Dispatches from a radioactive wasteland

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Forget about a ghost town -- this is a ghost country. The 30km-wide "Zone of Exclusion" that radiates outward from the ruined nuclear plant at Chernobyl has, since a hasty evacuation one Spring day in 1986, been known as one of the most contaminated and uninhabitable places on Earth. (It's also one of the creepiest.) Now that radiation in the Zone has begun to leach down into the soil, mosses and water below its abandoned villages and farms, it's considerably safer to explore (though partaking of local fruits or game ain't a good idea), and so a new kind of life is blooming there, slowly but surely: tourism. About 800 curious souls are led on carefully-monitored, organized tours every year.

One such tourist is the self-styled "Kid of Speed," a Russian, leather-clad biker chick named Elena who, so the story goes, loves to ride her 147hp Ninja up and down the empty streets of the Exclusion Zone, camera in hand. It may be part fantasy (access to the Zone is tightly controlled, and motorcycles specifically prohibited), but her words and pictures paint a haunting (if gleefully hard-boiled) picture nonetheless:

elena.jpgThe roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want. Time to go for a ride. This is our road. There won't be many cars on those roads. Our journey from here is a gradually darkening picture of deserted towns, empty villages and dead farms.

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Radiation fallen out uneven, as on a chess-board, leaving some places alive and other dead. It's hard to say where the fairyland begin.

More fairyland after the jump:

reactor.jpgIn the first year after a disaster it would be a suicide to ride here an open vehicle, the radioactive particles stay on the ground. I'd have to kiss my shoes goodbye if I'd walked on this grass. Likewise, I'd contaminate and paralyze my Geiger counter if I dared let it touch the radioctive surface. These days, radiation lives in cucumbers and apples, and having a Geiger counter at the greengrocery market is as useful as to have one here. A major concern is the mushrooms. We eat 6 times as much as most Americans.
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prip.jpgWe ride as long as paved roads last and then leave our vehicle and continue traveling by foot. No need to worry about leaving car or motorcycle unattended, no one will find it. There are about as many chances to meet someone here as in Antarctica.
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boars.jpgAt least wild boars are comfortable here now. No one hunt for them, they are radioactive.
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It is hard for me to describe what I feel, when I come in a village with no people, but I will try- first is a feeling, like I got deaf. The silence is tremendous. No birds singing, no wind, nothing that can break this silence. Villages more picturesque then towns, houses and sheds do not look real. All look painted and I feel, like I walk inside of this painting.

March 13, 2007 - 5:48am
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