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DOCUMENTARY/UKRAINE

RADIATIONLAND
A trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, Ukraine.
documentary by Benoît Balança

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An abandoned land is taking shape behind the tinted windows of the bus. We cross small ghost towns. The driver does not speak English and we enter deeper
into the unknown. Everyone looks outside with a mix of curiosity and anxiety.

The driver leaves us on the streets of Pripyat. The Soviet urban landscape is even more impressive here. Everything is quiet and the snow muffles the sound
of our steps. The place seems frozen in time until ten people with cameras start shooting.

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The floor of an abandoned school is covered with books, like a thick carpet: poetry, textbooks, workbooks - witnesses of a time and an ideology gone.

T he promotional text in the Kiev


in your pocket guidebook had
an interesting pitch: “It is not
every trip abroad you get a chance
to visit the world’s worst nuclear
ChernobylInterinform (government
agency responsible for
management), the curious may roam
the area.
After two hours drive and three
site
“You are visitors,” our guide
Maxime explains that tourism is
prohibited in the area, only visits
are allowed – that is the official
line. “Tourism is for having fun, no
accident.” check points, we reach the abandoned barbecues in the forbidden zone.”
Two hours drive from Kiev, the buildings of Pripyat – a model Soviet
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is officially town built in 1970, which lasted for
closed to the public. However, only sixteen years. Nine people, one
a number of tour operators offer driver, and a guide in a ghost city, set
Benoît Balança is a photographer based in Lyon,
Chernobyl tours, for about $150 out to see the ruins of Reactor No. 4,
France – www.benoitbalanca.com
– escorted by a guide from the with Geiger counters in hand.

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Visitors roam the abandoned school, pushing the doors carefully, hoping to find some hidden treasures: “Come here, I have found an amazing book... black-
board... typewriter...”

The highlight of the show: the ruins of Reactor No. 4 . The guide shows the Geiger counter, it reads 290 µRem/h, the normal (in town) is around 20. Maxime
does not want to stay more than ten minutes, because of the radioactivity.

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Before entering the first building, our guide warns us, “Stay with me, no separate groups. It is dangerous here, please do as I say.” I do not know what part of
his warnings is just to scare us and what part is real.

The Ferris wheel, highly radioactive and immobile. Maxime stops me when I try to get closer, “It is really dangerous here, stay away.”

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Inside the buildings, everyone moves carefully, as if the floors will fall down if disturbed. Each room is a surprise and everything is more or less radioactive.
We are not allowed to touch or take anything.

A woman takes a picture of an old typewriter in a classroom. The school looks like a messy Soviet museum.

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