forbidden to enter the front line.

Returning from Afghanistan, Kostin began to work periodically in the Kiev branch of the news agency. He mainly covered local and global Soviet problems, but he rarely left the state. Late in the evening of April 26, 1986, a helicopter pilot, with whom Kostin worked closely on his journalistic activities, warned him that a fire had occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The fire was extinguished by the time they arrived in Chernobyl by helicopter. But it was the very first frames of the destroyed 4 reactor that were made by Igor Kostin. He was one of the first to start a long work on the photo chronology of the Chernobyl disaster.
Kostin is the only photographer who, along with the liquidators, traveled daily to the place of their deployment. His photos were not limited to helicopter views; he took pictures of real people, in real conditions, in real time and on a real battlefield with an invisible enemy.

From April to December 1986, Igor Kostin, APN photojournalist in the Ukrainian SSR, covered the progress in eliminating the consequences of the Chernobyl accident. Kostin’s photographic material, made by him under dangerous conditions of highly active dose loads, was included in the official report of the USSR government commission. In addition to the highest international Golden Eye award at World Press Photo in Amsterdam, his Chernobyl Tragedy series was awarded a gold medal at the Interpressphoto in Baghdad, and received the Grand Prix at the competition in the German Democratic Republic and the Main Prize of the USSR Union of Journalists.

Kostin repeatedly returned to the "zone". He approached the fourth reactor twice, climbed five times to the roof of the third reactor, and flew dozens of times around the nuclear power plant by helicopter. Filmed the consequences of the accident - disabled children, the funeral of the liquidators. For the entire period spent by him in the zone, he received radiation 5 times the norm. Almost all the photo material on the liquidation of the Chernobyl accident, which can now be found on the network, was made by Igor Kostin.

During his life, Igor Kostin was awarded such titles and awards as:

  • - Member of the National Union of Cinematographers of Ukraine;
  • - Professor;
  • - Honorary Citizen of Baltimore (USA);
  • - Igor Kostin entered the world anthology of “100 REPORTERS OF THE XX CENTURY”;
  • - Awarded with numerous awards from around the world;
  • - The US Congress standing upright announced a special proclamation in honor of Igor Kostin for his efforts in the field of journalism;
  • - In France, Igor Kostin's photo album “CHERNOBYL, CONFESSOR OF THE REPORTER” was published in 15 languages ​​for 20 countries of the world;
  • - Documentary photographic material was exhibited in major galleries in the world, including the UN;
  • - A creative portrait was printed and broadcast in major newspapers, magazines and TV around the world;
  • - The newspaper Washington Post called I. Kostin "Man-Legend";
  • - Igor Kostin’s script “Chernobyl Syndrome” is being developed in Hollywood by director Steven Spielberg;
  • - The International Association of Journalists proclaimed I. Kostin "REPORTER OF THE YEAR" in 1990, 1996. for merits in the field of journalism;
  • - Pope John Paul II sent a special message and Apostolic Blessing to Igor Kostin for his feelings in the published book “CHERNOBYL, CONFESSOR OF THE REPORTER”.
  • - He was awarded the INTERNATIONAL WORLD AWARD - UNIVERSAL in journalism in 2010.

Unfortunately, Ukraine was not celebrated in any way.

Igor Fedorovich Kostin passed away in 79 year. On June 8, 2015, he died in an accident near the village of Khlepcha in the Vasilkovsky District on the fortieth kilometer of the Kiev-Odessa highway.

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