A view of the abandoned city of Pripyat is seen near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine on April 22.
For residents of Chernobyl, a three-day evacuation turned into a thirty-year exile. On the morning of April 26, 1986, no one could yet tell that a meltdown in reactor 4 of the nuclear plant in then-Soviet Ukraine was poisoning the air with so much deadly radioactivity that it would become the world's worst nuclear accident.
Now, as some survivors returned to their hometown of Pripyat on the eve of the anniversary, memories of confusion and sacrifice abound.
Elena Kupriyanova, 42, was only 12 when she was evacuated. "It's very painful that so many people's (lives) were destroyed, that such a beautiful, new town was abandoned. It's hard on the soul," she said.
Most of the town's 50,000 other residents were transported out of the area in buses on April 27 and told to pack only the bare essentials because they would only be away for three days.
Bumper cars at an amusement park remain abandoned in the center Pripyat 30 years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
"I barely found my apartment, I mean it's a forest now - trees growing through the pavement, on the roofs. All the rooms are empty, the glass is gone from the windows and everything's destroyed," Zoya Perevozchenko said.
Perevozchenko, 66, only realized something might be wrong that day 30 years before when her husband, Valeriy, didn't come back from his night shift as a foreman at the stricken reactor.
She left her apartment that day to look for him. "I remember thinking 'Goodness it's hot' and some people were in masks. But they didn't explain things to us straight away, it was all secret," she said.
She found her husband in a local clinic. He had received a fatal dose of radiation that had burnt the skin on his face bright red. He was airlifted to Moscow for treatment, but died 45 days later - one of the 31 to die of acute radiation sickness in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Now Perevozchenko and her two young daughters live in Kiev, where they moved since the explosion.
Above: Perevozchenko poses in her old apartment (left) and as old photo (right) shows her with her late husband, Valeriy, in Pripyat before the disaster.
A doll sits among beds at a kindergarten in Pripyat on March 28.
A combo image shows Oleksiy Yermakov, 41, in his old apartment and an undated photograph of Yermakov before the disaster.
An abandoned cross with a crucifix in Pripyat on March 23.
A view of Pripyat on April 22.