The ghosts of the firefighters

I'll throw you right into another mystery of the Zone. In my Chernobyl report, I mentioned having found a firefighter's helmet at the ferry port, close to the Pripyat kafé: 

"Pripyat kafe is close to the ferry port. No boats are around, but a firefighter's helmet has been placed on a chair there. Maybe this is the one taken from the hospital's basement? No, the readings are not high enough, or perhaps the radioactivity has just rubbed off on the idiot who brought it there."
The readings were obviously irrelevant, I've come to understand, and the idiocy was less... 
In the same report I mention searching the Pripyat hospital:

"Having seen images of the above mentioned room before, I don't realize I've found it but then it becomes clear to me, that a lot of clothes, boots, and a partiular helmet have been removed. I wonder who could be stupid enough to do something like that - risking contamination for old, wet, radioactive clothes. There's no way this could have been done by any liquidator. It's happened too recently. Whomever is responsible, he's likely to pay a high price."
Now even you who did not read that report before, have a chance to catch up, and thus I can proceed.
The question was still "What happened to the firefighters' items?"; at the same time I started to receive questions  about where I found that helmet, and eventually it all added up, as I received new information. 

Wrong angle for the scavengers!
The helmets were taken away to be protected from scavengers wanting trophies and souvenirs, but the procedure to decontaminate and transport these items to a safe and official environment, would be too difficult, and thus the helmets were simply hidden in what was hoped to be a safer place...

Unfortunately this wasn't safe enough. The helmets were found and are now lost once again, and it was a surprise that one of these helmet was to be found, peacefully resting by the water...

Another photo of "my" helmet was displayed, when it was still in the hospital basement. Burn marks on the left side of the visor and the black spot where the visor is shut and locked indicates it's the same helmet.
I wonder if it's still there, and if so - for how much longer.


The Complexity of Chernobyl; the Zounds of the Zone

Trying to perform research about Chernobyl on a deeper level is not as easy as it might appear, especially not once you have been in the Zone.

Already before I left Sweden for Ukraine and Chernobyl, I experienced certain difficulties in finding the information and answers to my questions that I needed and required to add to the full picture. The first problem was finding out correct data about the average levels of radiation in different parts of the Zone. I had been told that the levels were "almost normal", but why should I believe that? I risked appearing like an anxious idiot, and still wonder how the request of correct information can be mistaken for such a thing. When finally finding some relatively up-to-date numbers, I could only sneer at the previous statement of "almost normal" readings. 

I have learnt that some people tend to follow the trend of mistaking "not lethal" for "almost normal". A one time tourist joining in for a day-trip on a bus  ride arranged by a Kiev hotel may get away with that kind of arrogance, but for those who feel the call to return more than once, greater measures of caution and respect are recommended to be taken. - The radiation isn't only in the air - it's everywhere. 

When I finally entered the Zone, I pretty soon got to see for myself that the levels of radiation naturally vary, depending on where you are, but I also realized the danger of getting used to the numbers displayed on the geiger counter. Us Swedes are great with radiation, inventing measures for Roentgen, Sieverts and so on ,and living in Sweden,  I also receive about 1000 - 4000 μSv/year. The average dose for a person  living in Australia or the U.S is between 1500 - 3000 μSv a year. Compare this with the geiger counter giving you readings of  2, 5 or 14 μSv/hour, you may realize it's not lethal, but it's far from healthy in the long run. The point is that there are no constant numbers, and you should watch out where you're going, rather than believe the numbers someone have published, or for that matter get blinded by the geiger counter, because you will get used to it. Stay aware.

During the expedition, I lost count of how many times I faced contraditions to what I thought I knew by asking "But I thought/heard that..." -The official statements are for the public and for the journalists to provide to the public, but in the Zone, you get to see another view of it all; that's it's by far not so much under control as the public statements want you to believe, and when understanding that the 90 percents of the iceberg are there, you quickly realize that you can only imagine 10 percents of it all.
"Ukraine has finally received enough money to proceed working on the New Safe Confinement (NSC)"
"They keep running into problems. Whilst working, they can suddenly run into heavily radioactive obstacles, and how to remove it raise new problems."
 "Moving the NSC into place will cause vibrations that will stir up radioactive dust. In itself it's a hazard."
 Then what to believe? -We're facing a problem larger than most people imagine, and the controversies outside, contra inside the Zone, doesn't make anything easier: Whilst some are optimistic about the NSC, believing that during the 100 years it's supposed to last, we will have developed the technology to get rid of the radioactive dust of the Sarcophagus, constantly acumulating, into safe storage, others are against the disassemblance of the broken chimney of Reactor 4, as it in their opinion would destroy the monument of the disaster.

The above mentioned are more or less public matters. Let's move in closer to the Zone. Let's go past Reactor 4 and into Pripyat and its surroundings. Let's re-enter the Jupiter factory, where they once produced tape recorders, and other electronic gear.

When entering the Jupiter factory, I was told it was perfectly safe, but only a few weeks after I had returned to Sweden I was warned about this place:

"Do not go into those places without wearing at least a respiratory mask."
"The water is highly radioactive"
 We have only pieces of information contradicting each other all the time, and that's a reason good enough for anyone interested enough to go there and see with own eyes rather than believe what other people say. Everyone have a different view on this, and focus on different things, but the only way to find out, is to find out by yourselves. I want the entire truth, but still - dont believe everything you read here, because I might be wrong. 

Concerning the Zone only one thing is certain - radiation.. 



Chernobyl in popular culture - Part III

My first outspoken Chernobyl inspired artwork. It's not a mutant.
This blog isn't only related to facts and features concerning Chernobyl, but as the title reveals, it's my Chernobyl project, which has the main purpose of educating and telling people about the Zone, but also to give my own personal views on the subject in order to prepare for the exhibition in August. 

I have already given a brief introduction of myself in this post, but else to be said is that I'm also an illustrator and author of graphic novels, and as I currently run the side project of finding out about how Chernobyl  appears in popular culture, this is a good moment to sneak in some more of my own stuff.

What can I tell with images, that hasn't already been told a hundred times before in other images as well as written words? Of Chernobyl in fiction we have a lot already, so why do I keep on depicturing the elements  that I relate to this subject? Perhaps because it's still in many ways a great mystery to me - a puzzle waiting to be solved. In many ways. And until I've solved this mystery, the images will keep coming to me.

Of this image to the left, you've seen the prequel. I posted it a few days ago. This may or may not be included in my exhibition, and if it will, you will not see it like this, but rather more like the four A3 original drawings.

Once, whilst still in the Zone, and at a few occasions after that, I have been asked if I intend to make a graphic novel about Chernobyl. The answer at this point is still no, and I can't see anything changing that in a near future. However, when I was still doing research concerning my article about the first Chernobyl firefighters, I had a few more images, and things became a little more visual than usually, and thus the idea of this  image was born, based on the words of Grigoriy Khmel, one of the first 28 deceased.

It stays there. 


Chernobyl in popular culture - Part II

Music from the Zone.

I've spent only a short time researching in what other ways Chernobyl may have influenced contemporary popular culture, but thanks to some allies, I have found out a lot more that I'd be able to just on my own, and that kind of defines this entire project: I want you to participate; to write to be about what you know that I don't know and together we may reach a point of mutual exchange. Thus, I thank everyone who has contributed and who will.

Now, we can understand how people visit the Zone for the sake of taking epic and dramatic photos, and we understand those who want to make other graphic works based on the site and what happened and the remains, and even those who write stories based on Chernobyl (we'll return to that subject in a future post), but music? How can you make music based on such a theme?

Stating the obvious, music is art, just like photography, painting, graphics, writing and so on, and there  is a fair amount of bands that have made songs based on the Chernobyl disaster, and let's start out lightly:

This Ukrainian group is called Skryabin (Скрябін). They are from the west of Ukraine and founded in 1989. They known for, amongst other things, changing style several times during their carreer. This song, Chernobyl Forever, (2006) (Чорнобиль форева), is a sarcastic  tounge-in-cheek piece about Chernobyl and how the problems  still lingering are swept under the carpet. The text in the end of the video means "We want a future without Chernobyl".

For Skryabin, it was perhaps a one time statement, but there are those who've made the matters of Chernobyl into a more serious business:

Another Ukrainian group is Asfalt (Асфальт), who founded in 2006 as a more or less direct reaction to the disaster. An important part of Asfalt's theme is based on Chernobyl and they refer to their own music as gas-mask rock. Trying to describe this gas mask rock and what it really sounds like, you can say that this self-invented genre constitutes a good gathering title for a number of influences from different genres, because since the beginning of their history, Asfalt have already explored the territories of glam rock, punk, industrial/goth and even flirted with death metal. If you want to learn more about the many faces of Asfalt, I suggest you take  a look at their website (in Russian only). 

Their most famous song is doubtlessly Chernobyl Dust (Чернобыльская Пыль); the music video is based on a S.T.A.L.K.E.R theme and in 2008, the song was made a part of the soundtrack of the low budget S.T.A.L.K.E.R movie Trump Card (Козырь).

Since then, the group have participated in other S.T.A.L.K.E.R related productions, and  their latest production, the first of their two part album Chernobyl: Top Secret (Чернобыль: Совершенно секретно) is strongly influenced by S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Again you can see what impact the computer games have made.

Asfalt's approach to their chosen theme is relatively close, as the group members all have some kind of personal relation to Chernobyl and the disaster. They have visited the zone; even recorded music videos there, and  in 2010 they appeared in the French-German movie Chernobyl 4Ever.

If you want to find out more about the sounds of Asfalt, albums are downloadable for free here (but beware - many links are unfortunately broken).  

Now let's go to Sweden, the very country outside the Soviet Union where the accident at the CHNPP was first discovered. Have the acciendent inspired us in any other way than to 25 years after the disaster make faulty public service whinings about raindeer and mushrooms?

During my research for this article, I accidentially happened to stumble over the three piece Strömstad based Swedish black metal/industrial group Reaktor 4. Reaktor 4 is a now four years old project, which formed under "influence of volite liqides the winter of 2007". 

What's to be said; Reaktor 4 follow along the lines of the Scandinavian black metal traditions, only their theme this far, is concerning Chernobyl rather than Satan. In 2008 they recorded their full length album Reaktor 4, and one year later it was released through the label Total Holocaust Records, containing tracks with titles like Contamination (Kontamination), Reaktor 4, and Decay (Sönderfall). Unfortunately, there's not much information about this group, but if you're curious about what they sound like, you may go to their MySpace page.

There are also a number of Chernobyl themed compilations released, for example Remember Chernobyl 1986-2011, which is a dark ambient project by various artists. The album was released in April 2011, and all benefits went to the organisation  Chernobyl Children International

I am sure that there are many more groups and artist to be presented as influenced by Chernobyl, but I'm forced to realize and admit that it will take me some time to find out more - thus I ask for your help: Any tips are welcome!



It's the Swedish midsummer holidays. I won't write anything this weekend. :)

May I bring on the spirit of the weekend by giving an example of how not to act in the Zone. Unfortunately there are  less considerate people everywhere:


Chernobyl in popular culture - Part I

I asked if you know of any public works or popular culture inspired by Chernobyl and the disaster, a considerable amount of people will instantly think of the computer game series S.T.A.L.K.E.R (S.T.A.L.K.E.R is an abbrevation for Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber). The series are created by the Ukrainian developer GSC  Game World, and perhaps it wouldn't have been such a success if it hadn't been done by Ukrianians (needless to say that everything else would have seemed like a respectless way to profit from the disaster).

Since the first part of the series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R - Shadow of Chernobyl was released in 2007, the games have constantly gained increased popularity, and the latest addition to the series, The Call of Pripyat was a given success selling over 2 million copies all over the world only seven months after it was released. 

The plot of Shadow of Chernobyl takes place in an alternative timeline, in 2012, where a second Chernobyl disaster  occurs. This game lends inspiration from the Strugaskiy brothers' novel Roadside Picnic (Пикник на обочине) as well as the movie Stalker (1979), by Andrey Tarkovskiy. Tarkovskiy's movie, only loosely based on the brothers Strugatskiy's novel, suggests disturbance of the physical reality in what is known as The Zone, and this was - perhaps not strangely - adopted in the computer game. (Nowadays "The Zone" is an overall popular nickname for the 30 kilometers exclusion zone of the Chernobyl area.). 

In the movie Stalker, the three main characters are alone in the silent zone, which seem peaceful, but where many dangers are said to lurk, but in the Shadow of Chernobyl, the environments are far more violent: For example, powerful mutants may be anywhere, leading the player into one unpleasant surprise after another...

Another evidence of the immense popularity of the games, is that it's now to become a  low budget TV series. Behind this, is still GSC Game World. The news were announced in November 2010, but although nothing has been heard about that since then, it's said that the project is ongoing. I will not talk much more about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, as there is enough information about those games to fill several articles, but if you're interested in finding out more about the games at the official S.T.A.L.K.E.R website and below, I present to you the official trailer of the TV-series: 

Even though it has little to do with Chernobyl,  it has some things in common with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R concept, and thus I will take the opportunity of mentioning the Russian author Dmitriy Glukhovsky's Metro novels. The first one, Metro 2033, was first published online in 2002 and then printed by an established publisher in 2005. In order to gain practical understanding about the effects of a nuclear disaster, as well as inspiration, Glukhovskiy paid a visit to Chernobyl, also did research on radiation, and the outcome was (amongst other things)...mutants.*

The year is, of course, 2033 and the stage is set to the post apocalyptic Moscow, Russia. There has been a worldwide nuclear war;  the devastation is total and the face of the Earth is heavily contaminated, but in the metro of Moscow (which was actually constructed to be a safe haven if a nuclear war would break out), survivors live in small societies - every metro station is like a town itself, but the road between these are dark and frightful. Due to the many dangers, not anyone may try to reach the surface, but this is something reserved for the... Stalkers, which are very much alike the Stalkers of above mentioned computer games, so we're probably looking at another exchange of inspiration here.

Metro 2034 is a detached sequel to Metro 2033, where we get to follow the Stalker Melnik, but there doesn't seem to be any plans for further novels as the Metro series in the form of computer games have also became quite popular (as a side note I will mention that A4 Games, who developed the Metro 2033 computer game, was founded by a former GSC Game World employee about one year before the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R game was released). Also, by now, the Metro universe has come to a life of its own, in the shape of anthologies of fans' short stories.

*Radiation as a cause of various mutuations is deeply integrated in the modern popular culture, and obviously a trigger of imagination, but of course it's important to keep the facts in mind as well. Many would say that computer games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R give young people the wrong view of history, but for those who care about history, games like these have also been proven to raise curiosity and encouragement to find out what history really is like.



General update

Distorted version of a fragment of my current work.
Friends, I'm currently working on new art to support the exhibition and also planning the next article, which will probably take a day or two to finish (well, the artwork will take longer), but don't worry - my Chernobyl project goes on and there will be many more interesting things for you to read here!


Another mystery solved.

 "We're supposed to move in pairs wherever we go, in order not to be alone in case something would happen, but again, I choose my own points of interest. When directed to this second school, I immediately head for the basement. I get accompanied by another group member and  together we find something previously undiscovered: A hidden class room with a shooting range next to it. Curious, I think, considering that the oldest pupils of this school were no older than 16, perhaps 17, but I'm not surprised and I think I know what they were doing in here. Still, this is another one of the unveiled mysteries of the Soviet era."

This excerpt is from the previous post entitled Diary from the Zone. At the time of the discovery, and also afterwards, we were quite puzzled, and it seemed like there was no one that I could ask and get a satisfying response to this. The classroom was very small; low ceiling and seatings for perhaps 8-10 students. The teacher's desk is just a simple table, flanked by plywood boards with military propaganda posters, and over all the room is very austere.

Next to this room is the shooting range; as I've already hinted, a quite unexpected element to find in a school, but now I have found out that this was nothing odd at all, during the Soviet era. As a rule, most USSR schools had  preparing military education and thus also shooting ranges in their basements. Simple as that. Mystery solved. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.


The Shelter Project

In the late 90's, the Sarcophagus covering the hazardous Reactor 4 began to collapse, and radioactive dust started to leak out through the cracks in the walls. By 1997, the amount of radioactive dust inside the Sarcophagus was measured to 34 tons, and since then, due to the decaying of the active fuel, the amount has increased by several tons per year. Today we may be looking at maybe even more than the double of those 34 tons, and the cracks in the steel and cconcrete construction are even bigger.

The image is from http://www.olek.co.th
It doesn't take a genius to figure out what would happen if the Sarcophagus would collapse, and another big threat is the reactor lid. - 2000 tons were launched at the first explosion, and as it fell down again, it was misaligned (see picture). As also the reactor construction itself decays, it's only a matter of time before it collapses and when the reactor lid falls down, it will cause an enormous amount of radioactive dust to whirl up and get caught by the winds, which would mean contamination of large areas all over again.

In December 1997, the Chernobyl Shelter fund was set up as a collaborative project between Ukraine, Europe and the United Stated in order to finance the construction of the Shelter that will cover the Sarcophagus. This was then estimated to cost €10.5 million, but today the fundings need to be recalculated to estimatedly €1.54 billion. You may read more about the original Shelter funding plans at IAEA's website. Bear in mind that it's an old document. The original intents were for the Shelter to be finished by 2006, but as we clearly can see, that didn't happen. In 2007, the French company Novarka was assigned to build the "2nd Sarcophagus", and how their plans are still supposed to proceed, you can see by watching the video below.
 Today I received an e-mail from mr. Anton Usov, the Ukrainian Principal Adviser of EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) who states that the fund now has collected €600 million and that this amount is sufficient to proceed with the planned engineering work.
"Preparing the New Safe Confinement works is on-going and the first steel elements will be assembled on the site in autumn 2011"
 says Usov. 

After having watched this animated, almost 10 minutes long movie - what do you urban explorers say? "Don't do it, there will be no more Reactor 4 to take pictures of!"? I certainly hope not. The Shelter will of course remove the all too familiar view of the blown off reactor tube, but would you prefer the above mentioned risks?

The new "deadline" for the Shelter is 2015, but optimists claim that this 2nd Sarcophagus might be finished already by 2013.



The March of April

I finished this painting late last night. As always, my camera unfortuantely doesn't agree to take photos of paintings, but here - This is my tribute to the firefighters and liquidators of Chernobyl.

Edited: I have replaced the old photo with a slightly better one.


Jupiter revisited; Radiation and Contamination. About risks and precautions

I have twice before mentioned the Jupiter factory. Once, for a brief update concerning its operations, and once in my Chernobyl journal , where you can read about my actual visit to the Jupiter plant. 

There are parts of the Jupiter experience that I left out for certain reasons. -I'm sure that most of you will understand when I say that I don't want any thieves, looters or the judgementless kind of Urban Explorers to come here, read the details about places in the zone and then use the information to cause damage and destruction, or meddling with things they cannot control. An example of such a thing is the firefighter's helmet I told you about (also in the journal). Highty contaminated, it's been removed from its original location in the hospital's basement, along with other, just as contaminated, items.
Removing items like this helmet, isn't just hazardous, but also a crime against ethics, which gives me the opinion that whomever that may play carelessly with fire, deserve getting burnt, and trust me - radiation burns. 

Still it's one thing to cause stupidity-induced harm to oneself, and another thing to indulge in actions that may cause harm to others as well. I've already mentioned the laboratories of the Jupiter factory, and without revealing their location, posted photos here and here. As a comment to the first of these photos, I state that "it's pretty much intact", but this was before I communicated with someone who've been there previously; someone who obviously knows more about the place, and who took greater precautions of protection before entering this place.

Here's a modified quotation of the words told, in order to not reveal the location of this place. Unless you're on a serious research mission, do not try to find the laboratories of Jupiter:

"This part of the factory is contaminated since 2009, after we wrote about the black box with granulate like stuff inside (someone spread it out). We detected high levels of alpha radiation, and maybe plutonium traces in this box. Some months later I was there one more time but I wouldnt go down there anymore without a breathing mask and overall security clothing.  This is really dangerous. About beta radiation, we don't need to talk - it's all full of it. We had secure clothes but were still contaminated. The water on the floor is also high radioactive. One step in and you can say bye bye to your shoes."
Now, this is only the words of one person. I have no real reason to doubt the truth in them, as this is a highly likely state of conditions, but still I need others to confirm it. If you have been in the labs of the factory, you know where  they are and where this water is, and if so - I would be very grateful if you shared more information with me.

Poetry from Pripyat - Symbols of an Epoch.

Friends and readers, I have started trying to translate the book. I still feel guilty about having taken it, but there's  also a conflict within, because at the same time I dearly want to preserve this piece of history, and not let it rot or be destroyed. 

The first piece translated, or rather interpretated, is a poem from the last page of the book. Russian poetry is for me very difficult to translate, so this is by all means not exact - just a hint to let you know what it's mainly about. 

Great thanks to Vladimir Umnyakov and Vladyslav Kaminsky for helping me by explaining the abbrevations and telling the history. 

The title of the poetry is "Symbols of an epoch" and it was written in 1977.

Be proud!
Architects of ours, the Soviet Rastrelli!
Not for nothing, the construction ascended,
a soldier's greatcoat, for peaceful purposes
Used in the reactor, the atom
And he will lead the train
and work will be his brother.

With our sun, we will illuminate
the Polesskiy neighborhood!
To you, our Pripyat
Worldwide fame awaits!
Work hard NPP, for all ages, mighty giant
like a Bolshevik monument in Soviet Ukraine
Grow, men of the the working class,
in our new construction of muscle mass and strength,
- Napolean days of heroism!
Grew once, Kuzbass
Turksib, Magnitogorsk, and the Donbass,
Kolkhoz system - people's jazz
Gone is the former plow.
And now BAM, NPP, Kamaz
The Symbols of an epoch.

Kuzbass and Donbass: The Kuznetsk and Donets Basins are coal mining areas. The first is situated in Russia, second in Ukraine.

Turkib: Turkestan- Siberian Railway - the railway was constructed in the years between 1926 and1931, connecting Central Asia with Siberia.
Magnitka: The unofficial name of the city of Magnitogorsk, and the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical combined.
BAM: The Baikal-Amur Mainline, also a railway.

АЭС (NPP): Atomnaya ElektroStantsija; Nuclear Power Plant.
KamAZ:  A truck automobile plant and also the name of the powerful trucks constructed.


Chernobyl officials stole radioactive pipes

On the 2nd of June 2011 it was made public that three Chernobyl officials have been arrested for stealing contaminated material from the Shelter area of the Nuclear Power Plant.  [The Shelter is the project name of the "2nd sarcophagus" which is planned to be built to cover the old, decaying protection of Reactor 4.]

By using false documents, the officials were able to get into the area and collect the materials;  approximately 24 tons of pipes, cupper/nickel alloy  worth over 1 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($125.000). According to Ukrainian law; the 2nd part of article 366 (forgery of service) and the 2nd part of article 262 (theft of radioactive material) the three thieves are now convicted and have been sentenced to 5 years of prison (and a probation time of 2 years). The contaminated pipes have been returned to be stored as radioactive waste. 

Sources: Lenta.ru and UNIAN

All over the world, metal is being stolen for it's value these days; Ukraine is certainly no exception and obviously not even the Chernobyl zone, as has previously been stated in my own reports

What I haven't yet mentioned to you here, is that I with my own eyes, on our last day in the zone, got to witness an operation of metal removal. This was going on in a building near the 5th reactor block, where a hangar was being deprived of its metal interiors. Whether this was an official project or not, I cannot say, but in the case of the theft of contaminated goods, we may look at a recurring problem of the future.

Left: Chernobyl worker welding off a metal ladder in a building close to reactor block 5.


Diary from the Zone

How do you prepare for such a trip? Mentally, I've been prepared for a very long time, but physically I hope to be stronger than I think I am. I'm not scared. Not even nervous, nor filled with expectations. A lot is at stake here but I'm not quite sure of what. One thing I do know is that what will come will make a big difference and maybe, afterwards, nothing will ever be the same again. 

This is my journal for our four days in the zone. The original report was seven A4 pages, but I've edited and de-personalized it, to keep down the amount of text. It's still a lot, so I hope you'll have the patience to read through everything. Also I've kept down the amount of photos. If you're more interested in looking at my photos, you can see them all here.

The first control station.
We have to pass through a control station where they check our passports and documents of permission before we are allowed to proceed. This means we're close.

There is only one hotel in the town of Chernobyl, and that's where we'll be staying. A brief teaming up in rooms, two by two, and unloading of luggage later, we're on our way again.

The reactor blocks stand tall over the flat landscape and most attention-catching of them all is the infamous Reactor 4. Whatever I had expected to feel, I didn't.  It's already too familiar. But what truly strikes me as we get out of the van, is the silence. This place isn't abandoned, nor empty, but it lacks of all the sounds we're so used to.The first living creature I see is a man moving the lawn by the memorial place where the names of all of people who were killed in the accident of 1986 are engraved in gold on metal plaques.

The lawn mowing man is not the only one alive here. Standing on the bridge over this concrete framed branch of the river Pripyat, running through this plant, and looking down, we see enourmous fish close to the surface on the sunny side of the bridge. There's one, or more, unidentified, kind of fish, measuring estimatedly 80-100 cm, but the catfish are much bigger and I approximate some of them to be perhaps 2 meters long. How did they become this large here? Is it due to radiation or just the lack of humans interfering with their existance? No one knows.

We come closer to Reactor 4. Taking photos of the Sarcophagus is permitted, but not of any of the other
buildings. People still work here with different things - amongst other, the important task of monitoring the active fuel in the 4th reactor. A large group of personnel, some of them wearing uniforms, some of them wearing lab coats, exit the only building that stands between us and the reactor. They're watching us, but we're not the reason why they're there. They're expecting other visitors.
Reactor 4.

This close to the reactor, the levels of radiation have considerably raised. People who work here, work in 14 day shifts to minimize exposure, but it's still of my opinion that in thelong run this can't be without side effects. Every year the CHNPP employees  have to go through a mandatory health control. If they show signs of contamination, illness related to exposure to radiation or other abnormalities, the will get fired and have to leave the zone. It might seem strange to many people, that anyone would want to work here at all, but the truth is that the wages here are very high, which makes is possibly for the employees to lead a decent life outside the zone. If fired, they will be facing a state of poverty and almost certain unemployment.

Next stop is the cranes by the lake, and I'm not talking about birds, but about the large metal monsters that guards the cargo port of lake Pripyat. The tallest one measures 50 meters and I'm going up there. The iron is old and rusty and there's no knowing how much it can take anymore, but two persons at the time should be safe, so I go up there, joining another. There will be only the two of us.

The top offers a magnificient view. The landscape is dominated by trees, but I can see Pripyat and the arrays of the once top secret military site known as Chernobyl 2. Before this expedition is over, we will have visited both of these places.

I look down at the water and realize that something in missing. There used to be ships here. Wrecked and rusty, but still ships. They're not there anymore, and the reason why is the value of metal. During winter, when the lake is frozen, people enter the ice with equipment to remove all metal peaking above the ice. This is only one of the many subtle signs that the zone is changing.

The cooling towers for reactors 5 and 6.
We're running out of time, but one there is thing remaining before we must return to Chernobyl - What was meant to become the cooling towers of the never finished Reactor 5 and Reactor 6, which was never even begun in construction. Only one of there towers has its exoskeleton finished; the other will remain a concrete circle showing a hint of a cylinder. I don't know what to do here, other than playing with the acoustics of the larger tower. If my mp3-player would have been in my pocket instead of in the hotel, I would have made recordings, because the echo and distortion of sounds here, are truly fascinating. I divert from the group in order to explore the area on my own. This is the first, of many occasions to come, when I leave the group.
During the walk, I find some underground level concrete constructions, but they're almost completely overgrown and of no interest, so having seen this, and charted some roads, I return to the gathering point.

Dinner in Chernobyl is solid, to say the least. As the six of us enter out private dining room, a set table awaits, already full of starters like salad, meat, eggs, sausages, bread, cheese and whatnot. For me, that's quite enough, but this is only the beginning. After, follows borscht. And then fried chicken with fried potatoes. It's food that'll keep you full for days.

"Katja, Katja, Katja, wake up!" I remain in bed till 7:50 because the only deadline I have to keep is that of breakfast at 8:00 and I'm only interested in coffee. Blisters have developed on my heels, in spite of taping, and they're starting to hurt. I add new tape and limp to the mess-building. I had been so sure of that the leader of this expedition had only been only joking when he told us that breakfast would be similar to dinner, but apparently he meant every word: We have the same starters followed by meat, rice and wareniki. I t's all good food, but for me it's not breakfast. I'd rather have two cups of coffee, instead of only one.

We're going to Pripyat, starting out with its most dangerous building; the basement of the hospital, where the firefighters were first brought for treatment. The radioactive dust of their suits still settle all over the place and there is a room where their old clothes still lay in piles, making the geiger counter go insane. In order to enter the basement, respiratory masks are required. Mine was insufficient, but I get to borrow one from another in the group.

Having seen images of the above mentioned room before, I don't realize I've found it but then it becomes clear to me, that a lot of clothes, boots, and a partiular helmet have been removed. I wonder who could be stupid enough to do something like that - risking contamination for old, wet, radioactive clothes. There's no way this could have been done by any liquidator. It's happened too recently. Whomever is responsible, he's likely to pay a high price. 

Inside the hospital.
The rest of the hospital is barely contaminated at all, and even though it's horribly trashed and looted, it's not difficult for me to determine what the different rooms were for, and imagine what it once must have been like in this place. I feel the atmosphere and there's nothing fearsome about it - nothing like in the basement where the ghosts of those days still seem to replay the scene. Here, it's rather about the the silent remains of and old, long sigh of relieve. Imagine holding your breath for a very long time.

The first school building and the kindergarden hold almost the same feeling. I will not tell much about the buildings here, but suggest that you look at the photos and read the descriptions.

We're supposed to move in pairs wherever we go, in order not to be alone in case something would happen, but again, I choose my own points of interest. When directed to this second school, I immediately head for the basement. I get accompanied by another group member and  together we find something previously undiscovered: A hidden class room with a shooting range next to it. Curious, I think, considering that the oldest pupils of this school were no older than 16, perhaps 17, but I'm not surprised and I think I know what they were doing in here. Still, this is another one of the unveiled mysteries of the Soviet era.

When we exit the school premises, we cannot spot the van anywhere, and thus we decide to use the extra time
given reaching the top floor of a nearby high building. This is the tallest building of Pripyat and as we reach the roof we not only see our van, but also another one nearby. It now becomes known that there's another group inside this building - a film team, and we're obviously not supposed to be there. Our comrades on the ground  waves at us to come down.  The local guide is annoyed because we were not allowed to enter that building. But no one told us we couldn't. Now I'm a Swedish terrorist who will be left behind. ...But obviously not until I've seen my new room, at the police station; a holding cell.

I don't expect the crime level in Pripyat to have been very high, and get it confirmed that if for anything, people may have been held for being drunk and disorderdly. 

"Would you take souvenirs?" I had asked been asked during the previous night, and I had said no, because I dislike all kinds of stealing and looting -I would like to see places like this as museums; watch but dont touch- but my morals come to a test and fail, as I find a book made by a student in October 1977. It's silly how it resembles this trip to Ukraine. It starts in Kiev, goes out west to the Zakarpattyan area and ends up in Pripyat. It's intact and perfectly clean. In a matter of months, maybe less, it will be ruined by weather and other visitors. I stand frowning by this book for 20 minutes before I decide to take it along.  

Every class had book projects like this back then. Yesterday, we found another item like this, but that book was moldy and decaying. Now I'm trying to hide this book from the guide, because I'm sure that he won't let me keep it. It's too large to keep behind me, so I try to cruise between and hide behind the guys with their camera equipment, but fail. As a "thief", I can at least act naturally and show the book, and the insteresting parts. The guide asks if I want to keep it. I do.  Our expedition leader later tells me that I'm the only one having been permitted by this guide to officially bring an item from the zone.

The fire station.
Last of all today, we visit the Fire Station. Something pinches my heart. The building looks very modest, even small. Maybe they had space for three or four fire trucks. There's nothing there, but outside one of the gates, someone has spread roses. Now they're dried up and black. Next time I will bring new flowers.

After dinner, we hang out in what is sarcastically referred to as "the lounge", slacking with beer whilst pondering a nightly excursion. The town closes up at 20:00 and after that, rules the formality of a curfew. If you don't work in the zone and are caught at the wrong time in the wrong place, you may end up having serious problems. We'll have to wait until it's completely dark.

In the town of Chernobyl, there are no street lights. Not in the streets and even less so on the roads leading through the areas of since long abandoned houses of which some are almost completely hidden behind the uncontrolled vegetation. I turn my eyes to the sky and see only stars. A dog barks in the distance and I hear music and people singing. Someone is having a party.
These houses have nothing to offer except the thrill of finding them. I have reduced the level of pain in my heels to "normal" as I scout through the untamed gardens, telling my comrades where the holes in the ground are.

Returning, is not as simple as we might have thought. All the time we need to avoid people and lights - it seems that the curfew isn't too seriously taken by the locals, at least. By the lake, frogs are holding a midnight concert and I introduce my company to the stars and constellations. It's all perfect. When the last of human kind is gone, the stars will still be there, just like the plutonium.

When we finally return to the hotel, I take off my boots. They're filled with blood.

The only monsters of Chernobyl existing, are the mosquitos, which is much complained about as we have breakfast on this 3rd day. This morning, the breakfast is possibly worse than the previous day but I steal some of the food to use for lunch later; cheese, bread and pickled cucumber.

There's no trace of the previous days' heat. The skies are grey and as we drive through the nuclear power plant, the rain starts pouring down. We return to Pripyat to finish what we had started and shortly after, a thunderstorm breaks out and it doesn't feel like an ordinary thunderstorm. Well, in the zone everything is different.

The Jupiter plant was once a factory where they produced tape recorders until the disaster in 1986. Afterwards, the activity at the Jupiter plant changed. You may read more about the Jupiter factory here. No one that wasn't involved in the new operations of Jupiter, knows for sure what really went on there, although there are many theories. I wish that I would have had more time to investigate this place, than just the 2,5 hours given. I spend all of this time carefully looking through the main building, where the wind blows through broken walls and windows and rusry pipes, making them breathe and sing. The rain causes dripping from the roof and ceilings, loudly falling onto decayed floors covered with moss and rotten wood. Perhaps Andrey Tarkovsky was clairvoyant, because it's almost 30 years since he made the movie Stalker, and this scene might as well be snatched directly from that movie.

The Jupiter plant ceased all activity in 1996. I find evidence from 1995, but I'm running out of time. I don't get to see the rest of the plant. At least not this time.

The city center with the never openend amusement park, leaves me unaffected, just like the old swimming pool
previously did. Again, these places seem just too familiar already, and enough people have visited particularly this amusement park to have deprived it of its atmosphere and here we go again: A large group of tourists arrive in a bus with a guide and add further to my aversion. They're intruding and strangely enough it feels like on my property. I decide to leave. After all, we have an hour. There's no way for me to keep track of the time, but I believe to have developed a good sense of it here.

I follow the asphalt roads, already knowing that they will lead me to buildings where people used to live. This will give me yet an opportunity to another view. Of course, I expect the places to be trashed and looted, but I'm not looking for treasures. I want to find out what it was like to stroll around in Pripyat, being on your way home. Some people who once lived here, still return to pay their former homes a visit and once a year, on the 9th of May, the zone is open for Ukrainian citizens. Once a year, Pripyat lives again.

What is it like to return to an interrupted memory and find that nothing remains? Shortly after the disaster, people
started to return to Pripyat in order to retrieve items of use and affection, having realized that the evacuation would extend to more than just a few days. The military set up alarms in the buildings to discover unauthorized entries (and still the wiring can be seen on the lower floors in some apartment buildings), but eventually also this system was left unattended to. Much has happened in 25 years, but I can assure you that the essential "looting" happened long before the first outsiders entered the ghost town.

As I walk down the main road of Pripyat, I hear the sound of an engine. Another bus full of tourists approaches from behind me and in order to avoid it, I divert from the road. Suddenly reminded of the rest of my group and that it should soon be time to gather up, I find my way back to the amusement part. It's completely empty. -I'm confused.

The sky is still grey, heavy with clouds; the sound of water is dripping from every leaf violently shaked by the wind makes it impossible to hear anything else. Fascinating. I'm alone, with no idea of where the others have gone to. I ponder what to do, make up an emergency plan and decide that if needed, I would be able to spend the night in one of the buildings. By now I know that inside all buildings, the readings are completely normal. But all that will have to wait till later, because right now it's only afternoon and I have places to explore.

It shows that I won't have to be MacGyver and rebuild one of the bumper cars to drive back to Chernobyl on my own. Soon enough I see people from my group on a distance, outside the Culture complex. I have a quick look at the Culture complex, which has an amazing interior with large spaces of and grandiose wall paintings. Broken glass and shattered tiles cover every inch of the floor. Once this was a center of happenings - now it's nothing. Just like the Pripyat Kafe.

Pripyat cafe interior.
Here, about 50% of the original glass still remain. It's fine artwork that must have taken a long time to create. The glass tiles vary in length, but are only 3 millimeter thick. Pripyat kafe is close to the ferry port. No boats are around, but a fire fighter's helmet has been placed on a chair there. Maybe this is the one taken from the hospital's basement? No, the readings are not high enough, or perhaps the radioactivity has just rubbed off on the idiot who brought it there.

The old cinema with its torn white screen and removed chair is a more interesting place than the room with the famous grand piano. By the way - the legs of that one are rotten now and the whole thing has fallen over.The fasade of this building is another facinating piece of art; a mosaic image where the left side of every motive have tiles of metal instead of ceramic, "reflecting the sunlight in a beautiful way". This, I'm told. Too bad it's cloudy today. I make a note that the mosaic of this building and the glass of the café seem to decay slower than most other buildings.

Once Pripyat had a cemetary and it's still there. Some still come here to pay respect to their loved ones and maintain their graves. None of the highly radioactive soil could ever be removed here because every grave is surrounded by a fence which makes the ground difficult to access by any vehicle. We're only permitted to stay for 10 minutes.

Another day is over. Another trip to the shop and another dinner. -This one is our last.

I'm not going to buy new shoes!
Having caught me walking barefoot to dinner, two women from the kitchen staff are pointing out the radiation, which I know is almost normal here. Thus, I'm not worried, but they advice me to wear something on my feet. Breakfast, the last meal in the zone, awaits and I find that _two_ cups of coffee are waiting for me! Joy! Strengthened by this, I put on my boots, but today it will take several hours before the pain is to be considered as "normal". I can't care less. The guys want to buy souvenirs and again I get a reason to note how incredibly slowly
all kinds of shopping here seem to go. I guess that the shop staffs welcomes new company and try to make it last for as long as possible. Strangers may be relatively common, but not everyone stay this long.

In order to visit the unfinished reactor 5, we need yet another guide; someone working at the power plant. A middle aged man, wearing shades and slightly reminding of one ov Tarkovsky's actors, joins us in the van. However it shows that he's only there as a formality, because we get to enter the 5th reactor building without his supervision.

Inside reactor block 5.
Of all the places in the zone that we've visited, this might just as well be the most dangerous one, in an immediate sense (save for Reactor 4, but if you didn't figure out that, you shouldn't be reading this). The concrete outlines and the lack of light hide many traps: A 7 meters deep hole may be mistaken for being a shadow if you're not careful. It's obvious that a certain progress in research and technology was accomplished: The first reactor was completed and ready for operation in 1977, and the infamous number 4; six years later. The 5th reactor was scheduled to be up and running by the fall of '86, but for well known reasons, that never happened.

I start to feel worried. A sense of uncomfort spreads within me, because suddenly it becomes very clear that this is our last day in the zone, and I don't want to leave. May it be that some people find it strange that I wanted to go here in the first place - now what would they say about this?

Chernobyl 2 is the name of the former military site where two sets of 130-150 meters tall antennas reach for the sky. They're beautiful - perfectly symmetric and the sound made as the wind blows through the wires further add to the sensation of magnificense. The powerful construction was made to monitor the U.S, or rather in case said country would launch nuclear missiles. This is an OHR (Over Horizon Radar). Between 1976 and 1989 it would disrupt amateur radio as well as legitimate broadcasts with sharp repetative sounds which came to cause its nickname: The Russian Woodpecker.
Chernobyl-2 antennas.
I want to climb it like some of the others but I have barely reached the end of the first ladder when I realize that my feet may allow me to go up there, but likely not to get down again. I'm defeated and thus walk away to have a look at the slightly smaller, and more decayed neighbour of this antenna. It's rumored that the antennas have been sold for the value of their metal. I still don't know whether this is true, because this far I've received contradicting information, but as I approach this other one, I can see that the process of disassembling has begun.
In the lake of Pripyat rest wrecked ships. At the "cemetary" every vehicle is marked by a radioactivity sign, but the geiger counter shows readings that are far from alarming. Wondering where the radioactivity has gone, we quckly leave for the very last part of this expedition.

Most of the houses are abandoned, but people who still live here, points it out by painting their houses in strong colorus and simply putting up signs saying that the house is not abandoned to prevent break-ins and looting. One of us pays 20 hryvnas in order to take a photo of some of the inhabitants.

Before leaving the zone, we must go through radiation control. We're all clear, but the alert goes off first at a level of 150 microRoentgen, but 140 would be just as bad so I don't trust them completely.

I return to the big city as a dirty, radioactive bastard and I'm mightily annoyed having returned just in time for the Kiev Rush Hour. It's all gone - the zone is left behind and the vibrant life of the big city feels highly unnatural.  But  I already now know that I will return to Chernobyl.