Matt Pycroft@mattpycroft

Pro photographer | Filmmaker | Duffel bag dweller.
Creative Director and leader of the jokers and rogues at @coldhouse_

Streets of Yangshuo. № 2
Taken whilst directing ‘Made in Yangshuo’ for the @pertexfabric Elemental Journeys series.

#china #visitchina #yangshuo #street #streetphotography #city #night #nightlife #neon #police #purple #blue


Streets of Yangshuo. Nº1

Taken whilst directing ‘Made in Yangshuo’ for the @pertexfabric Elemental Journeys series

#china #visitchina #yangshuo #street #streetphotography #city #night #nightlife #neon #police #purple #blue


(Chernobyl post #24) Finale
When I was whittling down the selection for this series there was a lot that I had to omit. There are many more untold stories. These include 1) the bullet holes from executions in an old church, 2) the library and the Yuri Gagarin space artwork, 3) the hospital with a cellar full of sand to hold the radiation in 4) the old pig farm with the radioactive roof, and of course 5) being hunted by the military inside one of the apartment blocks whilst Oleg played Candycrush. But Instagram isn’t going anywhere, and I’ll share these stories as one-offs over the next little while. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The response to this series has been really heartwarming, and it’s been fantastic to receive such positive feedback. I’ll get back to some ‘proper’ adventure stuff for now, but I’m sitting on a folder full of photos of that time we snuck into a Russian space station and got arrested by the Soviet military police. I’ll write some captions for those and get them online. Thanks for showing an interest, and please feel free to send me a message if there’s anything you’d like to know about our time in Pripyat and Chernobyl. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
#expedition #adventure #abandoned #decay #chernobyl #pripyat #urbanexploring #urbex #ukraine #instatravel #instago #instagood #trip #photooftheday #instapassport #instatraveling #mytravelgram #travelgram #travelingram #igtravel #nationalgeographic #yourshot #natgeo #natgeotravel #natgeoadventure


(Chernobyl post #23)
We left the second the sun had gone down. Our trip to Pripyat was riddled with time pressure, but now we had a real deadline. We’d covered some distance, but now we had our final 40km slog out to a village on the edge of the exclusion zone. The nearest properly inhabited settlement, the Ukrainians told us that we’d need to get there early the next morning to get on the first public bus of the day. Apparently the military send soldiers to check the buses for trespassers, but rarely do they check the first few because of how early they are in the day. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So, once again, we walked. We were exhausted, and all that kept us moving was the knowledge that soon we’d be on a bus out of here. We’d be drinking clean water, eating something other than mystery meat, and not being hunted by the bored city guards. We’d covered at least 30km when we did a time check and realised we were moving too slowly. We had to double time it for the last few kilometres which was absolute torture. Otter and I walked at the back, his feet were in bits and he wasn’t having much fun at all. The rest of the team were quite far ahead, and we saw a faint light in the distance. Not sure what to make of it at first we narrowed our eyes and tried to work out what it was. The second we realised it was getting closer it clicked, and we bolted for the bushes. We got into cover more than quickly enough, and hoped the others had had the same luck. The van passed within 10 metres of us and sped off down the road. We climbed out, totally unphased. We’d become completely accustomed to it by now. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
An hour later we walked in to a Ukrainian village just before sunrise. We slumped our heavy packs on the floor and massaged bruised hips. Less than 10 minutes went by before the bus pulled in and we climbed aboard. There were no soldiers. Vlad paid the driver the fare for all of us, and we moved to the back, collapsing into a row each and falling asleep before the driver put the bus in gear. Thanks for the ride Pripyat, see you next time.


(Chernobyl post #22)
Back at the ‘Paris Hilton’ squat, I spent some time writing the bones of this story. When I get towards the end of a trip like this I start to ask myself questions about why we do it.
Some people do this kind of thing to see the places themselves, which does hold a certain allure for me, but it’s not the primary reason. I think it comes down to two things, the people and the ‘adventure’. I love working out what makes people tick, and hanging out with a group of Ukrainians and a very mixed bag of Brits was always going to be fun. The urban exploration community is incredible. It’s fascinating from an observer's perspective, and an unbelievable amount of fun if you participate. The first time I consciously went ‘urban exploring’ I climbed through the beer hatch of an old cinema and stood in the cellar. Convinced I was going to be killed by zombies, a tramp, or the dozens of maniac pigeons, I left. 8 years later I walked around Chernobyl with some of the Premier League - it’s funny how things change. That’s where the crossover comes in. I adore getting to know these people, and getting a glimpse into their lives and what makes them tick, but I enjoy the adventure itself just as much. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I don’t enjoy getting chased by dogs, but in retrospect it was exciting. I don’t want to drink radioactive water, but there’s huge benefit to be had from putting ourselves in situations where we have to make do with what happens to us, and deal with it as best we can. I feel like we’re losing our sense of adventure a little bit, and activities like this one are a way of recapturing something that I personally feel that I lack in my daily life. I’ll run out of free words (Insta has a limit too!), but if you’re interested in the ‘why’ then check out Tribe by Sebastian Junger. He talks a little about why ex-soldiers miss war, and I think there’s huge crossover between the conclusions he draws and why we go and climb mountains, or break into closed, radioactive cities.


(Chernobyl post #21)
Arriving at the top of the radar I took a moment to take it in and pluck up the courage to let go of the hand rail. The steel grating felt solid and was wide enough to confidently walk on without risk of falling over the side. We spent a long time at the top, photographing the surroundings and gazing back towards Pripyat, 25km away. It’s an amazing feeling to be up so high, and totally different from a mountain or a rock face. There’s 5mm of steel below you, and that’s it, so the sense of exposure is huge. Plus, the whole structure sways, which is quite unnerving to start with. There’s also this strange humming noise that you can hear whilst you’re on the radar. The only explanation we could come up with was that it was made by the wind passing through the nodes, but it did sound a lot like the low hum of an active facility. We quickly brushed that idea off though, knowing that this monster was switched off in the ‘80s. If it had been on, it wouldn’t have ended well for us at all. We clambered down, descending much faster than we’d ascended, and snuck back over to our ‘Paris Hilton’ hideout. One more day of sleeping and then it was time for the long slog out of this place.
⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #expedition #adventure #abandoned #decay #chernobyl #pripyat #urbanexploring #urbex #ukraine #instatravel #instago #instagood #trip #photooftheday #instapassport #instatraveling #mytravelgram #travelgram #travelingram #igtravel #nationalgeographic #yourshot #natgeo #natgeotravel #natgeoadventure


(Chernobyl post #20)
Our alarms went off at around 5am. We wanted to get up, eat and leave ‘Paris Hilton’ before sunrise. Our objective was the DUGA 3 radar station. We were camped only 300m or so from it’s base, but our intention was to get off the ground and onto the ladders just before first light. It’d take a while to climb, and once we were up there we’d be hard to spot, but there was a chance we’d bump into a security patrol on our way to the base. Everything went smoothly, and we stood at the bottom slightly later than we’d hoped but without incident, looking up. We set off climbing, and the Ukrainians bolted off ahead. Now I’m pretty good with heights, but this was not a rock face. We were climbing these ladders unroped, with no safety whatsoever, and they’re Cold War era. They’re rusted like you wouldn’t believe, and not attached at all at the bottom so they sway in the wind as you climb them. It makes for a pretty white knuckle experience, and I had to stop on a few occasions to get rid of the pump in my forearms. Approaching the top, I spot Vitaliy shimmying out on one of the huge beams. He’s got his GoPro on, and is shooting one of his multi million viewed Youtube videos. It was quite a shock to see, but I took the opportunity and carried on up a few ladders higher to get a shot looking down. Zoom in on the last picture and you’ll see a @raskalov shaped figure.
#expedition #adventure #abandoned#decay#chernobyl #pripyat#urbanexploring #urbex #ukraine #instatravel #instago #instagood #trip #holiday #photooftheday#travelling#tourism #instapassport #instatraveling #mytravelgram #travelgram #travelingram #igtravel #nationalgeographic #yourshot #natgeo #natgeotravel #natgeoadventure


(Chernobyl post #19) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The military knew with absolute certainty that we were somewhere inside the city, and we were all too aware that they’d enjoy a good game of hide and seek much more than we would. After the adrenaline had worn off we got our heads down and went to sleep with a plan for after the sun went down. It was time to bail, and we’d already set our sights on our next objective.
Waking up in the dark we packed our things into our rucksacks. We loaded them with food and water, strapping litre bottles to the outside. We had a long walk, and no resupply from here. Leaving soon after, we walked the city streets under moonlight once again, but this time with slightly more trepidation. We knew we had to walk within 50m of the main guard complex, and we’d had more than enough excitement in the last 24 hours. We moved quickly and quietly past the site without event and carried on down the road. We had a long way to go and had to cover the distance before the sun came up. There were guards at both ends of our journey. We were acclimatised now though and moved at a good pace. Kilometres flew by quickly, and we found ourselves miles from the city walking on an old farm track that took us up a gentle hill. We’d split up slightly and Otter had fallen behind a little. After half an hour we waited for him to catch up and he arrived fairly pissed off. We’d all heard the wolves howling in the woods, and he wasn’t keen to do any more of the walk on his own. He had a point, I guess.
The last 10km or so went past pretty quickly. I still had some charge on my phone and had been listening to music as we walked. We rocked up at our new makeshift home just before the sun came up. The Ukrainians visit these places often and have nicknames for many of their hideouts. “Welcome to Paris Hilton”, Vlad said with a smile. “Why do you call it that?” Fish asked, knowing he was taking the bait. “Because it is very beautiful”, Vlad laughed.
Team photo by Otter.


(Chernobyl post #18) Hiding - 3 of 3. Oleg bolted out of the bushes and we all followed. There was no question that this was a ‘keep up or get left behind’ scenario, and to be honest the memories are a bit blurry. I didn’t know the way at all, and I had enough free time whilst running to work out that the wall we’d been hiding behind would only be so long, and a couple of alsations would probably work out how to get round it without too much difficulty. We were running at full tilt, and all I remember is sprinting so quickly that I couldn’t look over my shoulder to check for dogs as it’d slow me down too much or I’d trip and fall. We dived through one door and ran through the building, curving around corners as we flew through it. Darting out of the other side we turned a corner and ran down a long straight road next to the robotics factory. I knew where we were now, easily less than a kilometre from our apartment. I risked a glance, and saw nothing behind me other than a fellow Brit who was really being put through his paces. He’s the sort of person who says things like ‘I don’t understand why people run unless they’re being chased’. No excuses today then. Cutting through the trees to take a shortcut we arrived at the front of the building, checked both ways to make sure we weren’t being followed and dived inside, closing the door behind us. We crept up the stairs in total silence, and entered our apartment and placed our bags quietly on the floor. Some people went over to windows on both sides of the flat to spot for the soldiers, whilst the rest of us leaned panes of glass up against the doors throughout the rest of the building so that they’d smash and we’d be alerted if anyone was coming in. Not that it would do anything to help, but it’d be nice to know so that we’d at least have 30 seconds to stash memory cards and valuables. We opened the vodka not long after, and ate some meat out of a silver packet that the guide has stashed for us. We chatted it through and decided that it was probably time to get out of the main city.


(Chernobyl post #17) Hiding - 2 of 3.
After half an hour (or more, it was hard to tell), we left the police station via the back and started wandering around, getting our bearings and working out the best way back. We were communicating without words, hand signals gesturing directions as we moved silently. It’s a quiet city, there’s nothing here, but we could hear trucks driving around in the distance. We stayed still, working out their direction of travel, and it became clear very quickly that one was drawing close. Now, it’s hard to explain the geography, but essentially we were in the back of the police compound, and right at the far end was a huge concrete fence with a barbed wire top. We were about 6 foot away from that fence, and as the truck drew closer we moved in to the bushes, crouched, and waited. Oleg lit a cigarette. Not the most ninja of moves, in my opinion, but what do I know, I’ve never run from the military before. We stayed still for a very long time. The Ukrainians were talking in hushed voices, I hoped they were working out a plan, but I suspect not. The Brits amongst us were just going with the flow, and we’d had a couple of whispered exchanges centred around just bolting and getting out of there, but nothing was happening. The vehicles were moving around the city still, and one was getting uncomfortably close. Now, ‘uncomfortably close’ is not exactly a precise unit of measurement, but we heard the car stop. We heard the door open. We heard the door close. We heard talking. We heard another door open. Then we heard the dogs.

If you have ever hung out with Eastern European urban explorers you will have learnt that seemingly nothing will phase them. However, I have only ever seen fear like the fear I saw in Oleg’s eyes in movies. He totally and completely froze, apart from his eyelids which forced as far apart as they possibly could. Then the eyes bulged and the jaw dropped a little. Then he looked at us and whispered ‘run’. .
*You’ll notice an extra pic of a scared looking photographer. Pic by @rsklv
#expedition #adventure #abandoned#decay#chernobyl #pripyat#urbanexploring #urbex#ukraine#instatravel #instago #instagood#trip


(Chernobyl post #16) Hiding - 1 of 3
When you’re faced with a Ukranian military police vehicle, chock full of underpaid, bored soldiers on one side, and a sprinting local with an ‘everyman for himself’ mentality on the other, your options are rather limited. It’s at times like this where you really learn if your instincts are any good or not, and before I realised what was going on I was running at full tilt in the same direction as Oleg. Under calm circumstances I’m sure I could have navigated back to our ‘apartment’, but there are two main issues with that as a plan. Firstly, these weren’t calm, normal circumstances and my ability to dart around side streets whilst evading capture would have certainly been limited. Secondly, the last thing we would have wanted was to lead them back to our makeshift hideout. I had my passport and essentials with me, but I quite liked the idea of keeping hold of all of my kit and having my sleeping bag and food to go back to when all of this was over. So I did the only sensible thing possible and followed Oleg. Now Oleg is an interesting chap. He doesn’t speak much English and likes jumping out at you when you least expect it to stir you up a bit. High class banter…
After we’d been running through trees and backstreets for a few minutes he darted into a lonely looking building with hardly any windows and a few different entrances/exits. A good choice of temporary sanctuary. It was only when we got inside and looked around that we realised he’d dragged us into the old Pripyat police station, complete with multiple cells. Now it could have been a coincidence, but I’m personally convinced Oleg is a comedy genius. We managed to calm down enough to make the most of the situation and take some pictures, and then started playing the waiting game.

#expedition #adventure #abandoned#decay #chernobyl #pripyat#urbanexploring #urbex #ukraine#instatravel #instago #instagood #trip#holiday #photooftheday #travelling#tourism #instapassport#instatraveling #mytravelgram #travelgram#travelingram #igtravel #nationalgeographic#yourshot #natgeo #natgeotravel#natgeoadventure


(Chernobyl post #15) The robotics factory. This is where it all went wrong. I should have seen it coming, but it started out fairly innocently. After our uneventful foray into the sports centre, the Ukranians decided that it was ok for us to go and wander around in the daytime. We travelled carefully for just shy of a kilometre to an old factory that was used after the disaster to build robots to aid with the clean up. There was a van parked outside, and a group of paying tourists were wandering around outside the building with their local guide. The Brits amongst us went to hide, but the Ukrainians told us we’d be fine and we entered the building regardless. We drifted through the complex taking pictures as we went, intermingled with the tourists. It seemed really, really odd, and not at all like a good idea. They seemed as perturbed as us but no one said anything. One of the Ukranians told the rest of us to stay put for a minute, and we waited out the back of the building whilst he went to talk to the tour guide (a friend of his from Kiev). He was finding out where the guide had stashed a load of food for us, which was definitely appreciated. He came back 15 minutes or so later, and we waited a while before heading back towards the road. We walked for 100m or so before stopping dead in our tracks. Now this is the bit that I’ll never get an answer to. Was it just bad luck, or did someone call us out? A military 4x4 was parked close enough for us to see, and we darted rapidly into the bushes at the side of the road. We waited, and nothing happened. After half an hour we carefully climbed out of the undergrowth and peered on to the road. The truck was gone, and Oleg motioned for us to follow him. We moved quickly, crouching low. We’d left most of our gear in the ‘apartment’ so we could move with a fair amount of speed. We rounded a corner staying close to the edge of the bushes and there was another truck, parked much closer this time. They saw us, there’s no two ways about it. Without hesitation, words or eye contact, Oleg turned, and ran.