This road is in the dead zone around Chernobyl. The sign is barely readable after 21 years, but the radiation still remains.
Elena Filatova, motorcyclist and photographer, is still visiting Chernobyl and writing about it. Her latest photo essay is titled Spring 2007.
Her haunting photos and evocative words raise questions that we still do not have answers for 21 years after the disaster. Elena wants to make sure that Chernobyl is not forgotten.
In her own words:
Chernobyl is so easily forgotten because it was only known to ourselves. In a first years after the accident we didn't want to share our story with the world, now we can not share it, we hardly remember it ourselves. All that remains of the tragic tale is a memory, weak and disfigured by time...
Elsewhere she writes:
Translations of Chernobyl website in French, Portuguese, Dutch, Czech and Serbo-Croatian languages goes well, Italian and German do not catch up and Finnish and Spanish is very slow. This work is for volunteers. If someone want to translate or revise couple of pages, please contact me, e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
The 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster will occur on April 26th. Will we be any wiser by the 30th or 40th anniversary?
I would hope so, but according to Elena, the UN cover-up continues and the need for more energy has politicians glossing over the omissions of the past.
Elena Filatova, also known as Kid of Speed, wants to make sure that Chernobyl is not forgotten.
In an interview with Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's biggest morning paper she was asked, "Why do you devote so much of your life to this catastrophe?"
"Some day those towns and villages will be demolished and I don't want their memory to disappear. I want to leave a record in images, videos and short stories of how I saw Chernobyl. I am sure, in the future people will appreciate my efforts."
Towns and villages in the radioactive area are already being demolished and photos like Elena's may soon be the only witness to what existed in 1986. Her Chernobyl Journal has a running account of her efforts to keep the memory of Chernobyl alive.
Elena captured the imaginations of millions of people with her startling photos of the region around Chernobyl in 2004. She later came under attack for claiming that she had ridden a motorcycle through the so-called Dead Zone.
You can judge for yourselves by watching this video of the Chernobyl region in the vicinity of Polesskoye taken by a pillion passenger on her motorbike. It will give you a flavor of the experience waiting for you on her new website.
She has updated her websites with new high resolution photos and many streaming videos. They are every bit as dramatic as the original Ghost Town photos which I featured in earlier posts. The site bears this notice:
All Chernobyl relative texts, photos and videos may be freely downloaded, copied, translated and distributed for any appropriate use.
For a comprehensive look at what Elena has assembled, go to her quick navigation page. There is enough material there for hours of fascinated browsing. I plan on ordering her CD and DVD as soon as my PayPal account fills up again.
This photograph by Phil Coombs is just one of many included in a series of BBC News articles remembering the twentieth anniversary of Chernobyl.
The BBC News website revisited Chernobyl recently, and has published a series of articles and pictures that capture the imagination and fill in more details of the tragic nuclear accident that took place on April 26 1986.
There are many articles to browse through and for those who have not read my earlier posts on Chernobyl, they provide a good summation of the the incident, the subsequent efforts to cover it up, and the various estimates of genetic damage that resulted from the incident.
It is interesting to see the amount of wildlife that has flourished in the so-called Dead Zone even in the presence of high radiation levels. It is telling that animals brought into the zone from outside do not do well. I am sure that there is more to be discovered about how plants and animals have adapted to the radiation. After all, it will not diminish for hundreds of years. There will be ample time for study...and for reflection.
If you want a quick fix, check out these links for more of Phil Coombs photos on Pripyat: Chernobyl's lost city.
Many children are being born every day with genetic defects in the areas around Chernobyl. This is also the area that has been hardest hit financially. Once the bread basket of Eastern Europe, this radiation- contaminated region has been brought to its knees economically.
"In the city of Gomel, fifty miles from Chernobyl, only 15 to 20% of the babies are born healthy", from a Russian doctor interviewed in the film, Chernobyl Heart.
The incidence of thyroid cancer is 10,000 times what is was before the Chernobyl incident. According to another interview I watched, genetic damage is still increasing.
The high levels of radiation produce both physical and mental damage. I saw a five-year-old child the size of a four month old baby and other children whose deformities beggar description. These children are being given improved care and better living conditions through the efforts of Chernobyl Children's Project International.
Chernobyl Children's Project International started in Ireland and most of the work is done by dedicated doctors and building professionals who volunteer their time to rebuild orphanages and operate on sick children who have no hope otherwise.
If you can get HBO on Demand, see Chernobyl Heart. This is an incredibly moving documentary and it is only available until March 13. The care Adi Roche, Founder and Director of CCP International, showed for these children brought tears to my eyes.
Watching the surgeon, who performed a heart operation on a little girl, try to cope with the gratitude of the girl's parents was an education in itself.
There is a great deal more to tell about this organization and its work. I will be covering it in future posts. Meanwhile, you should visit their sites.
One very important point: Although this organization works with the United Nations and has achieved official United Nations NGO status, it does not share the shabby reputation that the UN has earned for itself around the world.
These people actually do something to help. Check them out.
There are all sorts of people ranting about Elena's fabled motorcycle tour of Chernobyl. Actually, it was an elaborate flight of fancy, but if extreme tourism is your strong point, you can dispel the rumors and see the region for yourself.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Just you, a driver and a guide, touring Pripyat and the radioactive ruins for the reasonable sum of $193 per day.
You can take the same tour that Elena took when she published her fanciful account of visiting Chernobyl on a motorcycle.
By the way, if you hadn't heard that her account was "highly imaginative", you can pick up the latest twist on the story on this thread.
Instead of ranting like those who were upset by Elena's elaborate deception, you can follow in the tracks of Tony Brown, who has taken the Chernobyl tour with guide Rimma Kiselitsa and has written a brief account here.
Tony states, "By the way, it's not exactly a tour group - it was myself, my driver (in the fearsome Soviet Lada car) and Rimma. That's it. It's a private tour, not exactly a Greyhound tour of Chernobyl.."
Details of the tour that he took can be found at the SAM Travel site. You can book your own tours if you're interested. SAM Travel advertises, Chernobyl tour - visit the site of the worst environmental disaster in history. (Just the ticket for the tourist who has seen everything else!)
Chernobyl has been the subjects of repeated exposes and cover-ups ever since the explosion occurred in 1986. It will not be laid to rest until the entire story is completely known.
That may not happen in our time, but the internet and weblogs are an irresistible combination of forces that brings that day ever closer.
In earlier posts I have touched upon the earliest cover-ups by the Russians, the UN, and others who sought to make the incident fade from view. More open communications might have prevented the accident in the first place, and would have certainly saved thousands of lives in the period immediately afterwards. Enough time has passed so the all details of the story need to be known so this never happens again.
Early last year, a young motorcyclist named Elena took an extraordinary series of photographs of the area around Chernobyl and brought the world’s attention back upon this dimly remembered nuclear accident. The haunting images of abandoned schoolrooms and children’s toys stood in stark contrast to miles of empty roads with grass growing through cracks in the pavement and herds of wild horses.
Her photo essay is so powerful that it more than made up for any mistakes she made in initially claiming she made the entire tour on a motorcycle. She apparently toured Prypyat on a commercially available guided tour. The important fact is that she was there and took photos which have galvanized world interest in an event which many hoped the world would forget. She has revisited the area again and continues to update her site. It is well worth revisiting.
In the interest of shedding more light on this complex story, I found a series of 394 photographs of Chernobyl, on a site which documents the various Chernobyl initiatives in more detail. Here is a quick summary:
Like Milli Vanilli, and so many others pretending to be what they weren't, Elena, the Chernobyl motorcyclist, may have lessened the credibility she earned through her arresting Chernobyl photojournal.
UPDATE: I feel that Elena damaged herself more than she realized, in her attempt to sensationalize her Chernobyl photos. I wrote this post, "Faking It?" as a cautionary note to anyone else who might like to learn from someone else's mistakes.
I see this as a sort of Greek tragedy. Someone has a valid message to deliver to the world, and in the process adds untruth to the message. The end result is the social destruction (discrediting) of the messenger.
Her photos captured the results of an extraordinary event and her down-to-earth language underscored the seriousness of the disaster. There is such power in the truth that an unvarnished account of what she saw and what she felt would stand on its own merits for many years.
Her efforts to dress up some of the photos and to heighten the adventure by pretense made it into a travesty like those Hollywood productions where the leading lady can't sing, can't dance, and is only present for close-ups. When the truth is discovered, all involved lose credibility, regardless of the subject matter.
Elena has a new domain: kiddofspeed.com. It is faster, has new photographs like the one below, and some new text. It appears that she may be doing more updates in the future. This statue of Prometheus stealing fire from the gods was moved from the center of town to the nuclear power plant after the accident. It would seem to be a fitting memorial to the danger of unleashing unknown powers.
See my earlier posts, here, here, and here for more information about this intrepid young woman and her amazing photojournal.
It is not every day that you get to experience a post-apocalyptic journey through a Ukrainian nuclear wasteland. Even from halfway around the world, I find her images chilling.