Sunday, 3 May 2015

About Chernobyl - copied and pasted from me to me...

I can't decide whether to have this AND my MA blog running or combine the two, what does anyone think?
For now I'm copying and pasting the post I've just written about my Chernobyl trip from my MA blog!
Hotel in Pripyat Plaza
Some said 'brave', some couldn't understand why we would even wish to go there, some were envious…we (me, my partner, my 2 x 21 year old daughters and one boyfriend - I was very impressed they all desperately wanted to come) were excited and really had no idea what to expect.
Personally and ostensibly it was for my MA research (though no excuse needed) and I was looking forward to meeting the re-settlers and to discover their reasons for choosing to go back and live on the edge of the exclusion zone which is still a very dangerous place to live due to the invisible enemy  'radiation poisoning'. It has been said that the longevity of the re-settlers lives is due to their quality of life and happiness in being 'home' which negates the effects of the radiation. The dangers of which is more  preferable to them than living in a city's high-rise away from their farms and the countryside. 

Ivan (Mikhail) Ivanovitch, Security (!) and Ivan's house
Me and a happy Ivan
However, after my visit, I realised there were so many other aspects regarding the 'Chernobyl issue' that I couldn't confine my interest to just the re-settlers and I have reverted to my original thoughts about dark tourism, collective trauma and collective memory, then overarching or underpinning this, the 'correctness' of interpreting such unspeakable, atrocities and heinous issues via an aesthetic means. (N.B. I may be visiting Auschwitz later this year).

The trip itself was mesmerising (for want of a better word) from start to finish. There were days either side spent in Kiev and an airbnb apartment which were fantastic, although kind of 70's, and unbelievably cheap.

Back to the 2 days spent in Chernobyl. Radiation dose expected equivalent = one hospital x-ray.
We were with (fantastic!) - a tour, only/easiest way to get in, and of a very mixed group, 17 persons and a guide. There were other families and some couples, some groups of friends and a few people travelling alone which was a very nice mix. People from USA, Finland, Germany, Austria, Spain, Sweden, UK and Switzerland at least, which I loved and people of all ages 18 -70.

On the minibus on the way to the power plant + Laura
 We weren't quite sure exactly where we were going and in what order but this was where we went, in order (I think!) This was after we checked in at the hotel, in CHERNOBYL, within the 30km exclusion zone, which extends on the north side into Belarus, Russia.  We have stayed in much worse Travelodges in the UK. The food was, shall we say, interesting - plain and typical Ukrainian food,  and the blob of tomato sauce on the side of plain pasta or rice we found quite amusing. Every meal was a set menu (all inclusive :-) and we were all served at the same time, it reminded me of school trips abroad years ago.

DAY 1: 

Abandoned house in Chernobyl town
  • Chernobyl Town: 
The Angel of Death monument/memorial 

  • Rusting boats - docks (quickly & from a distance)

  • Robots (used in the clean up operation)

  • (small) Kindergarten 

  • Cooling towers of unfinished reactor 5 & 6, due for opening in 1988 for Reactors 5 and 6 

  • Chernobyl nuclear power plant

  • Reactor number 4 - viewing platform and VERY close
Fireman memorial
Bridge & giant catfish

  • Reactor number 4 & Memorial

  • New sarcophagus ('safe' distance)

  • Pripyat ''Ghost City'': (inhabitants were given two hours notice to evacuate, almost two days after the explosion - already too late)
Prometheus cinema

  • Local Council Admin Building
Pripyat Plaza-

  • Polesie Hotel

  • Palace of Culture: "Energetik" 

  • Amusement park

  • Soccer stadium - Stadium Avangard
Middle/Grammar school 

  • Swimming pool 
(in use by the liquidators and other people working in the Zone up until 1996)
  • Tower block 

(roof of)
We got back to the hotel sometime before 8pm (there's a curfew), had dinner and sampled the bar.
Oh, there are no toilets in Chernobyl/Pripyat that you can actually use, only bushes (!) so be prepared to wait up to 6 hours if you're like me, then also be prepared for the most awful toilet ever which is located at the checkpoint... not sure it was better than a bush to be honest.

Radiation detectors going in and out of the exclusion zone
DAY 2: 

  • Chernobyl Zoo (I would say small farm or pets corner)

  • Bridge of Death; where people flocked to watch the flames of the explosion and consequently received lethal doses of radiation. I think if it had happened at Hartlepool, the people of Billingham would have probably done the same. Also, there were people travelling on a train going under the bridge on their way to Moscow at the time of the explosion who also received very high dosage of radiation, an extreme case of wrong place, wrong time.

  • Pripyat:
 Hospital, one of my favourite places, very emotional and evocative.

  • Combined School (collapsed in April 2013- the snow that falls in the winter has caused most of the damage to the city, I think soon it will all possibly be too destructed to visit)

  • Telephone exchange?
Jupiter Factory (could have stayed here all day)
Police station and cells with exercise yard
Old Fire Station (with garage), all the men who worked here died.

  • Kindergarten 2 ( a bigger one)

  • Open air military museum (possibly, it was somewhere with trucks)

  • Meeting local inhabitants in the Resettlement zone (unbelievable and great for my research) I have recorded an interview but can't get it off my phone as yet.

  • Late lunch at power station (an experience, I wouldn't like to eat there every day - rumour has it it's always exactly the same) - there are still workers building the new (overdue) sarcophagus which will protect the world from the radiation that is still being emitted and possibly escaping as we speak through the holes in the old one.

  • Vehicle graveyard - Chernobyl (possibly through the red forest - I wasn't even sure where we were at the time)
Swimming Pool, Pripyat
Gymnasium, Pripyat
Pripyat, can't remember which building it was

I am now desperate to return and hopefully this time next year I will. I found out so much information, one thing I hadn't realised was that a second, more powerful explosion was only very narrowly avoided, one which would have wiped out the whole of Europe -completely. We were so unaware. And 'Tens of thousands of Soviet citizens filed into Chernobyl to help, considering it their patriotic duty; all were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation with no warning from the government.'
 And did you also realise that the Chernobyl disaster was instigation for Glasnost and the fall of the USSR. It truly did change the world in many ways. 'According to Gorbachev, the Chernobyl explosion was a turning point that “opened the possibility of much greater freedom of expression, to the point that the system as we knew it could no longer continue.”
Reactor No.4, the bad part is behind the concrete blocks
Inside the unfinished cooling tower

An overview of the disaster and situation is here.

The whole experience was like NOTHING I have ever experienced before. The pictures you see on the internet give NO indication of the feeling you get by being there. It is truly amazing, I have never seen anything/anywhere like it in my life… it is the most unbelievable, disconcerting, silent, strangely beautiful place I believe I will ever see.
I still haven't managed to work my way through all my photographs so these are just a very small selection of the first lot- it is SO difficult to give a good indication of the whole trip. I will publish a couple of albums on my Facebook page as soon as possible.
Men working on the new sarcophagus
Housing block in Pripyat
Changing rooms - football stadium
Ferris wheel built for Mayday 1986
Children's coat hooks in the Kindergarten

Inside the cooling tower
Poster inside the school