Till the End of the World

I still don't know how far I can take this project; maybe I am already close to an end. Maybe there is no more historical research to be made, but time to turn to the pure scientifical and environmental questions, or maybe it's just time to quit; gather what I have, start writing that book and occasionally visit the zone for as long as that will be possible. Still there is of course work to be done but I don't know for how long that will last.

I am in Moscow, the capital of Russia and once the capital of all the USSR. Here were held secret meetings in Kremlin about the disaster in northern Ukraine 26 years ago; from here spread the news of a minor accident in the fourth reactor and that the situation was under control, but at the same time almost 30 men were fighting a futile fight against death at the Hospital no. 6.

Hospital no. 6, present time.
Only a little information is to be found about this hospital but once I had found the essential clues, the hospital itself wasn't at all difficult to find. I travel on the Taganskogo-Krasnoprenenskaya metro line to the station Shutinskaya. Having spun off from the question about the seven known nuclear reactors operating in Moscow, it has also come to my knowledge that there is yet another working reactor in the neighborhood. This one is a research reactor belonging to the FMBT institute (Federalniy Meditsinsky Biofizicheskiy Tsentr), which is located in the northeastern part Shutin, nearby a hospital. -A hospital that of course is the Hospital no. 6.

I am hoping to recognize the place as seen as documentaries but trees and bushes hide much of the structure and therefore it's impossible. Yet to this day this is an operating hospital; the re-built Stalin era building reaches high and I would like to take a look inside and find out more, but it's Saturday and no one there that I can talk to.

They were there. When it was realized that there was nothing to be done at the Pripyat hospital, they were flown here by helicopter. The firefighters.

A part of the Chernobyl memorial and
graves at the Mitino graveyard in the
outskirts of Moscow.
"Where are they now?" asks my companion silently.
"I don't know." For some reason I find it difficult to hold back the tears.
"Certainly not in hell." he replies himself.
It's the 2:nd of September and we stand by the Chernobyl memorial at the Mitino graveyard just outside the border of the Moscow region. The autumn has arrived early and rain falls cold from grey skies. They're almost all here, it seems, and a strange feeling starts spreading within me as I walk among the still stone faces that mark the graves of 28 diseased, not only firefighters. There is Boris Baranov, one of the two divers who neutralized the risk of another hydrogen explosion in the fourth reactor. Leonid Toptunov, junior engineer at the NPP at the night of the accident, has fresh flowers on his grave, and so has his superior Aleksandr Akimov. The two who for a long time were blamed for causing the disaster lay almost side by side. Then the firefighters. Titenok, Ignatenko, Tishura and others. Kibenok - hero of Ukraine and finally Lt. Vladimir Pravik. His place is covered by plastic flowers. Tasteless may seem, but they last longer and the bright colours light up the grey. The purple-white flowers that I left at the feet of the memorial sculpture will unfortunately soon fade. The feeling I sense is that I already knew all these people and that I in a morbid sense have finally met them. Maybe it's because of this or maybe because of the tragedy itself, but regardless of which, I am crying. 

We leave in silence and my last thought before running to the marshrutka is whether they're really there. The bodies. Are they really there or is the place just a symbol? Perhaps this is not even important in any other aspect than the pure greed of knowledge, because wherever they are, they are -as my friend said- certainly not in hell. 

It's been almost exactly six months since it came to my knowledge what happened to the last firefighter helmet. As you may all remember, this helmet came to have a story of its very own and people from three different countries were engaged in finding out what happened to it after our find in Pripyat in May 2011. That this last helmet finally was completely lost without trace is no news, but that goes only for parts of the helmet. The highly radioactive inlets were found thrown in a bucket in -if I remember it all correctly- the Pripyat hospital and now someone has a new souvenir, probably without the slightest thought of the real price of this trophy. 

Thanks to jsbid for the information and photos.


Commercial Chernobyl

Posing like tourists for Dan Cronin.
In advance I apologize to those who might take offense from the sometimes aggressive tone of this post. 

During the time of blog silence, the time has as usual not been wasted in inactivity. -Rather the opposite, and most of the time has been spent preparing for the next journey to the Zone and trying to find out news about what is currently happening to it. To rephrase a quote from Andrey Tarkovskiy's movie STALKER, the Zone constantly changes, and nobody knows how. 

Four days ago the news arrived, that our expedition for this spring is cancelled. Or rather postponed. Due to previous reports from October 2011 and forth, this didn't exactly come as a surprise - actually, this was just what I suspected and sadly, my suspicions had been correct and when I was informed about the reason of the decision taken to postpone our trip, it all suddenly made sense. I have previously reported about the closing of the Zone and the  gradual and then sudden dismissal and replacing of the long term working Chernobyl guides of which the latter indicated more than one contradiction to the official statement explaining why the Zone must be closed to the public. The reason stated itself was very vague in its bureaucracy: 
"Due to environmental changes..."
I'd be surprised if I was the only one to have believed that this was all because the construction of the Shelter, and I'm even more surprised to realize that this as a matter of fact is quite a naive assumption. The true reason is of course Euro 2012, the European football championships hosted by Ukraine and Poland in collaboration. The championships will take place between the 8th of June and the 1st of July this summer and attract tens of thousands (if not more) tourists to Kiev and this means many opportunities to profit from what the region has to offer and the infamous site of a specific disaster seems to me to be one of the most important cash cows. That, my friends, is why they fired all the old guides who seem likely to be re-hired once the championships are over. 

French "art".
In the meantime however, different kinds of insects seem to have crawled into the Zone infesting it with further disease, amongst others a French so called street artist refering to himself as "Combo", who has provided one of the Pripyat schools with a mural that could not have been more displaced. This is what you see at the photo to the right. 

From the website Design You Trust I quote: 

"On a recent trip to Chernobyl, French street artist Combo left behind something memorable: a mural of The Simpsons. Combo is known for using iconic characters to make a statement, and this image continues the trend. The nuclear power plant in the background looks a lot more menacing here, but I also think there’s something really interesting about such a happy, cheery image juxtaposed against the aftermath of a horrible tragedy."
There are probably people who agree to this, but in my opinion it is sheer vandalism because what could this possibly add to those who visit the Zone to explore it in order to get a grasp of history and a sense of what happened? -Nothing. Nothing whatsoever. 

"The Zone changes all the time..." and now seems to be the time to contaminate it with something new, possibly more harmful than radiation - cheap popular culture:

This spring holds the premiere of the American production Chernobyl Diaries. According to the trailer, this is nothing but a typical American horror movie containing nothing of substance whatsoever and of course with a lot of misinformative "facts", but what do you do when you have run out of mask wearing killers? 

I rest my case. All that I want to know if this was the film team roaming around whilst we were in Pripyat in May last year. 


A Different Point of View

No matter how sensible your ideas are or how sense making your opinions, you will sooner or later always encounter someone who disagrees with you and maybe even taking a stand at the completely opposite spot from where you stand. This will all be as valid even if your ideas and opinions are controversial, not politically correct nor publically accepted, but in our society, the extremes of these mentioned concepts are still relatively rare:

There are people denying that the holocaust of jews, homosexuals, communists, and so on never took place in Nazi Germany during the Second World War and most of us regard them as insane, blind or corrupted. -Perhaps all at once, and in my opinion, so we should. 

Then there are those who refuse to believe in evolution and who claims that the Christian god created the world approximately 4000 B.C but not many agree with them.

Above I've given you two examples, both motivated by some sort of conviction. In order to avoid to make this note spin off into a philosophical matter, I will just state that conviction is something of its own. Those who have a solid conviction mostly stand up for it no matter how disturbed others may think it is, but what about those who simply choose to turn their back and run away?

The reason for me to bring up the subject write this post is that I some days ago was contacted by someone who has obviously read my blog. This someone is evidently a Swede who apparently resides in the South Ukrainian country side. In his message to me he amongst other things wrote (refering to the Chernobyl project):

"You're ruining everything for those of us who are trying to forget."
This person himself is irrelevant and no one that I can pay much attention to, but his words created a query for me: Who is trying to forget the Chernobyl accident and why?  About all large disasters and trauma inducing events it is said that "we must never forget". This in order to avoid the same thing to happen all over again and thus my question was answered in a very simple way: No one forgets about it, or tries unless there is something to gain from it. Even though the average Ukrainian or Belarussian citizen doesn't think of Chernobyl every day, many of them are still affected by the consequenses so it is still a part of their consciousness. 

If you know that the berries are dangerous to eat, and that the milk is poisoned by strontium-90, you do not eat or drink unless you have no other choice (In Belarussia there are people who do not have a choice but this doesn't decrease their awareness). Here is something you cannot forget even if you want to.

For political reasons you may want to try to make people forget, if you have a goal to achieve. The Chernobyl disaster was also a financial disaster for the Soviet Union and to this day it still affects the Ukrainian finances, but whilst the construction of the Shelter proceeds in a slow pace, the new sports arena in Kiev, new in construction,  will be finished in time for the European Football Championships this summer. And with such a big event coming up, who thinks of an old decaying wreck.


A Slight Case of Overspeeding

Elena Filatova. Photo from Wikipedia.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before my writings would come to touch the case of Elena Filatova. This far it has not been a priority to me to write about her, but having twice in one month been asked whether I have anything to do with it (which I of course do not), I decided to finally take up the subject.

Elena Filatova, also or better known as "the Kid of Speed" is a now 37 years old Ukrainian woman who in 2004 gained internet fame after publishing the story of her solo adventure to the Chernobyl Zone - on a motorcycle. Yet to this day Filatova is still a legend to some, but as a matter of fact her site had not been online for a very long time before people started questioning her story, doubting the amount of truth in it. From various sources, some seeming more reliable than others, came different reports of her story being fake.

On Filatova's website, there are a few photo essays from her journeys to the area around Chernobyl; villages (inhabited as well as abandoned), buildings, nature and even some from Pripyat, but it should also be noted that a significant number of photos from her first essay are not her own (the photographers are however accredited). Going through the site, there is absolutely no doubt that she has been in the Zone and also seem to have a genuine interest in the history of the Chernobyl disaster, but... the first thing that was questioned was exactly how Filatova really traveled there the first time.

"[The essay] "Ghost Town" was under attack from the very day I put it online" states Filatova on her website, not specifying any of the met floods of accusations. The main questionings were however regarding whether she really rode that bike to the Zone. There were rumors that there are a matter of fact was no bike, but that Filatova along with her husband and had gone by an official Chernobyl Interinform vehicle. Later, the official guide Rimma Kiselitsa [who unfortunately passed away in 2006] confirmed this by stating that Filatova had been to the Zone on an ordinary booked one day trip, carrying a motorcycle helmet with her. Kiselitsa had been by no means impressed by Filatova and her husband as they would move items from different buildings to arrange them for photo compositions in a manner that made it all seem like they were doing it for sensational effects. Concerning the photographic excesses of Filatova, there are also several stories, but I will not get further into those.

"I have known Elena for years, so I know how much is fake and how much is true. ...I know that she cannot even ride a bike. The bike is her ex husband's. ...She can only ride a bicycle or little scooter."
...read parts of an electronic message sent as a response to the American author Mary Mycio's statement of Elena Filatova's motorcycle tale unfortunately being untrue. I will however not take this message into any account as the author of this message to me is unknown and I thus cannot verify its amount of truth. Let it be an example of a rumor.

The stetements of Mary Mycio, (at the time [2004] stationed in Kiev, writing a book [Wormwood Forest] about Chernobyl for the Joseph Henry Press publishing company), however adds more detail and substance to the rumors. Having heard about the woman who all alone on a motorcycle had traveled the exclusion zone, she wanted to find out more about it but after performing research she could report, amongst other things, that: 

"They organized their trip through a Kyiv travel agency and the administration of the Chornobyl zone (and not her father). They were given the same standard excursion that most Chernobyl tourists receive. When the Web site appeared, Zone Administration personnel were in an uproar over who approved a motorcycle trip in the zone. When it turned out that the motorcycle story was an invention, they were even less pleased about this fantasy Web site."
Torn loose rumors or reliable facts; there is one main feature that gives us a solid reason that Filatova's motorcycle adventure didn't happen and this is the fact that private vehicles are forbidden in the Zone and that visitors may journey through it only by an official vehicle or approved tourist bus. 

Since facing all these accusations, Elena Filatova decided to change the contents of her website. These days the text is merely hinting that she was in the Zone with her motorcycle and many photos have been removed or replaced. 

Looking into this issue, there is only one question that I experience cannot be answered in a rational way; the question of "why". Why would anyone want to make up a story like that? What profit is there to possibly gain? Obviously none, as Filatova decided to withdraw parts of her story and the "evidence". However, all was not futile because at the time she did manage to bring a certain attention back to a disaster that the world wants to forget.