[...] The men stepped past discarded gas-mask filters to the entrance of a ghostly kindergarten. They fanned out with cameras, to work.
Much was as the children and their teachers had left it 19 years ago. Tiny shoes littered the classroom floor. Dolls and wooden blocks remained on shelves. Soviet slogans exhorted children to study, to exercise, to prepare for a life of work.
Much had also changed. Now there is rot, broken windows, rusting bed frames and paint falling away in great blisters and peels. And now there are tourists, participating in what may be the strangest vacation excursion available in the former Soviet space: the packaged tour of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, scene of the worst civilian disaster of the nuclear age. [...]
I'd rather watch Stalker for the tenth time than go on one of these tours...
[...] So there are rules, which Yuriy Tatarchuk, a government interpreter who served as the Finns' guide, listed.
Don't stray. Stay on concrete and asphalt, where exposure risks are lower than on soil. Don't touch anything. (This one proved impossible. Tours involve climbing cluttered staircases and stepping through debris. Handholds are inevitable.)
No matter its inconveniences or potential for medical worry, the zone possesses the allure of the forbidden and a promise of rare, personal insights into history. Its popularity as a destination is increasing. Few tourists came in 2002, the year it opened for such visits, according to Marina Polyakova, of Chernobylinterinform. In 2004 about 870 arrived, she said, a pace tourists are matching this year.
Tourists cannot wander the zone on their own. One-day group excursions cost $200 to $400, including transportation and a meal. [...]
Some part of me is very curious, very tempted to try to remember what it all looked like then - all the Soviet "decorations" that Chernobyl has more or less preserved... For now, however, photos from the Zone taken by other people seem to be enough... Chivers' piece is accompanied with some good ones - and there's also a pretty big revelation buried midway through the text:
[...] One group came for a hoax. About two years ago, Mr. Tatarchuk said, a Ukrainian woman booked a tour, wore a leather biker jacket and posed for pictures. Soon there appeared a Web site in which the woman, using the name Elena, claimed that she had been given an unlimited pass by her father, a nuclear physicist and Chernobyl researcher ("Thank you, Daddy!" she wrote) and now roamed the ruins at will on her Kawasaki Big Ninja.
The site, www.kiddofspeed.com, billed as a tale "where one can ride with no stoplights, no police, no danger to hit some cage or some dog," was a sensation, duping uncountable viewers before being discredited.
The Finns said they had seen the Web site, and hoped their planned site would be as popular. [...]
Still, her pictures were very powerful - and I never really stopped to read the text...