Afterword to my Chernobyl photoreportages and videos.
My interest in Chernobyl began in 1992-1993, when I first traveled through Belorussian villages north of the reactor. I was 18 years old and I was impressed. What struck me most was some of the dark beauty of the places; the beauty that others could not see.
A few years later I bought my first motorcycle and Chernobyl was my favorite destination. I was posting my Chernobyl photos on internet motorcycle forums since 1998. Francois de La Rochefoucauld said that we would frequently be ashamed of our good deeds if people saw all of underlying motives that produced them. Very good observation. My underlying motives for posting Chernobyl photos on the internet was fun of teasing and entertaining friends from biker community. Many of motorcyclists could only dream of riding though totally deserted area in size of a state with no danger hitting any of a living thing. Back in 1990th roads in Dead zone were pretty good and I never had problems with police. Guys at checkpoints knew I was the daughter of some scientist, so they would let me ride though checkpoints.
Many of my photos of that time still float around on the internet. I don't remember how my photos and my stories first appeared in organized form. I believe someone from forum has collected some of my photos with comments and put them at one place.
Later materials were transferred from motorcycle forums to angelfire website, I gave it name of Ghost Town. My site became very popular in 2003- 2004 and it is when my troubles has started. My account was blocked and I lost control over my website. Papers all around the world started writing that I was hero or fake, a commercial trick, computer game advertisement, photoshop etc. At home, I had troubles with the authorities so I had to change place of residence.
I was proud, it's like my stone hit the monster right in the eye. The positive effect was that I succeeded to remind the world about Chernobyl, which at that time was absolutely forgotten. Back in 2004 I wasn't aware of all politic behind Chernobyl so I couldn't understand why my "Ghost Town" was under attack and why so many people didn't appreciate my efforts. Now, I understand, it is because Chernobyl is human made and it never ends.
I left motorcycle forums and for six months I didn't do anything. I was waiting for the storm to be over with hope to return to normal life. I thought it was the end of the story but I was bothered. I couldn't find peace and eventually I realized that I can not just leave everything like that. I felt like my story is unfinished. This is the feeling I had during all years of my work on Chernobyl. But, can you end a story about disaster that never ends?
I restored my internet site, grabbed the camera, motorbike and resumed my trips through the wasteland to continue with second part of the Chernobyl story, "Land of the Wolves".
The harder they tried to discredit my site, the harder I worked to make new photoreportages.
Chernobyl has always been my hobby and I never was writing for money.
Since 2004 things have changed for me in Chernobyl. I never had permission to visit Dead Zone. I was denied entry and my name was in black lists on every checkpoint. I always travelled illegally... sneaking into forbidden areas. Hiding from everyone, running from police and radiation. I was lucky, I was coming home with many photos, videos, new impressions and experiences. I loved philosophy and always had a real passion for it. In Chernobyl I found inexhaustible gold mine of thoughts which was most valuable find for me.
At young age, I was absolutely reckless with my life and was often on edge with fast riding and other things. I was lucky to stay alive and I thought that Pluto, god of the dead, was giving me credit with which to play. This continued until I discovered Chernobyl, which is the home of Pluto and his realm of death. It slowed me down because in Chernobyl to stay alive one has to think and play by rules. My self preservation instinct was switched on. I am sure if not for Chernobyl I would get myself killed. Chernobyl brought me to senses and has become for me a source of inspiration. It has filled my life with purpose. Ironically, Chernobyl saved my life while it took so many others. That may sound odd, but it will not look so strange if we remember that Yama, the Brahmin god of death has two faces, one very friendly, one very gloomy. In Sanskrit, his name means "twin." I guess I was lucky to see the "twin's" friendly face.
Nowadays I often travel through the wasteland with a group of friends and my family. Between us, we have a wide variety of interests in Chernobyl, ranging from exploring radiation in the lowest part of the troposphere to collecting genetically mutated organisms. Most of the folks in my group are retired scientists. Einstein once said "Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one's living at it." That is true. Everyone in my group seems start to enjoy exploring Chernobyl after retirement, and I enjoy it all my life.
This photo shows Chernobyl "old timer" Soviet-era car with our group inside. We only drive this car through the most contaminated areas of the wasteland, then we exchange it for our everyday car. I used to keep it at my base in Chernobyl. In my photoreportage titled Last People I told the story of my old base and the friends who lived there. Sadly, that base and those dear people no longer exist.
This car came up for sale in a neighboring village, but no one wanted to buy it because there was talk in village that whoever owned this car previously died under suspicious circumstances. In fact, while some cars come with extra features, this car was offered with years of accumulated bad karma. The first owner of this car was a retired KGB colonel and it was his work car. There was talk that people were tortured in this car, had one-way trip to prison, mental hospitals with this car... That talk discouraged all potential buyers. But my friend could not sleep: he kept thinking about buying this car. His hobby was restoring old timers. One morning he made up his mind and said he wanted to buy this old timer, restore it, and give it to our group so we could ride comfortably on our visits to Chernobyl. I was excited. I thought a car with such a dark history would perfectly fit the evilness of Chernobyl. It would be such a nice present to Pluto! The only problem was that someone of us would have to become the official new owner of this car, but who would want to be an owner of a car whose previous owners according to village legend have departed this world like a flock of geese? No one volunteered, then I proposed to share ownership between ourselves and see what happens. We duplicated keys for everyone to have their own key. My friend bought and restored this car, and I provided a place for parking. Another guy was driving it on our trips, and the car was registered in the name on fourth person from our group. This way, no particular person could be determined as being an owner of this fateful beast. I was right about our old timer being welcomed and well-received in Chernobyl. It gives us some minor problems, but never fails us. In fact, most things can be fixed along the way. Also, the police will not confiscate old radioactive vehicles whose monetary value is zero. This old timer will never have new owners: now it belongs to Pluto. After a half century of torturing people it has finally found peace. Now it only tortures modern car mechanics since they already forgot how to work with a wrench and hammer. Once the mechanic at some repair service found two microphones hidden behind the door panel. He asked "what the hell is that?" I said "It's nothing, just some echoes from the past."
In The Lesser Evil video I was driving this car. In this video I re-visited some village in Chernobyl after 12 years with purpose to re-measure radiation and see if there were changes in radiation levels. I was quite confident there wouldn't be any changes because from reading maps I knew this area was poisoned with Plutonium 238+239+240. Plutonium was named after Pluto. The name alone suggest that chances for recovery of the area don't exist. There could be positive changes if, for instance the area was polluted only with cesium-137 which half life is 30 years whereas half-life of Plutonium-239 is over 24,000 years. Areas heavily polluted with Cesium on a long run will be better off than areas slightly poisoned by Plutonium like the one on this video. Usually if area got lethal doze of Plutonium it is written off, no one cares about additional amount of Cesium. Just like additional prison term won't make any difference for someone who is sentenced to life without parole.
In video Head or Tails a mutated foal with 8 legs has lamps installed in his eyes. There is much more to this story. Guys who used to collect mutants in Chernobyl were providing unofficial tours though dead zone. They had to earn money to pay travel costs and to buy more mutants from farmers, forest guards.. they had to pay illegal abortion doctors for deformed human embryos, they had to pay for embalmer or taxidermy services... for all this they needed money and it was long before tourism industry started in Chernobyl. They needed some kind of tourist attraction site. At some point my friends hit upon the idea of making some kind of Chernobyl Disneyland. They used to joke that in their Disneyland human size Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck would be real. This idea didn't work out, but some dummies still have wires and lamps in the eyes. Mr. Konovalov gave support to this project, he always tried to put his mutants for public display. He used to keep bunch of two headed calves at his apartment balcony in Zhitomir which caused tense relationship with neighbours. After he lost his job and moved out the neighbourhood had a sigh of relief. At the end of his life he was forced to get rid of his collection. He made the announcement that he buried more than 100 pieces of mutants somewhere in the woods. Well, I am sure he made this announcement just for media. The collection was the work of his life and a man like Mr.Konovalov would do anything to secure his work and protect it for further research. With this announcement, he just finished promoting it.
Cherny By Night video was from our motorcycle trip. Night is the safest time to travel. No one on the roads. On checkpoints they sleep. The only problem is that it takes a bit of time to get used to this creepy place. With no car, no firearms, no night vision appliances a person who goes for a night trip on a motorbike for the first time will have very shocking experience. One feels very unprotected. Something always walks near, you hear them but in a complete darkness, you see nothing and you always have this feeling of being watched. Like at night in a jungle, there is no place to hide. Buildings more a trap than shelter and ominous click of the Geiger counter do not make you feel any better. Night Chernobyl brings humans to the highest level of fear that most people do not experience before. This can also be related to the feeling of being prey, and of impending predation. Primal fear makes human only wish to get out of this cursed place ASAP. My daughter, as seen in her video was uncomfortable, but she didn't have deep, primal fear. It is because she was still at the age when kids are under protection of their parent. Her survival instinct was not activated so she was able to film her video without too much shaking. Once a previous bike passenger whom I took for night trip to Chernobyl, told me that at this place one must either have a gun or have claws.
The promise of "big money" to be made in the atomic energy industry naturally attracts powerful political and business interests who do not give a damn about the safety of reactors or the health of people. Driven exclusively by their reckless and unmitigated lust for money, their only concern is driving profit, no matter what the cost to public health. They milk the proverbial cow, urge it with the whip and milk it without limit! The outcome is always the same - with the milk they are squeezing out blood.
I am not pro- or anti- nuclear activist, I am just a pro-human author who believes that significance of Chernobyl is that here was the beginning of massive poisoning of our planet with radiation. It is first serious entry in case history, and the aim of my work is to pass this valuable information into the future. I am sure our unlucky posterity will want to know how it all came about..
I do not think that atom itself is evil. It only becomes evil in human hands. Under the right conditions, atom in some forms can serve humans, under conditions where there are no wars, when the atom does not belong to communists, capitalists, Islamists, or terrorists. The problem is that the life of nations is nothing but wars and tumults; and the communists, capitalists, Islamists and terrorists are always the first who try to possess the atom. They say- it is inexcusable errors in design of reactors that made atom dangerous and I say- IT IS INEXCUSABLE ERRORS IN DESIGN OF HUMANS that makes dangerous those technologies.
On a page about "Red Wood". When I said, I'd glow in the dark, I was kidding. Radiation is not seen. Ita's just a common expression. Extremely high radiation can be seen on some videos, depending of brand of the film. It appears as a little sparks. Radiation is seen on the video, "Last day of Pripyat" The author of this video, Michail Nazarenko, was making a film about an atomic plant and happened to be in Pripyat. He also filmed the evacuation there.
Fukushima was most horrible event in my life. After 11/3 I realised that Fukushima is a poster child for all future nuclear accidents. History of Chernobyl is a history of struggle, it gave birth to a strong protest movement. Many reactors and reactor building projects were closed all around the world. Fukushima on the other hand was a complete and utter defeat for humanity. We people lost this battle for Fukushima mostly because in the past few decades, industries were getting stronger and mankind was getting dumber. Also at the time of the Chernobyl accident West was against the Soviet Union. Winning cold war was a matter of first priority, so to defeat the USSR, Western Powers sided with victims of accident. This way Chernobyl has become an international disaster while Fukushima is one to be ignored because Japan is ally so Western Powers sides with Japanese government.
I remember the news coverage following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. It was relentless and around the clock for about two weeks and then, as if a switch was flipped, it just stopped! The real news to inform us completely stopped, with only fake news left working to misinform us. Fukushima caught the authorities with their pants down, and it took the nuclear industry two whole weeks to figure out how to hide the real news and then turn it off altogether. Next time I am sure they will react much faster. As tension grows all around the world governments will probably keep both hands on the information kill switch all the time.
In September 2017 my daughter made video called "One flew over the Rossokha" It is about biggest radioactive cemeteries in Chernobyl. Over 1400 army vehicles, firetruks, tanks, helicopters have disappeared from this site and no explanation was given by our government. They only told that some of those vehicles were repaired and sent to war in Eastern Ukraine. If it is true, then it explains why Ukraine lost 10% of its territory. Actually separatists don't have to waste bullets, they just have to wait for the soldiers inside of those tanks to drop from radiation. As far as I remember levels near some of those vehicles were 700-800 times more than normal. My father told me that his Geiger counter reading near some tanks was over 20-30 miliroentgens which is 2000-3000 times normal. Now all those metals are melted and sold all over the world. Someone in Canada, China or Australia is dying now without an idea that they become another uncounted victim of Chernobyl.
Photo of this place. It says contaminated over 7 miliroentens, which is 700 times more than normal.
"Ghost Town" and "Land of the Wolves" describe how I saw Chernobyl some 17-19 years after the accident, so I didn't update any info about radiation levels, number of people living in the area, etc. etc..
Some of the photos are not mine. I've placed them on my site with the permission of their respective authors. I got to thank everyone who helped me with this site and those who still help.
"Ghost Town" song is a special present for me, from a musical duo "Huns and Dr.Beeker"
I was trying to avoid using scientific terminology and basically was trying to tell about sophisticated issues with simple words. If something is unclear, please check out the Glossary
The scientific details of Chernobyl - especially as they relate to radioactivity - represent an incredibly complex field that is beyond the comprehension of most people. Learning about radiation in the laboratory is like learning military tactics in a shooting range. Radioactivity in life is a form of combat. Chernobyl was a war, and it was a war with the worst kind of officers and commanders... graduates from military schools who were lacking in any real experience. Their foot soldiers (also known as "liquidators") were just cannon fodder to them. You can see the people who were in charge of the emergency response to the disaster in a rare video which they do not show on TV. "Here is this video." Two years after this video was filmed, lives more than half a million liquidators were at the hands of those suicidal cultists in charge.
If you want to know who among the self-proclaimed nuclear "experts" is truly an expert, just check to see if they are still around in a couple of decades. Many claimed to be "expert" and made videos showing high radiation readings, but they didn't make videos of themselves dying from the radiation to which they were exposing themselves. With nuclear poisoning, by the time anyone realizes they are experiencing symptoms, it is already too late and they are on the fast-track to their demise. It seems the "expert's" mantra is "we're not dead, we're not dead, we're not dead," and then suddenly there are many people dead! Those who are out of the game were not experts. I will never accept life-saving advice from those who didn't know how to save their own life.
Real experts in Chernobyl very rare. It's because radiation finishing people up before they finish training for expert. How is it possible to become an expert if one can spend only a limited amount of time on site? For instance inside of sarcophagus there are places where people can work only for one hour in their lifetime. On my trips I noticed that Chernobyl guides are always new and always young. Either they guide from government agency or self taught stalkers, it doesn't matter, there are always new faces. Old guides would be an expert by now, but they already got their shot and out of Chernobyl. This way the garden is evergreen. Fruit fall before ripe and the territory of atomic wasteland is reserved for forever young and forever incompetent. If they start work in mature age, they won't have time to learn and if they start learning young they will never reach the age when they mature.************************************************************************
In 2010-2011 I wanted to make a colony of artists in Chernobyl. Fukushima killed this project. The flow of artists has stoped after 11/3. Before they travelled for government money, some grants and after Fukushima financing was cut off so they had to travel for own money which artists never have. With this project I met many interesting people from all around the world.
When the stupidity of Chernobyl collide with art and artists it always producing interesting stories. Like this one- I worked on this Chernobyl colony project with one guy from Switzerland. He was an actor in theater. We had to travel to Chernobyl quite often and there was absolutely no way for him to travel legally so, this guy went to a second hand store and he bought himself a suit two sizes smaller, some fancy hat, moved this hat on side and we went to Chernobyl. Since then he travelled with me posing as though handicapped. When police stopped us he would put his tongue out, hold tight this cemetery garland and let me do the talking. Normal conversation with the police would sound something like this:
"Who is retard and where you taking him?"
I would answer "He is my brother and I am taking him to our Grandma's grave, he loved his Grandma."
"But, you don't look like brother and sister," the police said.
"It's because we have different fathers."
"Does he have any documents?"
"No, he is a lifetime inmate of the mental hospital, so no documents."
"Does he speak?"
"No, on this medication he doesn't."
"Is he aggressive?" ... and so on and so on...
A herd of wild boars. First couple of boars in column can be dangerous, they are fighting boars- fearless and agressive. I don't know what they called in English, we call them sekach boar. They are older boars whose breeding abilities in decline, so now they are protecting their herd. It is only apes and humans who send their young to die first, in wild nature they don't squander their genetic inheritance. Young boars not dangerous, male only fights each other to have the opportunity to mate and females can be quite friendly. The dominant female is, in norm, always the largest and oldest can be very dangerous when protecting the new born. Meeting feeding wild boar mom in a closed space, inside of some empty house is a very bad scenario. I heard stories about guys jumping out of the windows after randevu with breast feeding boar mom tete-a-tete. I myself always look around before I enter each new room in a house and always plan my walk though the house so entrance door would be behind me and not behind the animal.
I never worked for any organization. For me the greatest pleasure was to be able to say what I think and I always knew I was a free bird as long as I work on my own. If I would let some organization sponsor my work I would allow them to get me in a cage and silence me up. I would have to tell what I am paid to say, not what I think or what I see.
It was in La Rochefoucauld's mind that neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily. Chernobyl is a death in one of a purest form here on earth so for some periods I had to take breaks. My work on Chernobyl was moving in circles. It was like hotel "California", where you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.************************************************************************
I have to share my experiences with other photographers and writers. Most photographers will go in the field and take photos, then write comments later. I do it this way too some times, but more often I already have comments in mind, and I go to Chernobyl to search for photos that would fit those comments. From the standpoint of most photographers, this sounds like I put cart before the horse, but I feel I am more of a writer than the photographer, so with me the idea is first and the photos follow to illustrate the idea. From each photoreportage or book I have produced, I have hundreds of left over photos that I never used, but I never have left over thoughts and insights. Chernobyl provides nearly unlimited photo opportunities for a very limited number of ideas, so it is much easier to find a photo for comments than it is to write quality comments for photos already taken.
I always calibrate my thinking process with the works of ancient philosophers, but when I do my own writing, then I have to shut down books and stop reading for reading other books is very harmful to my own reflection.
English is not my native language, so I have to find ways to hold the most truth in the least space. For that I often use metaphors and similes. They help me illustrate my point by explaining an unknown relation to a known one in its simplest, most visible and almost tangible form. This writing method is very dynamic and is only one signature of author which cannot be copied or imparted by another; for to find a proper simile implies an eye for resemblances between things of quite different natures, and between cases that lie wide apart from one another. As long as a relation is known to me as existing only in a single case, I have but an individual idea of it... in other words, I have information, but as soon as I see the same relation in two different cases, I have a general idea of its whole nature, which illustrates insights. The aim of my Chernobyl work is to convert information into insights and the shortest way to achieve it is by using the metaphorical way of thinking and learning.************************************************************************
During 2016-2018, my daughter has joined us for many of these trips, providing her with the source material for the video blog she produced. In May, 2018 our YouTube channel was terminated with no explanations from YouTube.
The "Elephant's Foot" is just the biggest formation, but it is really a small part of all the fuel that was in the reactor. The explosion forced down the reactor base and melted material had poured out of the reactor vessel and spilled into the rooms and corridors below. In this way, the reactor is empty and fuel is not concentrated in one place. This was sort of good news, because it reduced the chances of another chain reaction. The pictures below make it easier to understand how the reactor was built and where the fuel is now.
That radioactive magma has glassy look, because fuel was mixed with sand that was routinely packed around the reactor vessel.
If someone want to learn more, click here for a video that was taken deep in a basement of reactor N4 and shows the "Elephant's Foot"
The amount of fuel that is left under the sarcophagus is a subject of discussion among scientists. It is hard to explore all rooms and corridors, because radiation levels can be up to 1000 Roentgens and higher. Scientists run, when they pass such a highly radioactive place. 1000 Roentgens kills a person in just one hour. Protective suits are not effective. There are no means that can protect humans from this level of radiation.
Until the ill fated day of 26 April 1986, Chernobyl's power plant was a success. It's energy output exceeded all expectations and it's safety record was unstained. The Chief Engineer who designed Chernobyl reactor used to brag that this type of reactor was so safe, that it could be built in the Red Square in Moscow.
Chernobyl plant was providing 2 millions people with electricity and nighttime was the best time to run experiments, because the energy consumption was at the lowest level. When the "safety experiment" was scheduled to run that day, control operators were about to run their business with the same confidence as always. The purpose of contest was to evaluate the reactor's response to a "loss of electrical power". What they failed to understand was just how unstable their soviet design of reactor would become when operating at low power. All reactors operate under following principle: In the presence of uranium fuel, neutrons split the uranium atoms and initiate what is called a "self sustaining chain reaction". The energy released heats the fuel, waters circulate over this fuel, some of it turns to steam and power the turbines which generate electricity. Then all the waters recycle and returns to cool the core.
At Chernobyl's reactor number 4, the uranium was contained in seventeen hundred separate tubes surrounded by blocks of graphite that helped to keep the chain reaction going. Control rods absorb neutrons and slow the chain reaction. They are raised out of the core to increase power and lowered to decrease it. For safety a minimum of 30 control rods should remain at the core at all times. This rule is a must.. At all phases of the operation of a reactor, it's capacity for nuclear power generation must not exceed the ability of the controling rods to suppress the chain reaction. Those 30 rods are located in a zone where they have the greatest effect on the core's ability to generate power. The cooled water absorbs extra neutrons and helps to regulate the rate of the chain reaction. The danger of this reactor's design is that if the water is lost, or boils away, the extra neutrons can speed up the chain reaction until the reactor is out of the control. This is what happened at Chernobyl.
After the rupture of lower water communication lines, which carried cooling water to the core, the nuclear reactor was left entirely without water. The explosions first occurred in the fuel channels of the reactor, as they began to fall apart from the massive increase in pressure. How many steam explosions there were is unclear. Some say there were three or more, then came the final, most terrible explosion of the detonation of the gas in the core.
The main explosion was caused mainly by a combination of following factors: 1) There were only a few (may be less then 10) control rods in the reactor at the time, rods which could instantly move to counter a reactivity insertion. 2) The shut down rods went in slowly- acceleration about one fourth of what would be in free fall (g/4) in contrast to being driven in very fast as they should be. 3)To save money the tip (1 meter) of the shut down rods was GRAPHITE! This gave an instant positive surge of reactivity which could not be countered for perhaps 1/20 second.
Among other defects, flaws and failures worth mentioning is the absence of the cap (secondary containment) which prevented a similar catastrophe on Three Mile Island in the United States. Soviets were told many times that atomic plants with no caps are dangerous, but they kept building those plants, because it was 30% less expensive.
After explosion, the only way to slow chain reaction was to bomb the reactor from helicopters with neutron absorbers and other chemicals. Soon after that, many of the brave pilots died. Their photos and videos have survived. Click here for video from helicopter.
Don't miss 6 minutes long video of Vladimir Shevchenko, called "Chronicle of Severe Days"
Here is video that shows "biorobots" at work, it their final stage of cleaning on the roof.
Below are photos of our May 1st "milliroentgen" parade. It probably was only parade without party bosses and members of their families taking part in it. As is true of all times, "first class passengers" left the sinking ship first, so their families left for Kiev on April 26, as soon as they learned about the explosion at the nuclear plant.
No one was punished for hiding the truth from people.
Punished were only the guys from the nuclear plant. Photos of trial are posted below.. A group of six atomic plant personal have been sentenced to different terms from 2 to 10 years. Only Deputy Chief engineer partly admitted his guilt. "I was guilty but so was the system, he said.
In 1991, the Soviet Union has collapsed. Since then, some things have changed: communists became democrats, Komsomol leaders became businessmen, judges and prosecutors became politicians and government officials. What became of the people who once trusted to their leaders and went out to clean up area around the reactor? Each one, left alone with his or her own cancer, knows that he or she will die and after his or her death, the toll of victims will still remain at.. 31 !!!
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Thanks, everyone for reading.