42

ISSUE 6

Independent World report

DOCUMENTARY/UKRAINE

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

Independent World report

ISSUE 6

43

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. 44 ISSUE 6 Independent World report

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 accident.” Two hours drive from Kiev, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is officially closed to the public. However, a number of tour operators offer Chernobyl tours, for about $150 – escorted by a guide from the

ChernobylInterinform (government agency responsible for site management), the curious may roam the area. After two hours drive and three check points, we reach the abandoned buildings of Pripyat – a model Soviet town built in 1970, which lasted for only sixteen years. Nine people, one driver, and a guide in a ghost city, set out to see the ruins of Reactor No. 4, with Geiger counters in hand.

“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 barbecues in the forbidden zone.”

Benoît Balança is a photographer based in Lyon, France – www.benoitbalanca.com

Independent World report

ISSUE 6

45

Visitors roam the abandoned school, pushing the doors carefully, hoping to find some hidden treasures: “Come here, I have found an amazing book... blackboard... 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. 46 ISSUE 6 Independent World report

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.”

Independent World report

ISSUE 6

47

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.

48

ISSUE 6

Independent World report