Just behind the border fence to the Chernobyl exclusion zone, black smoke billows into the blue summer sky.

Only a few rays of sunshine make it through the leaking corrugated iron roof of the warehouse and make the churning up dust visible.

Wadym is standing on the pitch-black floor, next to him steam is coming from a cauldron.

Breathing is difficult.

Wadym earns his money with what others throw away: he makes gas from car tires, metal from slag, coal briquettes from leftover wood.

After a radius of 30 kilometers of wild nature, Wadym's metal factory is the first sign of life in an otherwise deserted place.

Almost every third house is empty, the ruins of the collective farms from the Soviet era are reminiscent of better times.

Why would anyone want to move here?

Around 1.5 million internally displaced people have fled eastern Ukraine to other parts of the country since the war broke out in 2014.

The war not only took away their houses and jobs, but also their future.

The little money they receive from the state is not enough to survive.

And so they are on their own.

In need, some of them are drawn to a place that was itself the scene of a catastrophe: to those villages over which the wind blew the radioactive cloud 33 years ago, far away in western Ukraine and even as far as the Belarusian border.

There, where the houses, streets and schools still stand today, whose soil the rain has contaminated.

Wadym paid just 180 euros for the old school, which is to accommodate tourists in just a few months.

But until then there is still a lot to do.

Volodymyr, a wiry man with a fragile voice, stands in front of the blue wooden door of an old building that is almost in ruins.

He helps Wadym renovate the school.

His school.

At least it was before it was closed after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Volodymyr was 13 when he heard about the explosion from television.

Dilapidated houses, cheap land, and forgotten places also offer opportunities for refugees from the Donbass.

After years of neglect, they find new tenants in them.

Just like Alexei, who fled here with his family from Donbass five years ago.

Aleksej ran a large farm there until 2014.

Until the war makes his work impossible.

Aleksej, a broadly built man with a traditional Cossack hairstyle, sits in the shade of a tree, just opposite his fields.

Here, in the Zhytomyr region in the north of the country, some fields have only recently been released for agriculture.

Around 57 families are now living again in the small village where Aleksej and his family have also found a new home.

It is displaced people like Aleksej who are not only trying to improve their own lives in the run-down villages.

"There are jobs and fields again," says Jurij, one of Aleksej's employees.

Most of them used to lie fallow.

Aleksej buys computer keyboards for the local school and clears the paths with his big machines in winter.

"The locals say to me: 'Aleksej, thank you for being here!'

Wadym, Volodymyr and Aleksej - they tell a story about Chernobyl outside the 30-kilometer exclusion zone, about expulsion, escape and new beginnings.

Ilir Tsouko was born in Albania, grew up in Athens and completed his photography studies at the University of Hanover.

As a visual storyteller, he lives and works in Tirana and Berlin.

Tsouko's photographic work deals with the life of the people, the political situation as well as flight and migration in south-eastern Europe and the Balkans.