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My interview to "Jaqhama" (Kevin Lumley) for Bikernet online magazine

Jaqhama: Hi Elena, first let me say thanks very much for doing this interview. I'll try not to ask too many boring questions. Just for the record you were born and raised in the Ukraine right? And that's a separate country to Russia these days? But used to part of the Russian Federation of States?

Elena: Hello. Since 1654 Ukraine was part of Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Ukraine became independent state after Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Now, it is a separate state with president, constitution and own money. I was born in Kiev, it is a capital city of Ukraine.

Jaqhama: OK, tell me a bit about your interest in motorcycles and about the first bike you rode or owned.

Elena: Interest to motorcycles began at early age, I had bunch of soviet mopeds and bikes since I was in school, later I had 250cc, 400cc, 600cc Japanese motorbikes, gradually I came to the point when possessing 1000 cc motorcycle became safe for me.

Jaqhama: Now your current bike, at least until it developed major engine problems, was the big black Kawasaki sports bike yes? I'm curious as to how many large engine Japanese, American or European bikes one finds in the Ukraine?

Elena: Big Ninja is classified as a sport tourer, miles eater. Even though bike was heavy for me, bulky and not good for corners, I enjoyed with its rough power. As for large motorcycles in Ukraine, Harley's very expensive here, really luxury stuff, I believe all Harley owners here know each other, there is no dealers, no way to get parts. The same with Italian motorcycles, no many want to buy them, because it is hard to find any parts for Aprilla's and Ducati's. Due to good economic connections with Germany, BMW well known here, they are expensive, so the owners are mostly well off older guys. Japanese motorcycles prevail on our market. We have no real dealers, we have sub dealers from Russian dealers of Yamaha. Prices cosmic, but at least you can order parts for Yamaha bikes.

Jaqhama: Now how hard is it for an average wage earner to afford a bike like your Kawasaki? For that matter what is the average wage of a middle-income worker? In American dollars if you could please.

Elena: The average monthly wage in Ukraine is around 100 US dollars, in Kiev it is a bit higher, something about 180 US dollars, but this figures means nothing, for Ukraine is a country where most of economy in a shadow, so if you want to estimate welfare, don't ask how much people make, instead look at how much they spend. The average Ukrainian spend around 300 US dollars a month. New Yamaha R-1 at sub dealers costs 18.000 US dollars. It is hard to afford new motorcycle in this lifetime; it is why I was able to afford to buy my Ninja only on second hand market.

Jaqhama: Is there a big difference between low-income workers and middle-income workers in your country? I was in Poland in 1994 and compared to Western Europe at that time, people struggled to afford things many of us here took for granted.

Elena: There is almost no middle class in Ukraine, there are only rich and poor and the difference between them is tremendous. What we call a middle class are relatives of rich, or those who work for foreign companies, in banks and some owners of successful private businesses, there are not many of them. May be our middle class is just 4% out of whole population. I mean, middle class by world standarts, not by standarts they set us here.

Jaqhama: Back to motorcycles for a bit; apart from your famous journeys through the Dead Zone and Chernobyl, what other interesting places have you ridden your bike to? Do you have a favourite bike road, a favourite destination?

Elena: What we call a "Dead Zone" is area of 30 km (19 mile) around reactor, but it is very small part of the total area that was poisoned with radiation and it is not best for motorcycling. There are only one town, many villages demolished within "Dead Zone", there are a several hundred radioactive burials and lot of checkpoints. I used to ride through, but it was not my favourite. My favourite destination is north from Chernobyl, there are hundreds of deserted villages and towns outside of "Dead Zone". There is no checkpoints, radiation not high and good roads, some haven't been ridden for 20 years, they blocked from cars, but not from motorcycles.

Jaqhama: OK, I suppose I had better ask the question most people always ask you. When, and why, did you decide to ride your bike through the radiation soaked area of Chernobyl?

Elena: First time, I visited area of Chernobyl some 14 years ago, I still was in school. I really was impressed with dark beauty of a places. Since then I was visiting different parts of Chernobyl on motorcycle, on car, on boat and even rode tractor to get to some villages. Motorcycle is just my favourite transportation.

Jaqhama: Were you scared about riding into the Dead Zone? I mean even a little apprehensive? I know you know your stuff when it comes to judging the amount of safe and unsafe levels of radiation and fallout, but even so I think not many people would consider it the ideal place for a motorcycle adventure?

Elena: I wasn't scared, but was a bit concerned with meeting some bum, marauder or run away convict that live in a distant villages. There are not many chances to meet someone friendly there.

Jaqhama: How many times have you ridden into the area, and how many people have ever volunteered to go with you?

Elena: It is hard to say how many times, the whole area is in size of a big European state and sometimes I go in one place, sometimes in the other. I do my own researches and I have a friend biologist who goes there, he is chasing grasshoppers and butterflys. Nature is doing much better without humans, this days some extinct species revive in Chernobyl and area attract biologists. Aside of this friend not many others would want to join me, I wouldn't even propose them, but I myself wouldn't go with just anyone, I love to join my Dad, for he is a man of knowledge and I'd rather join someone whom I can learn from.

Jaqhama: Do you feel completely satisfied that you have not picked up too much exposure to the radiation?

Elena: What I have picked is nothing in compare to what pick up scientists who work inside of a Sarcophagus. I am satisfied that I have not picked up too much exposure to the radiation, but all I really need to know is where to go and where not to go.

Jaqhama: I must confess it's not the first place on my own personal list, of places to go Adventure Biking. That's not to say I would not ride there however. I am famous for doing crazy things. Do people who know you or read your website mention the word crazy to you often?

Elena: I heard a lot from people on the Internet and word "crazy" was not the strongest, but luckily there are people who appreciate my work.

Jaqhama: Now I have read on your website that the Russian and the Ukraine governments have never actually admitted just how many people died at the time, or afterwards, from the nuclear disaster. I also read the bit where you say the United Nations now claims a whole 56 people died at Chernobyl. Even I, who know little about the meltdown, can tell that is a stupid report. What does the United Nations have to gain by saying stuff like this?

Elena: United Nations are representatives of the World authorities and this days World doesn't need to know the true about Chernobyl, they need to build more atomic plants, here and everywhere.

Jaqhama: Do they really think that people all over the world will believe their reports? Do they assume the average person is just plain dumb? What can people reading this do; to make sure that the Chernobyl disaster is not swept under the carpet and forgotten?

Elena: Yes, everyone I know was shocked with UN report in September 2005. Even though we know, they treat us like a fools, no one could expect their lie would be so obvious and offensive, but then, look at what happened in Iraq, this war is fair result of all UN policy and their treating of Arab world like one big, dumb gas station, with their food for oil reports and one fake report about Iraq owning chemical weapons. Now, Iraqis who didn't have any weapon of mass destruction will try to get it as soon as international troops will leave Iraq. They had nothing to do with Al Kaida, now Al Kaida is in Iraq. In Iran they desperately want to obtain Plutonium for nuclear weapon. What worse is that now Osama became a hero for millions. Bin Laden is not a boss of a gang of thugs and killers as he was a few years ago, he is leader of a large political faction of the Arab world now. 60% of the Arab world are under the age of 20. That is 840,000,000 teenagers. Many of them want to be just like Osama. He is their "Elvis", who carry AK-47 instead of guitar. But they do not want to learn to play a guitar and run out of gas at a drive in movie on a prom date. They want fill the car with dynamite and kill everyone who do not recite the words of the Koran verbatim. Now, they hate us bitterly, everyday civilians and American soldiers dying for no good reason and this is result of all UN reports. Best everyone can do to keep Chernobyl story active is to pass link of my story to their friends. People should no just forget Chernobyl happened, like many in government want.

Jaqhama: You say the Ukraine government wants to build 12 new nuclear power stations, based on the design they used at Chernobyl? That sounds just crazy to me. Surely the people of the Ukraine, of Russia even, will not just sit back and let them build more "accidents waiting to happen"?

Elena: They will build eleven new reactors (not plants), design improved, but technology the same; lack of safety, irresponsibility of officials, all the same. I don't trust them. We won't survive another Chernobyl. Unfortunately, people just sit back and let them to build more reactors.

Jaqhama: I loved your story of how the people of the Ukraine stood up for themselves and made the rigged elections fall. That was wonderful, it must have been a proud moment for you and your fellow citizens?

Elena: Yes, it was. The Orange Revolution was fall of Berlin's Wall in people's minds. Now, we have freedom of speech and I can tell what I think.

Jaqhama: I see now that the Ukraine has joined the European Community, that Russia is already making life difficult for you guys with their embargo on the Gas pipeline. How is that affecting life for the ordinary citizen? I know it's winter in your country now and temperatures must be below freezing yes?

Elena: We have election coming in spring and Russia trying to influence it. What they proposed was a political price, they raised it from 50 to 230 US dollars for 1000 of cubic meters. I don't understand what was this cabal about, since at first it affected metallurgy and all industrial region on south east of Ukraine, where live Russians and most businesses belong to Russians.

Jaqhama: I meant to ask you Elena, what do you do for a job/work?

Elena: It is something insignificant, not worth to mention it. I would call it an occupation, job is something you get paid for. Here everything still works by old soviet rule, when they pretend to pay us and we pretend to be working.

Jaqhama: Now do not be embarrassed by this questiona€¦you're an attractive lady, do many guys who read your website ask you out for dates or propose marriage? (I've been married once, disliked it intensely, so you don't have to worry about me asking you LOL.)

Elena: Hey, I don't use my website to improve my personal and sexual life.

Jaqhama: What's your favourite motorcycle? or to put the question another way, if you could have any bike in the world, what would it be? (Pretend I just gave you a million dollars, go ahead, buy any bike you want.) Which one?

Elena: I am a kid of speed and I'd love my dream bike to be tough as ZX-11, fast as Hyabusa with performance of R-1, but such bike doesn't exist. To get serious, I'd return to injector 600cc, their fuel consumption is humble. If I had to choose, it would be new Yamaha R-6, it's light weighted, handles with razor like precision and is fast like hell.

Jaqhama: Ok, so you've picked a bike. Now where in the world do you think you'd like to ride it? Anywhere you have always dreamed of riding?

Elena: I am a Gamma Girl and I'd still ride it through empty towns and villages of post apocalyptic land North of Kiev.

Jaqhama: How many months riding can you do in the Ukraine before the winter gets too bad?

Elena: I used to begin in March and finish my riding season in November.

Jaqhama: I was surprised to find the summer temperatures in Poland were very high in the summer for a couple of months, does it get very hot where you live also?

Elena: Climate is changing and summer aren't summers they used to be, may be there are only couple of hot weeks when I'd feel like go on the beach.

Jaqhama: Speaking of temperatures, what's the lowest it gets in Kiev where you are?

Elena: We have no such a cruel winters as we used to have, February is the coldest month, it can be -15c, but just for a couple of weeks, the average in winter is -3c

Jaqhama: And with those low temps and the Russians cutting Natural Gas supplies to your country, will people begin to suffer soon?

Elena: I am sure, they will sort out this problem. Russia already agreed to sell Natural Gas to Ukraine for 95 US dollars per 1000 cubic meters and it is suitable price, for instance Baltic countries pay 120 US dollars, while for Belorussia price is 46 US dollars. In this way, Mr Putin support totalitarian regime of Lukashenko.

Jaqhama: Why would Putin would be interested in supporting such leaders as Lukashenko?

Elena: If presidents of post soviet countries all fundamentalists, autocrats, criminals and communists, then in comparison with them, Putin would look like a real democrat and would be the only one sane man in a region, whom the world leaders could deal with.

Jaqhama: What is the price (in USA dollars) of Petrol in your country, per litre or per gallon? And can petrol be found easily, I mean when you're out on your bike or in a car are there plenty of places to get Petrol? Even out in the countryside, away from major towns?

Elena: We have plenty of petrol stations, but the quality of a gasoline isn't good. For 1 US dollar, here you can buy 1,5 Litre of 98 petrol, but our 98 is the same as 92 in Western Europe.

Jaqhama: I read your war archaeology stories, I see you have an interest in old battlefields, there must be plenty of places to do this kind of work in the Ukraine and Russia yes?

Elena: Yes, there are plenty of such places, but my area is famous for battlefields. More then 2 millions of Soviet and German soldiers died in area around Kiev in 1941-1943

Jaqhama: I read recently that some people are digging up old battlefields looking to sell the weapons and things they find. That's kind of like grave robbing yes?

Elena: I don't blame people who dig battlefields in hope to find some relics to sell them, for many in villages and small places it is the only way to make some money, to survive. I blame government who created such economic condition that make people to dig graves of their grandparents. There are still more people who pursue this as a hobby and they driven by love of history. I myself don't sell relics, I donate to museums, but if I will find my dream relic I will sell it.

Jaqhama: What would your dream relic be?

Elena: It is so called "Death Head" silver ring. Himmler himself awarded SS soldiers with them and after one died the search group have been deployed to find the soldier with rings, all death's heads should be returned to Himmler. He didn't get them all, some lost in war trenches and they are priceless now. In all history of Kiev, only one such ring has been found. It was found by two teenagers, who didn't even have metaldetector, they didn't know the value of a relic and sold it to a first crook who knew it. He bought precious ring for laughable amount of money and now doing very well with duplicating and selling first copies.

Jaqhama: I also see on the Internet that people have been digging up areas where they think Mammoths and other Dinosaurs might have died. Have you ever found anything like that?

Elena: I believe, Mammoths are competence of archaeologists, they have to dig really deep to reach layers with prehistoric creatures. I am not archaeologist, I am a treasures hunter and I usually metal detect and have a couple of guys with shovels whom I just point where to dig.

Jaqhama: Back to a more grim subjecta€¦do you think the Russian or the Ukraine government have really made any big effort to help victims of the Chernobyl disaster?

Elena: They had to provide people with new homes, it was most costly part and now they done with it. They still provide with special allowances, pensions and health benefits, but this days those benefits hardly worth a trolley ticket to go and pick them up.

Jaqhama: We hear rumours of mutated animals, mutated children even. Doesn't the Government worry about the future health of their animals and next generation? (If theya€™re going to build more unsafe Nuclear stations I guess not huh?)

Elena: Just 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of refined uranium produces about the same amount of energy as 3 million kilograms of coal. With high prices for natural gas and oil, our government has no other choice as to build new reactors, but it is not only in Ukraine, nukes coming to us on a big way, all around the world. Not long ago Tony Blair announced that Great Britain may build new nuclear power plants. In America nuclear program is still frozen after Three Mile Island nuclear accident, but "The Powers That Be" already seeking approvals at politicians. The problem of victims of Chernobyl is that no one want to see them. Not in here, not in Russia, not in America or Europe. We have different economic and political systems, but greed everywhere is the same.

Jaqhama: You said that the Dead Zone and the wider area around it is becoming a haven for animals now. With no humans to hunt them. Apart from Wolves and wild pigs what other animals have you seen? Is there much bird life in the whole area? And what affect has the radiation had on the plants, the flowers and the trees. Are they blooming more, or dying? Grown bigger or smaller?

Elena: By the way, wolves can not be seen often, unlike the wild pigs they are intelligent creatures, they are always around, but you can't see them. Wolf is a rare trophy for hunter, usually one can only kill some sick or old wolf. It is easier to shot a fox, who generally considered to be sly, there are plenty of foxes in Chernie. Hares can be seen long before you enter Chernobyl area, they have no homes, hares run their life and always on the move. Wild boars are really stupid and very dangerous when wounded, there are plenty of them in Belorussian part of Chernobyl, it is marshy area and in winter boars coming to live in marshes when it is warm for them. My friends once wounded boar, it start chasing them, they had to climb on the trees, wonder who was the real hunter. I can't say nothing about birds life, to me it doesn't look any different from birds life in other areas. Plants blooming. It can be seen on photos, but I don't know if they blooming from radiation or from absence of humans.

Jaqhama: I suppose no one really knows what effect the radiation is going to have on humans and animals a couple of generations from now do they? Some scientific people say that solar radiation mutated life on earth to produce our species to begin with don't they?

Elena: We'll never know what effect the radiation is going to have on humans, not as long as money rule the world. Here, if some scientist will publish true research, they will lose their jobs in no time.

Jaqhama:You and your people won a big victory in those fake elections, what direction do you see the Ukraine travelling in now? They will be part of the European Economic Community. Be part of NATO and the United Nations?

Elena: It depends of parliamentary elections that coming in spring, our parliament have more power then president and if Kremlin backed parties win, then we'll be drifting towards Russia.

Jaqhama: The Russian Federation is obviously finished now. More and more countries are breaking away; do most people of your age see that as a good thing? I read sometimes that a lot of older folks say they wish the Federation and communism had never collapsed.

Elena: I don't wish Russian Federation to end its existence or shrink in size. I wish them to rid of communists and imperialistic ambitions, to stop torture Chechenians and other freedom loving folks of Northern Caucasia, to learn to have respect to neighbours. I can't watch Russian TV, it's propaganda is worse then in Soviet Times, now long speeches of party leaders are replaced with concerts of pop stars and cheap humor shows, all serious analytical programs removed. If some democratic candidate will have some 5 minutes speech, he will look miserable, intimidated, and TV guys will make sure that the next program will show some parade of homosexuals or some serial killer.

Jaqhama: Now that you have brought world attention to the horror of Chernobyl have you been persecuted by Government authorities? Have they ever threatened you? Hacked your website? Anything like that?

Elena: I had some problems but I was not in real trouble. Of course, my website bother them, but it didn't intersect with interests of some particular clan or some financial group that would lead to real problems.

Jaqhama: Do many visitors to your site leave donations, either for your website or for victims of the radiation poisoning?

Elena: I asked readers to support my site, so I could continue to work, this is money for site costs and for some of my projects. I don't collect funds for victims, for victims I forward all fees and honorars from my Chernobyl publications to organizations that sponsor victims of Chernobyl. I do this for a few years now.

Jaqhama: You have had about 15 million "hits" on your site, that's very impressive. It tells me that the story has got out.

Elena: It's more then 15 millions, "Ghost Town" was on the news in 2004 and I had 3 million unique visitors on my site in April 2004, 2.5 millions in May 2004. Mirrored sites also reported of big traffic. Then papers all around the world start to write that my site is not true and it brought me even more visitors. Now, water has cooled around Chernobyl story, but people still have interest to my web sites. To me it is important to know that my work has permanent value and is not of one day fleeting popularity.

Jaqhama: Will you continue to ride and travel in the restricted zone, that huge area that stretches out from the centre of the Sarcophagus for many hundred of kilometres; or do you think it is getting too dangerous, that too many people have begun to start their own investigations, looking for stuff left behind by the ones who died or left their homes?

Elena: I am interested in Chernobyl and I will continue to travel, I left record of how I saw it 18-19 after disaster and I wonder how those towns and villages will look in the future

Jaqhama: Am I right in guessing that if criminals flee into the restricted areas, the police and security services do not go in after them?

Elena: I heard Lukashenko had idea of populating "Dead Zone" with criminals, so it may be the hidden policy. There is also natural selection, someone who drunk away lodging in a city can always find place to stay in Chernie. It's like in a movie "Judge Dread" the cursed land was populated with scumbags.

Jaqhama: Do people who move back, or who run to the restricted areas, understand about radiation poisoning? Or do many think because they cannot see it, it is not real?

Elena: People who live in areas close to Chernobyl are villagers and have zero awareness of radiation.

Jaqhama: Your Chernobyl story was obviously very important to you, it was important to many of us. What adventures do you plan for 2006 or more into the future?

Elena: I will continue telling about "North Wing", the deserted area that is located in neighbouring countries of Belorussia and Russia. I've lived in Belorussia and I know the geography and history of a site. I've planned something special for "North Wing", but I am not sure when I will start to work with new story. For a long time I wanted to visit sites of Stalingrad battle, if I will have means and get permission for excavation, then I shall bring report. I have some other ideas, can't tell what exactly for they are just an ideas. I think, enough of depressive stuff and time to get something cheerful.

Jaqhama: Elena I could ask questions of you all day, for a week. But I am sure you must be getting tired of them by now. On behalf of myself and all the staff and readers of Bikernet I want to say thank you so very much. It has been a real pleasure talking to you. If there is anything you wish to say here at the end now, please do so.

Elena: Like you, I can be carried away and telling about those things all day, for a week. I wish all Bikernet readers to keep rubber side down and want to thank staff for giving me chance to speak.

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