This is part five of my travel photo journal to the Chernobyl zone of exclusion. Check out the Chernobyl Journal page for the full story, all pictures, videos and sounds.
Because of our group member’s different paces and interests, we were rarely at the same spot at the same time (which helped to keep people out of your pictures). At the Palace of Culture however, we all got together again. And while René and Laura were busy rising a new FC Pripyat from the ashes of the gym, and Beat was still looking for good spots to shoot, I got into a conversation with our guide who was standing in front of the van, waiting for us.
I asked Yuriy about the higher level of radiation I had measured on patches of moss. He offered to show me some, and led me around the Palace of Culture, where he first showed me a room full of Communist party member portraits. It was also the back entrance to a huge theater stage, which unfortunately was too dark to shoot. We then moved on to the Pripyat amusement park where the big ferris wheel, the bumper car and two other rides stood lonely on a large, flat field of asphalt. Yuriy showed me some radioactive moss while Beat, who had joined us, and I took some of the obvious shots around the area.
Half an hour later my phone was ringing. It was Laura, asking me where we were. Tanya had assumed that Yuriy had already driven us to the next location, and had led Laura and René west. I was worried, because the zone is not a place you want your friends to wander around without an expert on radiation. After telling Yuriy that the others where the others were waiting, he shook his head in disbelief: “I’ll be back in 10 minutes…”, he muttered and drove off, leaving Beat, myself, and the joyrides alone.
The amusement park was an unsettling place. The ferris wheel loomed underneath a cloud-scattered sky and every few minutes gave off guttural creaking noises. The radiation levels were about 40 times as high as normal (4 uSv/h) – not extreme, but elevated, especially if you stood on the patches moss or got close to the bumper cars. Some of the trees looked strangely deformed, spreading sideways instead of skywards. The constantly beeping sound of the Geiger counter slowly got under my skin as I started to realize how constant and inevitable the radiation and all its associated risks around me were. According to René’s translation of Tanya’s theory, there are two kinds of people in the zone: “radiophobes” and “radioenthusiasts”. And while Yuriy and Tanya both were obvious radioenthusiasts, I was starting to feel signs of an emerging radiophobia.
When the van came back, René, Laura and Tanya got out. Then the van drove off again. René explained to us that they had walked west shooting pictures, waiting for us. After our phone call, they were picked up by a visibly worried Yuriy. And just after they had climbed in the van, a group of 5 big, unfriendly-looking guys were turning the corner – apparently looters on the lookout for valuables. René quoted Yuriy’s scolding: “Can you stab? Can you shoot? No? Then why the hell do you go there alone?”.
They were lucky. Apparently, the zone is a dangerous place for other reasons than just radiation.
Video, covering journal entries #4 and 5:
Map of this Journal Entry
(Chernobyl Journal continues in part six)