Roadside Picnic (Spring 2018)


Here is more of mother natures work.

She re-designed this house in her own fanciful fashion.

On this trip we had a foreign friend on board, so to get permission, we travelled from one checkpoint to another (there are 6 checkpoints over 30 kilometers to reach the dead zone). At the checkpoints they were asking us where our funeral service was heading and my friend was telling them a story about taking her fiance to her mother's grave for engagement. At the first checkpoint they turned us off, but at second it worked out: the story was so touching that they forgot to check the black list and we got official permission to proceed.

Nice place for fishing - if there were not that 'certain uncertainty'.

It was time to get something to eat, so we travelled 80 km through wasteland to have dinner with old friend. He is last man in a town where 20.000 lived in 1986. This is him on the photo, watching how we were grilling meat.

We had some meat with us, but making an open fire in Chernobyl is a very serious crime. If a fire escapes, then millions of people will breathe airborne radioactive smoke particles for weeks. We thought the best way to grill this meat would be to do it together with firefighters, so we invited some local firefighters for dinner. When they came and saw that we brought charcoal with us for the purpose of grilling, they laughed and explained that charcoal sold in Kiev's supermarkets is produced illegally in highly contaminated areas of Chernobyl. So, our charcoal made a trip from Chernobyl to a Kiev supermarket and then returned back to Chernobyl with us.

Here is our shashlik. We had a nice dinner, and after some drinks our party moved to the fire station.

I cannot publish many photos of the fire station, nor can I publish photos of the firefighters, because they were on duty, but I can publish a story they told us...

Station has only one old Soviet car with two guys working there. When fire broke out in this town few years ago they were calling their boss telling there is fire, but they have no fuel: Boss ordered to stay to protect the station. I guess the aim of the crew is to protect the station, but what is the purpose of the station?

When we returned to our friend, he had a visitor, a clergyman who settled down in this town few months ago. Since then he lives rather stressless life in some abandoned church nearby. Arrival of the priest is an ominous sign. All he can do for this town is to say - dust to dust, ashes to ashes, isotope to isotope, amen...

Last moments of a town very similar to last hours of a human. Priest is already here, drinking tea with the coroner in next room. People are taking things out. An undertaker with tape-ruler walks around the house. All waiting.

When driving an older vehicle like ours, it is best if the driver has mechanical skills. Even better would be a mechanic with driving skills! This car can be started without battery. Most of the things can be fixed with insulating tape and a piece of wire. Leaks under the car is a good sign, usually when the oldtimer does not leak it means nothing is left in a car. This oldtimer made 40.000 kms on roads of Chernobyl, it gives problems but it never fails. Sometimes we ended driving this car with two cylinders, sometimes with no light but we always made it home. The only problem is to find car service who still remembers how to operate with a wrench and hammer. When I bring this car to service they beg me to send for my friend priest, to say - dust to dust to this car. I tell them no way, guys, this car has been on the road for almost 50 years and will be for another 50.

Mechanics in car service do not understand that this car was built at the time when they built things to last. At that time all infrastructure, we are using today was built. It was time of all major scientific discoveries and real industrial progress.

You can see holes from bullets in a building. It is from army and police special forces training.

They believe those buildings just remains of evil, barbaric past, so it's ok to ruin them. To do that they are often used arms and ammunition which were produced 40-50 years ago.

Some of shells from AK-47. Those shells have year on them and they're not new.

Here is a question: Can barbaric civilization produce cars, fire-trucks, geiger-counters and other things we are using for half century? Soviet people build sarcophagus over glowing reactor in several months and it took us 30 years to cover old sarcophagus with iron arch. So, maybe it is we who are barbarians now destroying remains of higher civilization?

The picture of our plastic cups from drinking water reminds me one anecdote:

Two girls are drinking coffee in a Dead Zone. They are both environmentally conscious and scientifically minded ladies. After one finishes her coffee, she wants to get rid of her plastic cup, but there are no garbage bins around.

So she asks the other lady "I hope that throwing our plastic cups on the ground will not undermine the ecological balance of this area?". The other lady thinks for a while and replies "It takes from 30 to 300 years for this plastic to break down while the half-life of nuclear isotopes here take thousands of years. We can leave them here, by the time people can return and live in this cursed place again, these plastic cups will have long disappeared. It is only 300 years...!".

Photos by Elena Filatova & Rolf Luettecke