LAND OF THE WOLVES.
Good bye, Ghost Town.
It's time to leave. We are heading up North, towards the Belorussian border.
Belorussia is a separate country. PLEASE NOTE, the neighboring country suffered more than the country where the disaster took place. Radiation has an international nature and does not need invitations or visas to travel. The evil, dark wind of that day carried 70% of Chernobyl' s heavy radiation into the neighboring country of Belorussia.
As we travel northward, we begin to grasp the immensity of the total area that was poisoned, and will still be poisoined in the year 2525.
This is the roads we travel, some places are good.
Some places are not.
Sometimes, a fallen pole crosses our road.
As long as we travel through the WOLVES LAND, we only see the shadows of dead villages and ruined farms. We also see the grass that grows beside the road. We call this grass chernobyl, the wormwood. It has a bitter taste.
Nature is relentless at reclaiming the land. In some hundred years all signs of humanity will be gone from here. Radiation will stay long after that.
If we travel in autumn these fruit trees will bend low, asking us to treat ourselves to those big apples and pears, but we don't dare eat them.
The Revelation Book says that the great star named Chernobyl, fell upon the third part of rivers, and upon the fountains of waters, and made them bitter..
so, we don't drink from this fountains either.
Being non religious, I am not a very concerned about my sins, because price for the sins we'll pay in the world thereafter, but I am really concerned about mistakes, where price we got to pay already in this world... I am not optimist who sees the glass half full and not a pessimist who sees the same glass half empty. I am a realist who always sees the glass exactly as it is and here in Chernie I see through a glass, darkly, that authors of the Bible had somehow foreseen the Chernobyl disaster.
In Greek, that the New Testament was originally written in, the verse where it say- "..and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp.." the word "fell" means "to hover or to settle," and the word "star" translates to "as scattered across the sky." It in turn is derived from another Greek word which meant "to spread like a carpet" - an appropriate description of the radiation cloud that spread across the area. Most interesting that the word for "lamp" comes from a Greek verb meaning "to radiate." When you make that into a noun, you have "radiation."
In verse 11 the name of the star is even capitalized, as a proper name of a place.. As for the third part of the world, it was popular in the first centuries Greek to use the term "one-third" to describe a large quantity. Chernobyl may be as well a group name for all Chernobyls to come, wherever a "great star" will fall again, the future of this land will be the same, radiation and wormwood- the grass of oblivion.
Another interesting detail, the alternate meaning of "wormwood" for the word "Chernobyl" has now mysteriously disappeared from our dictionaries. Such is the policy of our government. In order to suppress apocalyptic moods and to build more reactors, they have removed this word from dictionaries. I doubt, they will succeed in erasing this episode from our memory, word is still in everyday use and we all know that not all governments of the world, not even their rich patrons from almighty atomic industry, can remove verses from Bible.
The bread basket
Farms in Ukraine.
By territory Ukraine is a bit bigger than France and in history books it was called a bread basket of Europe.
It is because Ukraine has 40% of the world supply of black earth.
Nikolai Gogol wrote in 19 century "Soil is good in Ukraine, put a stick into this soil and it will grow".
Now, radioactivity signs sticking out. The bread basket is flavoured with wormwood.
At least wild boars are comfortable here now. No one hunt for them, as well as native food products they are radiactive and not in demand.
Vilcha. We are at a railway station, in Vilcha. Last passanger train went through this station some 18 years ago. Since then only freight trains from the nuclear plant rumble through here.
Vilcha was the forth biggest place in Chernobyl area. It is located on the border between Ukraine and Belorussia. The places where radiation is higher then in surrounding areas are called a hotspots. Here, the level of radioactive isotopes of cesium measured 60 curie/ square km, which indicate that we got on a hotspot. Town is radiactive and no one lives here since 1986.
Here is my ninja, looking at the windows of some empty school.
When you travel through the deserted place at night, then the beam of you motorbike is only lamp that shinning in the whole town. It goes through the frameless doors and windows like an x-ray. At night you see more then you see in the day.
Dead towns and villages are only asleep in the day. At night it all awakens. All start moving, rustle... frogs croaking.
Cities like people, are mortal, they perish because of bad fortune. Vilchas bad fortune was location some 45 kms from reactor, in direction of where the first radiactive clouds drifted.
Must be a butcher's shop, "meat" written on signboard.
Alpha, Beta, Gamma.
I am a night owl and it is hard for me to find a partner for night rides. Every time I bring someone here, they ask why are we crushing frogs in Chernie and not drinking beer in some cozy cafe ... I always tell them that smoking two packs of cigarets in cafe can be more harmful for health than riding to Vilcha. They mostly just want to get the hell out of here. People think this land is cursed.
I myself don't believe in stories about mutants or chernobyl snowman. To me it is an interesting place.
On outskirts of Vilcha, my new generation hand-held Geiger counter "inspector" reads 109 mR/hr. My friend "inspector" measures all types of radiation known to man. Now, it is time to learn a couple of simple things about radiation types.
Ones that goes through us is called gamma radiation, it is cumulative, it adds up, so we can calculate what a damage it make for health. Gamma is almost identical X-rays. X-rays are human made, while gamma occurs in nature. It is also called a cosmic radiation. Everyone who flys in high altitude aircraft is exposed to 25 mR/hr of cosmic radiation. Gamma is the toughest type of radiation for immediate problems. Gamma is a wave. It is sort of like invisible bullets that can kill in hours. Alpha and beta on the other hand are particles and work as a time-bomb. With breathing of radiactive dust, they getting inside of a human body, lodges there and in a few years expload with the cancer cells. Alpha particles are the heaviest of the three, betas are extremely light and gammas have no mass at all. Alpha radiation generally can not travel 4-12cms (1-3 inches) before it stoped, so we can play billiard with balls of a pure plutonium. The dead cells on our skin will stop beta radiation, so even juggling with plutonium balls will be safe.
If we travel through the area, where radiation level do not exceed 100 mR/hr, then in one hour we'll receive the same dosage of gamma rays that receiving the passanger of plane Kiev-London duaring a few hours of their trip. I don't fly to London, so I can travel to Vilcha where I'll get the same mild dose.
Unfortunately we can not count the alpha and beta particles that we inhale, yet they are the major risk. In the first year after a disaster, 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 radiactive surface. Riding here an open vehicle would be as insane as swallow up those plutonium balls. But now, as I said, radiation has gone into the soil and levels have fallen. A good thing about it is that now we can travel through these areas with little health risk, but bad thing is that now this land breathes with radiation from deep inside and it's become hard to make further headway with the decontamination process.
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. The chemicals in the mushrooms are worse than the Cs137 (even though Cs levels have not decreased in the mushrooms as much as half life of Cs137)
In any way, enough of that scientific stuff, let's continue our journey at the day light.
Gap on map.
We are on the border and the sign welcomes us in all fifteen languages of former republics of Soviet Union. Sometimes I go for rides here in Belorussia. The roads are better and gasoline is cheaper. This country is in good relationship with Russia and isolated from the rest of the world. For many years Belorussia lived under authoritarian regime of their president Lukashenko. He is like Fidel Castro, the perpetual president, just has no beard.
On newer maps, LAND OF THE WOLVES appears like a big gap. Deserted towns and villages, as well as the roads, have all been erased.
Authorities do not want some weekend driver to appear on roads which may not be environmentally safe.
The borderline is wide. The land is not worth fighting over. If we leave the main road and travel along the borderline, we'll pass through dead villages and never know in which country they reside.
We 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.
Road sign show the distance to some village.
This is the nestling box. Starlings flew away long time ago.
Belorussian zone of exclusion is now called the "radiation ecological forest reserve." Most of the villages within it are very remote. Many have no roads, and the only way to get there is driving some tractor or on foot.
If tired, there will always be a bench to sit on..
Or we can stand looking at the Chernobyl equivalent of Niagara Falls. Radiation level here is same as in Kiev. Standing on this bridge is as safe as standing on bridges in Venice. But never forget this is Chernie, where you can walk a few hundred meters away and be in a dangerously radioactive place. There are several hundred unmarked burial sites of radioactive waste materials in the Chernobyl area and no one knows where all of them are. The people who buried them are now buried themselves- may they rest in peace, for we the living can not. For safety, Geiger counter must always be turned on.
Finally, here is village. Nameless.
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.
It is village club. It was central place for partying, for people to meet and watch movies.
Now, the party is over. Doors are wide open, but no one goes inside. Meeting a wild boar in such a closed space would not be safe.
In villages they say that if you don't fix your house, it will fall apart. That appears to be true.
In many places, hasty scratches on wooden crosses are the only chronicle that remains of the rich lives that dwelled here. Many of the loved ones who prayed over them are probably here, too.
I found this village a few years ago, I couldn't find it on my map, but the town cemetary tells the tale that, from the early 1800's, until 1986, all of the people who lived in this village were Smirnovs.
It must be sectarian village, where brothers married sisters and all have the same last name.
I put this village on my map and named it Smirnovka. It is how we call a famous vodka. I wonder if there is a connection to the people who lived in this place and the people who make Smirnoff Vodka?
I can only guess, because there is nobody here to answer the question.