TCHERNOBYL / 1986 - 2016
CHERNOBYL FOREVER A TRAVEL-LOG FROM HELL
Photos and text
With the friendly participation of
ENGLISH Translatorâ€™s Bio: Will Sternberg Will Sternberg studied Cinema and Humanities in New York City. Born in Paris, raised in the New Jersey suburbs, lived and grew in New York City, he has now dwelled more than half his life in Paris. Short-film director, videographer, photographer, musician and more, Will plunged into translation by love of the appropriate word in the appropriate place at the appropriate moment.Âť
Chernobyl forever The Atomic Doll
Such a splendid day! It’s a bright sunny day. The rock sleeps... like a rock. The world displays its habitual indifference. An aging man ponders his inevitable demise. He’s in his fifties and tells himself, more and more often, that there is less and less time to lose. He smiles because it’s so obvious, even though it’s taken him fifty-five years to realize it. But, it’s never too late to do well, even if it’s just by having a child who, in turn, permits you to grow. To sum things up, the happy aging young man basks in first rays of sun of the approaching summer. Then suddenly, and who knows why? Chernobyl! Yes! But no! .... Death, the thought of his happy end… Yes! But no! Chernobyl, the underside of his musings, the dark side. Death has now escaped his grasp. He thought that by accepting his own pending expiration date, there in the warm sunlight, he had settled the matter once and for all. He was convinced that, deep down inside, Ciudad de Chernóbil - Ucrania
he could master his own fate and that in his cheerful, if banal view, his time on this earth was just a ride on a merry-go-round…. Chernobyl… His thoughts careen wildly … It’s no longer a question of just himself, of you, or of others… It’s now about the entire species, the entire damned Human species… to which he belongs! It strangles him, oppresses him, and annihilates him: the human species doesn’t realize that Chernobyl is the prologue of its SUICIDE! Jean-Pierre Dupuy - June 20th 2014 / TCHERNOBYL FOREVER.
Photogramme - Simulation de l’explosion
Chernobyl – Ukraine, April 26th, 1986. 1:23 a.m. In trying to test its capacities to maintain energy production in the event of an emergency shutdown of one of its reactors, the sorcerer’s apprentices of nuclear energy caused reactor number four of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant to explode. At exactly 1:23:49 a.m. the experiment went terribly wrong and…
!!! M O BO
All humankind’s age-old knowledge, its cultures, its philosophies, its systems of representation and all its senses were completely surprised by Chernobyl. The molecular, physical and psychological consequences of the explosion have precipitated mankind into another world.
The old world no longer existed. We had all become Chernobylites.
Survol du réacteur N°4 explosé - Anonyme
(...) … My colleague Legassov and I flew over the reactor in a helicopter. My first thought was: « if Hell exists, as some believers say, I can say that it’s here, right before my eyes. » (...) Vassili Nesterenko
We would like to believe that it happened a long time ago.
Cinéma de Pripyat
But it isn’t true. It’s only just beginning.
CHERNOBYL FOREVER Through this journey in pictures across radioactive lands, I’ll try to reveal the invisible to you, too. In the silence of theses photographs, I’ll recount true stories about Chernobyl to you. These stories are in memory of all those who were sacrificed or who willingly sacrificed themselves, in an attempt to contain the catastrophe. These stories are in memory of the first firefighters to arrive on the scene and to all the “liquidators” who cleared up the rubble of the Apocalypse and built a sarcophagus to enclose it. They are Heroes for all
Without them, two-thirds of Europeans would probably be living, as the nine million human guinea pigs that still survive today in Hell’s laboratory, in what is still known to this day as Death’s Triangle.
The Red Army was mobilized for the catastrophe and it’s first mission was to seize all the photographs and all the films that people may have taken or made of the explosion and its aftermath. Film, cameras, still or movie, were all confiscated and/or destroyed. It’s not an innocuous detail. The soldiers were following strict orders of the military brass and other supreme leaders of the Soviet Union who had defined their objectives and the strategy for achieving them.
It’s the first act of war Let’s try to imagine, for a moment, the surprise, the confusion, the incomprehension of all those people, all the families, confronted with anxious soldiers, who wanted, above all, to confiscate their snapshots and prevent them from taking any more.
The Army accomplished their mission. Memory had been confiscated. There wouldn’t be any or very very few pictures of the atomic exodus or the interminable stream of buses, trucks, military convoys, trains and boats. No or hardly any pictures of the evacuation. Nor of the arrival of hundreds of thousands of workers and soldiers. Nor of the use of several thousand tons of iron, sand and cement transported to the zone in order to construct the most gigantic and most preposterous sarcophagus in the world.
Chernobyl must be hidden from sight. No pictures of this madness. They’d be a danger to the population’s mental health. And for atomic power. So, I said to myself, as there aren’t any pictures of the past, perhaps there were pictures of the future.
There’s a fire at the plant. I’ll be back soon.“
That’s what Vassia Chichenok the fireman told his wife Lioussia when he was called on duty at 1: 30 a.m. on the night of April 26th, 1986. “ … They left as they were, in their every-day clothes, without their protective gear, nobody warned them, they were called as if it were a normal fire. “ ** relates Lioussia … A few other men climbed on top of what was left of the reactor building’s roof with Chichenok in order to prevent the tar that covered it from catching fire. It was very very hot up there. The tar started to burn. They pushed pieces of scattered bars of graphite into the enormous hole created by the reactor explosion. No Geiger counter would’ve been capable of measuring the radiation up there. No one could’ve lasted a second, even a fraction of a second, up there. A human being simply had no right to be there. They fought all night long. For five long hours, to the very end of Life. At seven in the morning they were transported to the ultra-modern hospital of Pripyat. They were black. Black as charred wood. Burnt from inside out. Swollen. It was hard to see their eyes. Exhausted, but conscience. They emitted radiation that went off the scale. They were atomic rods or rather, atomic waste. They we’re urgently transported to Hospital number 6 in Moscow on Shchukinskaya Street,, where they would all, of course, die within a few days and in a few hours, in secret and under observation. They were the first guinea pigs immersed in the atomic fire. The firefighters were the first of many sacrificed in Chernobyl. Heroes of the World. They prevented the fire from spreading to the other reactors thus preventing a much greater disaster; an atomic catastrophe of monstrous proportions. ** « Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster “ Svetlana Alexievich.
Monument aux premiers pompiers. Erigé par les habitants du village, sans aucune contribution de autorités ni du lobby atomique
“Close the windows and go back to sleep!
Kiev . Ukraine . 7.00 A.M. About thirty participants in the first summer conference on Chernobyl (Kiev, Ukraine, August 22-28, 2005,) students, lecturers and organizers, climb aboard the bus chartered by the state agency Chernobyl Inter Inform that manages the visits to the disaster zone.
There’s a particular silence.
Infographie: Javier Sicilia
Exactly as the photo portrays it. I’m thinking that I’m on the right path as I’m going to attempt to photograph that which can’t be seen. The driver informs us of the iimmediate departure for the Apocalypse Zone. And re-assures everybody that we’ll stop for coffee on the road.
One hundred and thirty-two kilometers* of straight roads and unending forests, empty and silent. And the humming of the motor. Every once and a while, the road is a little busier and you can almost imagine how it was in the beginning of 1986 and as it always must have been, freely living with nature.
When absence becomes an image.
We go by heavy wooden wagons mounted on car axles with inflatable tires pulled by horses. At the edge of the woods, locals sell the mushrooms they’ve gathered. There are all sorts of mushrooms, fat, colored, fabulous. The chanterelles resemble spots of sunlight. Children on the side of the road wave to us. With big smiles. A little farther along, on April 27th, 1986, we’re stuck in an enormous traffic jam of trucks and tanks. They’re all heading towards the nuclear power plant. Having stepped down from their vehicles, people move about, nervously, in a hurry, excited, not really knowing what to do, stunned, petrified. Some of them, in white protective garments and masks, look like Star Wars characters. We’ve stopped to let a never-ending line of buses go by in the opposite direction towards Kiev. Several hundred of them. The first in line are filled with children. Others follow with panicking mothers aboard attempting to grip the windows trying not to lose sight of their offspring. You can read a question on their faces to which no one has the answer, the confusion, the disbelief… and in their eyes, more than fear… terror. A terror that has made my mirage crumble. We’ve gone about fifty kilometers further. The road was still straight. And empty. * 93 kilometers as the crow flies.
Photogramme - Reportage sur Tchernobyl - ARTE
At the entrance of the security perimeter, almost entirely emptied. The passengers who prepared their trip the night before by drinking too much beer and vodka are having a little trouble getting off the bus.
Let’s breathe deeply.
Calm. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a thirty-kilometer circle around the exploded reactor, is still about an hour away. Everything that we’ve learned about Chernobyl has provoked our imagination and our anxiety. The dosimeters react every once in a while. But nothing serious it would seem, as long as you keep moving and don’t stay in one spot. In Pripyat, the day after the explosion, the population absorbed, without knowing it, hundreds of times the maximum allowable dose of radiation. The Authorities, panicked as well and deliberately lied in order to prevent a general panic. The immediate decision to evacuate the population was suspended in order to prevent this. All the immediate initiatives taken by the local authorities to protect the children and the inhabitants were blocked by the military high command. It was announced that children should be confined to their schools and not to leave nor go unwatched, by precaution. And, of course, don’t forget to close the windows and wash the floors.
Otherwise, don’t panic. Everything will be fine. During which time, the Police and the Army occupied the city.
A local person explains:
“ Here, we washed all the vehicles leaving the Zone. In that cabin over there, we washed people. Often, we had to wash them several times before letting them leave. Anyway, we would let them leave despite the objection of the radiation counters. This unit is still active, but we only measure levels, we don’t wash anything anymore…except if it’s really necessary. We’ll let you know on your way out ...“
We finish our first atomic coffee and climb back in the bus. Let’s go! First, we’re going to visit the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, showroom and pride of the U.S.S.R.’s atomic industry.
We’re not going to stop at the Chernobyl 2 site that we can see on our left. The bus driver doesn’t even slow down. There are the antennas of Duga-3. The small antenna (90 meters high and 250 meters wide) has already been dismantled by irradiated-steel traffickers. (See The Zone by Guillaume Herbaut). The big antenna (150 meters high and 400 meters wide) is still standing there listening for messages that it can no longer hear. The appearance of these antennas, in the middle of the forest, helps relativize the scale of things. If anyone had any doubts, we’re about to be faced with the gigantic, the colossal, the incommensurable.
We’ve just entered into the center of the warzone. A hitherto unknown type of war, in which it’s impossible to avoid invisible bullets fired by an invisible enemy. There is no escaping: neither on land, nor in the water, nor in the air. The world-wide military doctrine at the time that the Duga-3 antennas were constructed in 1960, during the Cold War, was Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) Clearly stated, M.A.D. meant that the first belligerent nation to launch a nuclear attack would be counter-attacked in kind. This doctrine was meant to be dissuasive, in order to prevent that the world be consciously and mutually destroyed. M.A.D., as in crazy. The crumbling of the Soviet Union, just 5 years after Chernobyl, dictated a change in military doctrine. The new doctrine still in course is Nuclear Utilization Target Strategy (N.U.T.S.). Nuclear weapons can be used by nuclear powers on strategic targets. This is an offensive doctrine. Clearly stated, this means that a nuclear power can use its nuclear weapons on targets that they would consider strategic… N.U.T.S., as in completely crazy. Upon entering the grounds of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in what little distance remains between us and ground zero of the accident, the incommensurable is manifest. In order to imagine the scale, try to imagine a Lilliputian in the middle of an oil refinery. That would give you an inkling of the size of a human being in the middle of this abandoned atomic « refinery ». In the middle of the giant intertwining pipes that are rusty and patched together. If we stick to comic references, you could imagine an enormous Rube Goldberg device. If Mad Max’s gang (George Miller, James McCausland) were to surge out of nowhere, all of a sudden and surround our bus, we wouldn’t be the least surprised. Science ? Fiction ?
The monster is there. Right in the middle of the World. If you know a little about it, you know that you need to approach it cautiously. It could wake up at any moment. At the base of the reactor, our nostrils are have dried out and we have a taste of metal in our mouths. The beast is wounded, but still alive. It’s snoring. Or rather it’s moaning. It’s eating the concrete that prevents it from seeing the sky. It sometimes roars. It continues to emit radition. It is eating its tomb from the inside out. It’s indestructible. And it would appear that there’s nothing more dangerous than an indestructible wounded beast. I can see the few photos that I saw of its construction while preparing for this encounter in my mind. After the first firefighters on the scene, eight hundred thousand persons worked here to construct the sarcophagus and tried to clean up the worst contaminated areas. Eight hundred thousand workers. They were nicknamed the “little green robots“ and were mobilized and knowingly sacrificed by the Soviet Army and the international Atomic lobby. They were there trying to close out Chernobyl. They were called the “Liquidators“. They came from all over the U.S.S.R. Construction workers, engineers, helicopter pilots, sailors, truck drivers, train conductors, miners, frogmen, canteen workers and whores. They would be on site for a few minutes, a few hours, a few days or a few months, depending on their specific tasks in specific places. Afterwards, they were sent to oblivion, back to the farthest corners of the country to die invisibly. Several hundred would die within a few months time after their journey into the Apocalypse. In the following years, several thousand more would follow suit. Twenty years after the nuclear disaster, more than three hundred and fifty thousand are no longer amongst the living. And others continue to die. We know what the sarcophagus is hiding, but we don’t know what it contains exactly. There are two opposing theories about what the atomic fuel has become in the midst of highly radioactive debris that no one can really explore. A hundred or so tons out of the one hundred ninety-two tons that were inside the reactor at the moment of the fateful experiment? Or just a few tons… or just a few kilograms left, with all the rest of the nuclear fuel having escaped during the explosion?
SARCOPHAGUS : Etymologically speaking, it’s a tomb in which ancient people put the corpses that they didn’t wish to cremate and was made of stone that had the ability to consume the corpses.
Here, in Chernobyl, the opposite is occurring. It’s the corpse, the deceased, that’s eating its tomb.
Two hundred square meters: That’s the total surface of old-age cracks in this concrete monument. It’s the equivalent of a huge gaping hole. There’s a project to build a sarcophagus over the existing sarcophagus. But the money for the funding of this project has disappeared in the labyrinth of corruption. Also, it’s increasingly difficult to find new « liquidators » or volunteers for the worksite. So? Chernobyl? A problem of the past? A veritable nightmare for the future? The scientific expert, Anatoli Alexandrov, had claimed that this type of nuclear reactor would be the safest ever built. « We could build one in the middle of Red Square » he said. He had even calculated, according to who knows what data, that this kind of accident only had one out of two million chance of actually occurring. We stay about fifteen minutes at the patient’s bedside … As with all the others it has devoured, the sarcophagus is devouring itself. Like the several thousand human beings that built it, it suffers from accelerated ageing, a classic syndrome of radiation exposure (as observed within the populations exposed to the radiation of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic explosions.) Humans die in terrible agony, more or less long, in a few hours or in a few years, but always according to the same scenario.
(…) “ His bones were exposed. His whole body was disappearing. All of his back…His hipbones could be touched. I disinfected the insides of the wounds with my gloved hand and I extracted bits of bones that were disintegrating. Decomposed bones, rotting. He was conscious of everything. The only thing he asked was to die quickly “ (…) * “The Sacrifice“ by Emanuela Andreoli and Vladimir Chertkoff: Testimony by Mrs. Saragovets, the wife of the Anatoli Saragovets, Chernobyl « liquidator », recounting his last moments.
Urgently mobilized, hundreds of miners were brought in from all the different mining regions of the U.S.S.R. in order to dig a network of tunnels under the exploded reactor. The idea was to install a refrigeration system using liquid nitrogen to freeze the ground and to quell the fire. It was imperative to stop the nuclear fuel from fusing and piercing through the concrete floor and falling into the lower compartments, which were filled with water. It was necessary to work quickly, very quickly. The pace was unsupportable (hellish), the heat and the radioactivity, too. In theory, each miner, working bare-chested and without masks, shouldn’t have dug longer than a few minutes; then leave, vowing to never tell anybody what he saw; back to his hole somewhere in Great Russia, with his medical records becoming his new passport.
He arrived Russian, he left Chernobylite.
Between six hundred thousand and one million “liquidators“ worked on the burial of Chernobyl. They are ignored, have no follow-
Le Sarcophage est terminé. Les derniers Liquidateurs signent leur œuvre.
up care and aren’t statistically accounted for, either by the local authorities, the United Nations, the World Health Organization, or the International Atomic Energy Agency. They don’t exist. Recognizing their existence would be recognizing that they were sacrificed. The decision to sacrifice the workforce came from high up. Machines for cleaning up a disaster of this type didn’t exist. The robots broke down. So, they invented the “little green robots.”
They cleaned up the debris of the explosion barehanded. They inhaled deeply the dust of the earth that they had to bury. Yes, you read right. Bury earth! They removed contaminated soil over large areas of the countryside. With shovels, picks and tractors, they made huge rolls of earth, like rolls of lawn used to spread over gardens, or like rolls of carpet. Exactly the same. The rolls of earth were made of twenty centimeters of topsoil with every living thing that it might contain. They were loaded on to trucks and transported to huge pits and buried. Surrealist, don’t you think? They sawed down trees charred by the Atom and wrapped their trunks in plastic, when it was available, and buried them, as well. As deeply as possible. They washed irradiated houses with water that was even more contaminated. The workforce camped in Army tents on grounds in villages that were already uninhabitable. They watered the roads that the little green men’s convoys used, to trap the deadly dust. Twenty-five years after having been mobilized in an Apocalypse Zone, the survivors among the « liquidators » and their families have been completely abandoned. They’re spread across the countryside that no one ever talks about, the hinterlands of an empire that the Atom exploded. They saved the world and the world has forgotten them. Who lets the survivors die so miserably? Who are they, in the cynical workings of organized amnesia, of memory erasure, which continues to ignore the survivors? Those who have decided, since the beginning, to liquidate the « liquidators » and their descendants.
They werenâ€™t protected at all They buried entire towns and Kolkhozes*, hundreds and hundreds of them. With tanks transformed into bulldozers, they dug holes in front of houses and then pushed them in with their furniture and their memories. They displaced the population and cattle. One hundred thirty thousand people were evacuated. They received orders to kill pets and barnyard animals. They organized hunts to finish off the surprised and suspicious animals that had chosen to flee. They built the sarcophagus for the gutted reactor. They had no protection. Neither physical, nor psychological. A handful amongst them protested against the derisory and screamed against the futility. Others denounced the crime being committed.
Soccer and vodka helped them hold on. *Collective farms
At the time of the explosion, the construction of reactor number 5, next to reactor number 4, was well under way. I’m at a lack of words and spatial analogies to describe the scale. It was supposed to be the largest and most powerful reactor in the world; the safest, probably, the most beautiful, the strongest, the most “Most“. Unfortunately, it was also the closest to the epicenter of the explosion and received the highest concentration of radioactive fallout. Now, it’s nothing but the biggest abandoned construction site in the world.
Also, the most radioactive.
After the explosion, the decision was taken immediately to empty out the reactor’s cooling water reservoir. The atomic fuel in fusion shouldn’t come, under any circumstances, in contact with the water in the reservoir because of the risk of a thermonuclear explosion. However, the electric controls for the reservoir drains malfunctioned. The only solution was to open the drains manually. Now, all that was needed was a volunteer diver. For this mission, the volunteer was offered a bonus of several years’ wages, a car, a Dacha (a Russian country house), a Hero of the U.S.S.R. medal, a comfortable retirement pension reverted to the surviving family, in case of… Two divers were tempted by the offer and dove for several minutes. Their mission succeeded. Sent back home, Life didn’t leave them enough time to claim their rewards. The Authorities didn’t keep any of their promises. And the divers died within a few weeks time. The chimneys of Reactor number 5, next to a highly radioactive water reservoir, will never reach the sky. The water sparkles and makes the dosimeters chirp. It’s the sorcerers’ cursed water: undrinkable, impossible to filter, swimming forbidden. The Lake of Death.
Entrée du kolkoze Kuybycheva - Belarus
I met a man who lived alone in his house in the middle of the country, in the evacuated and forbidden zones of the region of Slavgorod, in Belarus. The man had refused to leave. There he was, in the middle of the immense countryside overgrown by weeds, forests, useless electric poles and abandoned Kolkhozes. Sitting there in his garden, he watched us approaching. He remained still. His grey-blue eyes shone. They really shone. Like white headlights during the day. No one ever comes to see him. Soldiers, sometimes and foreigners, who ask him about his health and examine him, always in a hurry to leave. It’s been weeks since he last saw someone. People don’t come here because they’re scared. He says that the hardest part is that there’s nobody to talk to. He sleeps very badly. So, at night, he listens to the wolves howl and talks to the stars. The sky isn’t the same since the accident occurred. You can see many more stars than before. “Like in the desert“ so it would seem. The Milky Way is so beautiful, so dense. He hardly goes down to the village anymore, as he’s treated like he has the plague. “They say that I come from the land of the Devil.” He lives off his garden, a little poaching and the passing time. The well water is always clear. And he feels tired. More and more tired. He knows that he’ll die soon.
KOLKHOZE KUYBYCHEVA Memorial in honor of the buried towns
“ The technic had been used over and over again: The bulldozer (a tank transformed into a bulldozer) dug a huge trench in front of the house, then it pushed the house into the trench. That’s how entire towns were buried. You could hear the sound of breaking dishes, mirrors and windows shattering, crushed furniture… It all went very quickly, everything seemed unreal, impossible… “
Eyewitness account quoted by Igor Kostin in « Chernobyl: confessions of a reporter » Les Arènes publishing.
We’ve left the epicenter of this incredible mess for the town of Chernobyl where we picnic at the port. We’ve brought our box lunches. Anyway, no one’s really hungry. The stupor remains. Breathing is laborious. An improbable shadow intrudes on the pictures. The invisible can be photographed. It plays with light and mirrors.
It’s the calm inside the calm. Only the dosimeters chirp when you approach the water. Don’t look for fishing boats. There aren’t any, anymore. Neither boats, nor fishers. Don’t look for floating restaurants in which you could eat a nice dish of fried fish and local mushrooms. Don’t look for Peace, either; it’s the forbidden port of a lost war. Here, the last battle started on April 27th 1986 and finished in December 1988. Hundreds of enormous barges transported tons and tons of sand, of iron, of trucks, of tanks, men and vodka forming a huge traffic jam right in front of us. There was constant bustle twenty-four hours a day. The air smelled like diesel fuel. The birds left. The enemy was everywhere but you couldn’t see him.
And the Atom defeated the port.
Town of Chernobyl - Ukraine - Population twelve thousand (12,000). A centuries-old town with hundreds of dachas hidden in the forest, on the banks of the Dnieper. A country of large forests, abundant nature, apples, mushrooms and blueberries. Plentiful hunting and fishing. The dignitaries of the Soviet Union liked to come here on vacation. That was before. In another world. A few days after the explosion that heated up the night of April 26th, 1986 and lit it up with turquoise and unreal blues, time was confiscated. The town had to be abandoned. Forever. Leaving everything behind. Ripping up the photos, history and memories. And the town had left.
“Our life consisted only of Atomic waste. That’s what we ourselves had become“... Today, the town of Chernobyl has been reduced to a few « cleaned » plots of land to which the administration and the rotating maintenance and security crews for the Nuclear Power Plant are confined. Officially, No one has the right to live there, but a few elderly people have refused to leave, or came back, hiding in the woods, “there’re four or five of them“ they say. Mystery and legends in the land of witches. A young couple from the city has purportedly moved in a few months ago and they might have had a baby in their cabin. If true, it would be the first baby born in a place where humans are forbidden to live.
Incredible. Frightening, Top secret.
The overgrowth turns out to be difficult to traverse. We move forward slowly. Piotr has brought a book by Tolstoy. He tells me about a correspondence that the writer had with Gandhi. “It would have been better to listen to them rather than banishing one or assassinating the other“.
The Atom’s Sorcerers have even broken the light. It’s true that one’s eye dries out like your throat and loses its chromatic references. The contrasts become opaline. I’d even say that the eye feels, more than it sees, that something isn’t right. The video records. Purple, turquoise and several shades of blue invade my pictures. Of course, I re-check my settings. Piotr watches me while I’m doing this. He smiles and says:
“you see, I told you, they even broke the light“.
“There were colored spots* almost everywhere in the countryside. Some of them were very big and several dozen others were smaller. They were black, red, blue and white. All of them brightly glowing. Shining. No one, as far back as anyone can recall, has ever seen anything like it. Later, we learned that we saw the Atom and we were lucky because normally you can’t see it. We called the Military Police but they didn’t show up until early afternoon. Unfortunately, it rained almost all morning and when they finally arrived, all the spots had disappeared. The Military Police took out a measuring device that no one here had ever seen before. It kept chirping. They all looked frightened and told us that we had to leave immediately, that we couldn’t live here, that no one could ever live here again. No one believed them, so we stayed. The next day the soldiers came back. They evacuated the population. We wondered which enemy they were fighting. Nothing had changed here. Everything was calm. Of course, we had a metallic taste in our mouths, irritated throats, dry noses, tearing eyes, children vomiting, but nothing else had changed. (…) Then, shortly after, they started burying the towns. And even the earth! How could you even imagine something like that? Burying towns !!! Burying earth !!! (…) As for myself, I told them that I was staying in my house. That they could bury me with it, if they liked, but I wasn’t leaving. So, they left me here. They told me that my house hadn’t been too badly affected. It was all around it that was dangerous. But, I walk around anyway. There are lots of mushrooms that are delicious. I waited for people to come back for the longest time. I said to myself that no one leaves forever and that they would come back one day. But no one ever came back.
“Now I understand that no one is coming back“. * Radionuclide contamination spread on the ground is called “Leopard spot contamination“. The dark spots on a leopard’s skin being abnormal, it’s the rest that’s normal. Another way of picturing this type of contamination is to imagine a wheat field after a storm. The wheat is flattened in a random manner in different places here and there.
The woods having become cannibal are devouring the town. The decomposing houses are prisoner of the forest. And are absorbed by it. Sometimes, shadows play on the walls, like fleeing gnomes. Here, the woods no longer have any scent. The juniper bushes, the apple trees, the blossoms on the trees or whatâ€™s left of gardens, nothing smells anymore.
When misfortune strikes, humans don’t like to think and recognize that they are responsible for the horror they’ve created. They don’t like to stop, nor give up, even if everything indicates that they’re en route to the Apocalypse. Their ferocious greed will prevent them from anticipating the next catastrophe until it actually becomes a reality. No one likes to think about all that. I followed a ray of sunlight that led me inside a small house. The only thing left inside were papers spread all over the floor. There were letters that had fallen out of cardboard boxes, ripped open, rotting. Correspondence from another era, an era in which love letters weren’t atomic waste. How will I be able to describe all of this? I wonder if it is possible to convey the memory of a catastrophe to those who are its future victims.
Chernobyl has created a mechanism of impossible grief, the process of perpetual grieving.
Perhaps Angels have become
It isn’t possible that the Atom ate the corner of this house. Nor a three-headed boar. Nor giant ants. Nor rock-eating worms… Perhaps angels have become ogres? “Traffickers in radioactive construction material » Piotr tells me. « They take anything they can and sell it on local or international markets. The black market is organized and widespread, it’s no secret here. If you remove the corner of a house, it’ll fall down fairly quickly. It’s an easy demolition technic and all they have to do is pick up the pieces afterwards. Don’t forget that we’re in a zone where you can’t stay very long and you can’t make noise“.
There are as many tragedies as there are houses. As many confiscated dreams. As many lives ruined.
Anna lived in this house with her husband Anatoli, on Lenin Street in Chernobyl, when the reactor exploded. She tells me that she remembers everything. The blue light in the night. And before dawn, colored phosphorescent spots on the ground and in the trees. The astonishment. The silence. The apprehension. Then, fear. And exile… It was the beginning of an endless nightmare. She repeats that she remembers everything. When the world changed forevers.
“Our first child, Karina, was born in 1988, two years after the catastrophe. The doctors told us that she was normal. Happily, we were able to spend a few months believing them. But unfortunately, things got complicated very quickly. First, Anatoli got sick. Ever since he came back from the zone where he worked as a « liquidator », he hadn’t been feeling very well. At twenty-eight years old, he looked like he was forty. They had to amputate one of his legs whereas he already had trouble walking on two… so you could imagine! Then, he died. It was a relief for everybody. Especially for him. As for me, I needed three operations, for my thyroid and my lymph glands. But nothing too serious. I was able to take care of my daughter. (…) Anna remembers wandering through the labyrinth of the corrupt Ukrainian administration, of chasing after health care and medicine. Of being lost in the city where the references are different from the country. Of their families, scattered after the evacuation. Of the rejection of those who considered them as plague-bearers… “Karina fell sick the summer before turning eight. She had leukemia. It took her six years to die. I did everything I could to save her. But when one problem was resolved, another arose and the one we thought was over reappeared“. (…) Anna wonders why she’s still alive. How did her mind and body survive through everything? « Karina gave me strength » … By going to hospitals and health care centers, she met dozens of sick children, often orphans or abandoned, with unknown pathologies, completely unimaginable, incredible, monstrous… So, increasingly, Anna started taking care of them. She tells me that she loves them as much as she loved Karina. And that they need us so much.
Photo: Magdalena Caris - Novinki -
Psychiatric hospital for children
When it was born, it wasn’t a baby, but a bag closed on all sides with no opening. Only it’s eyes were open (…) No female genitalia, no buttocks and only one kidney (…) I heard the doctors discussing amongst themselves, “If we were to show her on television, no mother would ever want to give birth again“. They reconstructed her bottom. They’re in the process of constructing a vagina. (…) They have to press out her urine by hand every half-hour so that the urine comes out of tiny holes in the genital region (…) She’s the only child to have survived with such complex pathologies (…) * * The complete account can be read in “Voices from Chernobyl: The oral history of a disaster“ by Svetlana Alexievitch.
Nowadays, in these regions, the cemeteries are overflowing with little white coffins.
Around Minsk in Belarus, the plains are so vast that they appear infinite. There are fields as far as the eye can see, endless forests, lakes like giant mirrors laid out in an empty countryside so that the sky could silently look at itself. A few dozen kilometers outside of Minsk, Novinki is a spectacle of utter misery created by the consequences of modern technology. It’s a medical-psychiatric hospital for children between the ages of four and seventeen, most of who have been abandoned at birth by terrified parents. Hard to imagine, isn’t it? There are over two hundred patients. That’s maximum capacity and with little modern conveniences. They’re stricken with pathologies and malformations previously unknown to science and with no possible cure. They live immobile or by dragging themselves across the floor. Victims? Patients? Guinea pigs? The rest of the world couldn’t possibly imagine the condition of the children of Novinki. The world doesn’t want to know or acknowledge them, perhaps because of the same terror that their parents felt. “ I saw a small child, very small, as small as a six-month-old baby, even though he was three years old. His hair was very black and straight, with eyes wide open. He seemed to be staring
Photo: Paul Fusco / Magnum Photos - Novinki -
Don’t look. Don’t see. However… at a something, perhaps something he’d already seen, something that kept him in a constant state of terror ever since he was born. He was always agitated unless you picked him up and held him. He would then snuggle closely, curl up and then calm down“... Anna spoke to me about silent expressions and incomprehension welling out of infinite sorrow. She also spoke about children constrained in straightjackets to control their fury, also of huge smiles
from the bottom of their hearts, of tears of unreparable suffering and outburst of laughter over a game or after having received tenderness. Anna told me about the permanent staff nurses and aides’ exhaustion and of the doctors’ dedication, and, of course, of the lack of means available to them. She spoke to me about the long Winter months that were so cold. And how cold the floor was. The leaden skies and the wind and snow that enwrapped Novinki in a glassy silence, only broken by cries and sometimes, the howling of wolves.
The city of Pripyat, Ukraine, Population 50,000 (Fifty thousand) The life and death of the city of Pripyat, model city, showcase of the almighty Soviet Empire, city of the Future, city of dreams, of nightmares, Nuclear City (1974-1986.) Fifty thousand people lived in Pripyat in 1986 and quite comfortably, with state-of-the-art infrastructures and the highest wages in the Soviet Union. On the night of April 26th, 1986, at 1:23 a.m., A gigantic explosion shook the city out of its sleep. A turquoise blue glow illuminated the night and a streak of light reached up through the sky. The Reactor #4, 2 kilometers away as the crow flies, was now a huge fiery hole. A fire alert was declared for a new reality that surpassed any fiction. Who, in Pripyat, possibly couldâ€™ve imagined that they would have to leave within thirty-six hours and forever? How many amongst them realized that their lives and all of Humanity were tipping over from a dream to a nightmare? Out of the light and into the Night.
During the next morning, April 27th, 1986 …
Small children were playing in the sandboxes.
From the rooftops of Pripyat, or from their windows, or balconies, the city’s inhabitants watched the fire. The light was eerie. It was just a normal fire alarm that rang out, which meant that there wasn’t any reason not to watch the extraordinary show. In the morning mist at dawn, many children climbed on their bicycles to go see the fire as close as possible. They were able to approach within a few hundred meters of the reactor. Then, they went off to school. The youngest kids were already playing in the sandboxes.
As every morning, the local fishermen were on the banks of the river. When they arrived back home around noon with their days’ catch, they had turned completely black. Burnt by the Atom. The radioactivity was two hundred thousand times higher than the natural background radiation. But no one had warned them. All through the morning of April 27th, the Army moved in to the city. Dressed in science-fiction protective suits with masks and strange measuring devices, the soldiers took control. Tanks deployed at several intersections, around the Nuclear Power Plant and in front of the hospital…. The level of tension and anxiety rose, none of this seemed very normal Loudspeakers broadcasted reassuring messages. And no one had yet spoken about radiation. So, at 2:00 p.m., when the order to evacuate the city immediately was announced, people had started to think something much more serious than an ordinary fire had occurred.
Thirty hours later, Pripyat was no longer inhabited.
“There’s no need to yell. Speak normally… You see… They’ve even broken sound!” Piotr didn’t want to climb up with me on top of the roof of the highest building in the city. “It’s too contaminated and the elevators no longer work” he joked. He tells me that he doesn’t have the right to leave me alone and that if anything happened to me, he would lose his job. I’m looking for the right argument to reassure and convince him. Then, after having listened to all his counseling to be extremely cautious and to promise never to tell anyone, he let me go up alone into the building. I had to climb up sixteen flights of stairs to get where I was sure was the best view of the environs, where I could vividly imagine the night of April 26th 1986 and the evacuation of the city the following day. Those moments during which Humanity changed forever. Shivers of emptiness full of presences surround me. Completely concentrated on the current moment, I climb up the stairs slowly. In certain places, my dosimeter reads one hundred times normal. It’s gone crazy. The sarcophagus is there, within arms reach. All around it, in a thirty kilometer radius, the zone is uninhabited and off-limits. Nobody. Nobody, for twenty years. Nobody until the end of time. The silence of an ato-
I lean over the edge to let Piotr know that I’ve arrived safely. I can see him down at the foot of the building reading Tolstoy and smoking. I say “Hey!” from up above, which thunders out as if I’d shouted, whereas I’ve hardly raised my voice. A multiple echo bounces back, metallic and high-pitched. Just for fun, I try it again. Impressive! “There’s no need to yell. Speak normally… You see… They’ve even broken sound!” Piotr says to me chuckling. My guide often laughs. I think to myself that he’s a little crazy. Like the dosimeter.
The realm of the Giants of the Atom*. I wonder if I’m not the victim of a time bubble!? Have I landed in the middle of the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk?? I’m under the impression that the trees have sprouted instantly like the giant beanstalk that sprouted out of the magic beans that Jack threw in his back yard.
I feel like I should ring the doorbell. It seems perfectly impolite to enter without being invited.
Just a few days after the evacuation, looting in the city began. Twenty years later, the Atom scavengers haven’t left much. Everything’s been stolen, recycled, sold and resold, full of radionuclides. Stopping off on several floors on my way down, I go into a few apartments chosen at random. I choose apartments whose doors were closed. I feel like I should ring the doorbell. It seems perfectly impolite to enter without being invited.
I remember a story about a guy who bought a hat on the market in Kiev and who very soon afterwards started having severe headaches that neither he nor his doctors could explain. And who died a few months later of a very aggressive cancer… Brain cancer.
In a former hotel room on the seventh floor, I find trees and ferns growing on the cement floor. The windows are gone but the radiators are still there. Perhaps theyâ€™re too heavy or make the dosimeters chirp too much. Your guess is as good as mine.
I can imagine the city and the region being massively bombed by wild radionuclides, in Cinemascope and as far as the eye can see. Having become invisible and silent, missiles, fragmentation bombs, anti-personal mines, flamethrowers and tanks, as well as diabolical wall-piercing elements of a new type of war, they didn’t encounter any resistance, either by nature, or by the population. This armada, transported by the winds and spread across the land by the rain, treacherously attacked the people and their land, which neither heard nor saw the attack coming. It poisoned and killed thousands upon thousands of people. Children are the most vulnerable to radiation. The attack of this invisible army isn’t painful. At first, it’s like nothing happened at all. This makes it difficult to realize the scope of the defeat and of the damage. A certain amount of time must go by for people to understand what’s happened… and start to suffer. In the days following the reactor explosion, the Armada of the nuclear apocalypse conquered vast territories of the Empire and established permanent footholds in several countries, some far, sometimes very far, from the front line. *
* (Norway, Lapland, France, Italy, North Africa, etc. Please refer to the CRIIRAD atlas [http://www.criirad.org].)
Piotr describes this atomic no-man’s land to me; huge concentric circles in a radius of thirty and one hundred kilometers around the sarcophagus. Beyond these zones, many fields, Kolkhozes and towns were evacuated and declared off-limits. In all, the zone is about the size of Lebanon. A jackpot for all sorts of thieves and traffickers. The first looters appeared in the days following the evacuation looking for valuable objects abandoned during the exodus. Anything that could be sold quickly at a decent price appeared very quickly in local markets; mainly personal belongings easy to carry: dishes, tools, home decorations, toys, clothes, etc. ...
Cinémathèque de Pripyat / Centre culturel
It’s well known that stuffed animals stock radionuclides particularly well… “ I think of all those children who fell asleep smiling with their teddy bears, in their radioactive pyjamas that came from radioactive zones… it’s disgusting.” Piotr says. The looting and trafficking became systematic over the months and years that followed, facilitated by the Mafialike structure of the U.S.S.R. Larger and heavier items began to disappear from the Death Zone and find their way to be sold on markets, near or far, of the Empire: mattresses, furniture, refrigerators, stoves, radiators and more. Afterwards, anything that was the least bit useful: windows, doors, glass, doors, bricks, plumbing… everything is scavenged. Everything disappears. Everything becomes invisible. The Razhoka military vehicle “cemetery”, a few kilometers outside of Pripyat, contains the largest stock of contaminated metal on the planet. An immense treasure of an estimated eight million tons of radioactive steel: tanks, trucks, helicopters, ambulances, buses and other vehicles. Today, eighty percent of this treasure, six million tons, has disappeared. Slowly but surely, the radioactive-metal Mafia continues it’s deadly dealings, hidden by the emptiness and silence of the forbidden zones.
Salle de musique / Centre culturel - Pripyat
In the days and weeks that follow, thousands of towns and villages in the entire region were evacuated in the same circumstances. One hundred and thirty thousand people were torn away forever from their houses, their lands, their history and their time. They were scattered here and there, far away. No one wanted to receive them, everybody was afraid of them. They were irradiated, “Chernobylites“, come from the land of the Devil. Untouchable refugees. Very quickly, they had to deal with the apparition of illnesses brought from the front lines, find medicine, undergo surgical operations, continually battle with the authorities to be recognized as disaster victims, with no work, no money, pariahs… A few housing plans were enacted. Housing developments in the countryside, housing projects in the cities, even new cities. That’s where they were resettled. In ghettos. Then, the authorities forgot them. They no longer existed. Nothing serious happened in Chernobyl. The mechanism of planned ignorance, the denial of the disaster, the elimination of its very memory, was under way.
Auditorium / Centre culturel - Pripyat
In all of history, Pripyat is the first big city to fall in the hands of the enemy and to be completely evacuated within a few hours. In this new type of war, the enemy is invisible, the weapons are silent and humans have no place to hide. They can only flee. A debacle. A defeat. Madness.
The schools were open during the morning of April 26th, 1986 and the schoolchildren at work in class. I’ll say it once again, they absorbed thousands of times the acceptable dose of radiation without feeling anything. For children, ten times the dose is already too much. So…
It wasn’t even worth warning them. The Authorities’ main concern was to avoid panic. They succeeded, while at the same time committing the first mass crime of civil nuclear energy. This day would be the penultimate day of the life of this school, before the order to evacuate the city. This wasn’t a drill. It was a state of emergency. Without mercy. Inhuman. And the next day the children wouldn’t go to the opening of the Pripyat amusement park that the city had built especially for them. It was planned to open on April 27th. It would’ve been a holiday for them. Fate or Chance or witches had decided otherwise.
PRIPYAT - AMUSEMENT PARC
A coincidence: The Pripyat amusement park was supposed to open on April 27th, 1986. The cityâ€™s children had been waiting for this day for a long time. The night before the accident, the Ferris wheel revolved in their dreams and they were already chasing each other in bumper carsâ€Ś Not one of them could imagine the Sorcerers of the Atom were going to spoil their dreams during their sleep. Woken up in the middle of the night by a huge explosion, the children were going to have to learn to switch quickly from dreams to nightmares and from tranquility to fright. Their dreams and their time had just been confiscated. On April 27th, in an incredible rush, the children were packed onto buses and could bring neither their stuffed animals, nor their toys, nor their schoolwork. Nothing at all. Desperate mothers gripping on to the buses prevented them from leaving. The soldiers had to pry them loose. And as the buses started to accelerate, the mothers ran after them, their arms in the air. The air was metallic.
Happy like a trout swimming up the stream Happy the heart of the world On its fountain of blood Happy the hurdy-gurdy Howling in the dust With its lemony voice A popular refrain Without rhyme or reason Happy the lovers On the roller coaster Happy the red-headed girl On her white horse FĂŞte foraine (Funfair) Poem by Jacques PrĂŠvert in his collection Paroles
Happy the brown-haired boy Who smiling waits for her Happy the man in mourning Standing in his nacelle Happy the fat lady With her kite Happy the old idiot Who smashes the dishes Happy in his carriage The tiny little child Unhappy the conscripts In front of the shooting gallery Aiming at the heart of the world Aiming at their own hearts Aiming at the heart of the world Bursting with laughter.
July 2005, School 1
The first collapsed building in Pripyat. The High School #1 building was the first to fall down in Pripyat. It split in two, all by itself, almost twenty years after the evacuation. A sign of the future. The French poet Jacques Prévert once told me, “I don’t like the architecture of new cities, they won’t leave very nice ruins.”
It’s not possible to take a break here
No one can stay where we are for very long, so we don’t have any choice but to move on towards places where humans no longer have the right to live. Piotr tells me that we have just enough time to go by the stadium and the kindergarten before sundown. On the way, he recounts the extermination of domestic animals after the evacuation of the area. Try to imagine an advancing line of an army clad in white protective suits hunting cats, dogs and barnyard animals and then burying them in pits of radioactive waste. He tells me about the mutations that the flora and the fauna undergo. Storks that have never returned and pine trees that never regrew in the places where they died. “The disinformation plan would lead us to believe that nature is more prolific and in better health than before the reactor explosion. That the Atom is the solution to desertification. What a joke!” After lighting up his fifteenth cigarette of the day, he continues: “Here, in these zones, you’re seeing things that others haven’t yet seen but with which they’ll be confronted soon. You’re in the heart of the atomic trap. I hope that your photos help those who’ll see them to understand that they’ll have to learn very quickly how to not cry.”
Here’s the Pripyat stadium. Atomic version of Ankgor Wat, Palenque or Chichen Itza. The jungle here, however, isn’t humid, nothing smells and birds no longer sing. Here, like the other sites, the place is haunted by a sudden absence. A necessary abandonment. A forced exile. In those other sites, the buildings were made of stone and the divinities worshipped there. Here, they’re made of sand, cement and iron. And Man attempted to take place of the gods. The others were in reverence, here in confrontation. There, millennial vestiges of disappeared civilizations, here, recent traces of a fallen people. Chernobyl also destroyed the frontier between the real and the unreal. The rupture is genetic, psychogenetic. It’ a rupture of beliefs and the renouncement of all philosophical schemas. “Thus, one would rejoice in seeing the traces of humans, not a living soul, just traces.” “Voices from Chernobyl” pg. 53, Svetlana Alexievitch.
Le stade - Pripyat
The last night in the Pripyat hospital was very very hectic.
Full-scale mobilization Thatâ€™s where the first victims arrived, then the hopelessly burned firefighters, then the local fishermen. Then, as time went by, more and more people sick to their stomachs, accompanying children with nose bleeds, complaining of headaches while vomiting all over the placeâ€Ś
Impossible to treat them all
All the doctors, nurses and health-care workers of the city were mobilized during the night. They would be the first to realize the scope of the catastrophe. They were completely overwhelmed. Impossible to treat all the victims. The medicine also became dangerous radioactive waste. The medical equipment broke down. Unimaginable scenes took place here in the last thirty hours of the city of Pripyat ! On one hand, it was just a fire; on the other hand, time ran out.
HĂ´pital de Pripyat / Ă‰tage Enfants
The radioactivity emanating from Vassia Chichenok and Titenok, the first two firefighters who spent seven hours over what was left of the exploded reactor, was so strong that the walls of their hospital rooms overloaded the Geiger counters. Same for the fishermen. Their dose of radiation was immeasurable. No one had ever seen anything like it. Emergency for those admitted. But, even more rare, emergency for those leaving.
And to alleviate the situation the Ukrainian radio stations broadcast comic sketches:
“During a session of the Verkhova Rada (the Ukrainian parliament), a discussion about using exploitable land next to the Chernobyl Zone is on the agenda. A representative suggests that potatoes be planted; everyone is opposed, “No, it’s not possible.” Another suggests growing apples. No one likes that idea either. A third representative says: “ Let’s plant tobacco, that way we can write on the cigarette packs: THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH WARNS YOU FOR THE VERY LAST TIME… “ (A joke)
The consequences of the Chernobyl disaster on the brains and metabolisms of children were very severe. Radiation caused alarming problems. “Do you know how children now count to thirty-three? They count on the fingers of both hands…” (Another joke)
They all fled
The party bosses, the presidents, their staff, the doctors, all the leaders, all the authorities, anyone in charge, they all fled. They left the population without instructions, like guinea pigs, like rats. They left with the till, of course. Others replaced them, filled their pockets and left as well.
“ As for the experts, like the scientists, they come to see us every blue moon. They arrive with their lunches, look at us, treat us like plague-bearers and quickly leave. We’re laboratory animals… Leave? For where? We’ll just drop dead here. The higher-ups have already decided on that.”
Everything that I’d read or saw during the two years that I spent preparing my journey in the Atomic Zone, on the disaster, on it’s management, on it’s consequences, came back to me In this sepulture. I’d met a lot of people involved with this tragedy (journalists, photographers, witnesses, professors, film-makers, writers, philosophers, scientists, volunteers, NGO workers, “liquidators”, victims, etc.) that have tried to expose the reality of the disaster, to expose it’s consequences, to break the silence that the criminals, the barbarians, the insane psycopaths of the Atomic lobby and the authorities instituted after the explosion. Many of them are still living and some are still in power, whether they be former Soviets or in the I.A.E.A. or the other accomplice agencies of the U.N. such as the W.H.O. The W.H.O. is bridled by its agreement with the I.A.E.A., of which the primary statutory goal is the “ The implementing and the growth of Atomic energy in contribution to world-wide peace, health and prosperity.” They’re the same people whose first decision was to declare Chernobyl as a “TOP-SECRET” case. Then, they eliminated or prevented pictures from circulation, scattered the participants and witnesses of the disaster, liquidated the “liquidators”, sacrificed millions of lives, organized the disinformation in order to convince the world that Chernobyl wasn’t a catastrophe, but just a simple accident. May all the contempt of the world fall upon these cynical and sinister liars, such as the French doctor Pierre Pellerin “expert” in radiation, (may he not rest in peace), sent to the front line in the medias to reassure the French that the radioactive cloud stopped at the French border! Cursed be all those who actively silenced people who tried to save lives and worse, prevented them from doing so. May they be punished also, as well as those who conceived, instigated and organized the collective amnesia and who, in their restrained commitees, decide upon the destiny of billions of people day in and day out. The term Crime against Humanity was never so apt. NUREMBERG should be re-opened just for them.
In Lioussia Chichenok’s apartment (the wife of the first firefighter to climb up on the roof of the exploded reactor), there’s a shrine in memorial to her husband, fallen in the line of duty in the Atomic fire along with Vachtouk, Kibenok, Titenok, Pravik and Tichitchoura, also on duty that night. They all received post-mortem Heroes of the Soviet Union medals.
“ However, from a mental health standpoint, the most satisfactory solution for the future peaceful use of Atomic energy would be to promote the arrival of a a new generation that will have learned to live with ignorance and uncertainty and who, to cite the Eighteenth century English poet, Joseph Addison, “ Would ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm.” W.H.O. Technical report # 151. pg. 45. Geneva, Switzerland, 1958.
(…) Since the beginning of the Atomic age: “ Thirty-two million victims of the industrial nuclear war. Cautious figures.” (…) Rosalie Bertell.
AUTORISATIONS: FATRAS / Jacques Prévert / Editions GALLIMARD / Magnum Photos
SOURCES Svetlana Alexievitch Wladimir Tcherkoff Vassily Nesterenko Grigori Medvedev Youri Bandajevski Bella et Roger Belbéoch Michel Fernex Rosalie Bertell Jean-Pierre Dupuy Guillaume Herbaut Magdalena Caris Paul Fusko Adi Roche Danielle Mitterrand Igor Kostine Robert Polidori Lioussia Chichenok Tania Kibenok Criirad Acro Sortir du Nucléaire Greenpeace Université de Caen Kiev-Mohyla-Académie Musée de Tchernobyl - Kiev ARTE / A2 / FR3 Wikipedia Jean-Philippe Desbordes Peter Watkins
SPECIALS THANKS Olivier Azam Laure Guillot Boris Perrin Pascal Boucher Jean-Pierre Dupuy Claude Nori Patrick Chapuis Roland Desbordes Youri Bandajevski Dominique Charles Jean-Claude Zylberstein Stéphanie Loïk Aurore James Piotr, mon guide
Photo: Alain-Gilles Bastide
Youri Bandajevski - 05/09/2005 - Minsk
I meet Youri Bandajevski at his home in Minsk. He has been out of prison for a few weeks. He is under house arrest. Yuri B. will be the first person to see the photo «The atomic doll» I took a few days earlier at Pripyat. He is moved. We talk about everything and maybe nothing, judging by the way the girl student who accompanies me as an interpreter is impressed. I take a few portrait shots of Yuri B. Very impatient to resume his research, he shows me on the balcony his secret stock of laboratory mice. On leaving I tell him I would obviously be very pleased if he sent me a letter, an article, a contribution for my «Chernobyl Forever» project. I received it three weeks later. See: http://tchernobyl.verites.free.fr/
Dear Alain-Gilles, For humanity, Chernobyl is a wound that doesn’t heal, even 20 years later. And it won’t heal for a very long time. It is a permanent reminder of the dangers of atomic energy for every living thing on Earth. Why is Chernobyl dangerous for humanity, still today? First, because of the importance of its influence on everything alive in the epicenter of the catastrophe. (...) One hundred and four thousand square kilometers of the surface of Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia, with an extremely dangerous density of radioactive contamination. More than 3.8 million people were living in these areas at the time of the accident. An immense number of people, living far away from the site of the explosion of Reactor No. 4 of the atomic power station in 1986, have been victims of the terrifying influence of the atomic energy that escaped. Second, because of the specifically negative influence on human organisms. A great many radioactive substances were projected into the biosphere (...), with differing periods of disintegration, from short-lived iodine whose half-life is eight days, to long-lived plutonium whose half-life is 24 390 years. The most prevalent element in quantity, however, is Cesium-137, whose half-life is 30 years. All these radioactive elements penetrate the human organism, not only in the first days of the catastrophe but also over the past 20 years, either directly or by radioactive irradiation as they disintegrate. In the first months after the accident it was the liquidators who were exposed to the strongest radiation, mainly because of external radioactive irradiation. Many of them were gravely ill and some, a short while later, died from post-irradiation syndrome. The population that lives in the areas affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe is permanently exposed to the influence of radioactivity, through consumption of contaminated food products. That is the main danger of the Chernobyl catastrophe.
In the post-Chernobyl period there has been a very big increase in the number of ailments of the heart, the endocrine system and other systems, and an enormous number of children with inborn development defects. The increase in the number of malignant tumors has reached an extremely dangerous level. Third, Chernobyl is dangerous due to the fact that it did not cause a strong reaction among the population, of the sort that usually characterises such major tragedies. The people accepted Chernobyl, they are exposed to its terrible influence without demanding any safety precautions, for themselves, but specially for their children and grand-children. (...) Chernobyl paralysed the will of the people. Those in power have created a perception of this desolation that would lead one to believe that the problem is solved. Even today, Chernobyl doesnâ€™t outrage people. Nowadays, intimidated by the powers that be, they even accept to die from illnesses caused by radioactivity. And even when in society voices are raised calling for protection of people victims of the effects of radioactivity, they are muzzled, so as not to expose the lies of States. (...) The duty of doctors and health professionals is to defend the lives and health of mankind. This defense is undertaken, not only through bringing relief, but also by studying the different environmental factors that impact on the human population, and on using the lessons learned to better protect and care for them.
Profesor, Youri Bandajevski - Minsk - Oct.2005
Photo: Patrick Chapuis - 2012
(…) Photo-Poetry is a polymorphic activity (exercise) that uses (allows, permits, involves) the association (combination) of forms and technics that are initially heterogeneous. It is the core of Alain-Gilles Bastide’s work since he started in 1968. He (Alain-Gilles) thinks of himself as an Image-maker (photo-maker, picturemaker) and refuses the title of Photographer. He attempts to demystify THE Photographer, as in the style “Blow-Up”*(Antonioni), who is a willing servant of the Society of Spectacle (Guy Debord). He decided to work only with the tools of the common man. In the beginning of the1970s, Alain-Gilles Bastide participated in a great number of photographic festivals and exhibitions. His first major story (photoessay) was on the Amoco-Cadiz oil spill “ La Marée était en Noir.(The Tide/Bride was in Black)” and he was published in PhotoCinéma, Pentax Photography Japan, UNESCO Bulletin and several other magazines. His second essay (story) was on the IXTOCOne oil rig explosion in the gulf of Mexico intitled «Le rêve en bleu d’Esteban», (“ The Blue Dreams of Esteban.”) which was presented in shows in Paris and elsewhere in France. Critics acclaimed “a book that burns the platforms” (ZOOM). The pictures (pho-
tos) are re-published in Paris Match and world-wide making (annointing) him a “grand reporter” despite himself. His work grows (proliferates, multiplies) and is exhibited in Paris, Amsterdam, Lima, Cologne, Tokyo and other cities. “Sanguine-Bloodstone” is exhibited in Paris during the “Mois de la Photographie (Paris Biennial Photography Month) (Catalog 82) and ZOOM magazine writes about it (spreads it’s reputation, hails it, acclaims it). The Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris (the Paris Modern Art Museum) then acquires one of his photos. His work is distributed in the 1980s by the photo agencies gamma in Paris, Black Star in New York and Paciific Press Service (Magnum) in Tokyo. In 2006, the CCCB (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) acquired Alain-Gilles Bastide’s work about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster “the Memorial to 700 Buried Villages”. This work inaugurated the exhibition “ Once Upon a Time in Chernobyl” that the CCCB presented for the twentieth anniversary of the disaster. Jean-Pierre Dupuy
• • Alain-Gilles Bastide’s text “Chernobyl Forever” a travel log from hell has been translated into German, Japanese, English, Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Esperanto and MAYA! • Adapted for the theatre by Stéphanie Loïk, Théâtre du Labrador for the National Theatre of Martinique, directed by Hassane Kassi Kouyaté. March 2016.
* Jean-Pierre Dupuy Technical and educational advisor for public theatre education for the Ministry of Youth ans sports. Theatre actor and director, photography and fine arts are central to his life’s work as is the experimentation of new forms of managing and expressing life in society.
• Distributed by «Les Mutins de Pangée»
CHERNOBYL FOREVER ...
Upon returning to France in 2000 after spending 20 years in Latin America, I started a photographic trilogy on the theme of “Traces.” I was living between Havana and Paris at the time. Every day, I saw the traces of the past and of the present in front of my eyes. Paris was the Present and the era of modernity in progress, concrete, asphalt and the graphic rules of order in black and white. Havana was the colors of the past, Time stood still, that of the return to sand in the anarchy of ruins. Wondering where I could find the traces of the future, I thought of Chernobyl. I imagined Time confiscated, stolen, the sudden emptiness, abandonment and the poisoned land. I had read Svetlana Alexievitch’s “Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster” and understood that it was there, in fact, that I would find the traces of the future. I spent two years preparing for the trip, reading and referring to several works already published on Chernobyl. I met many people working on the subject of Chernobyl, on its history and on its consequences. In 2004, the first voyage that was to bring me there was cancelled at the last minute. The next year, I was appointed by the University of Caen as head of the Photo department of the “First (summer) University of Chernobyl” to be held in Kiev. I asked my international students (French, Ukranian, Russian and Belarussian) to work on the themes of Memory and the Invisible. The workshop “Chernobyl Forever” finally got under way. When the University project was finished, I remained in the area. I looked for and found the abandoned doll that a Parisian professor had seen ten years earlier during a university mission in the ruins of Pripyat. In the region of Slavgorod*, I found a place, completely by chance, that I imagined in a nightmare, where I could create a Memorial for the Buried Villages. Of course, I met people who told me their stories and about their daily lives
before and after the disaster. I took hundreds of pictures of shadows and forced abandonment. Once back in Paris, I selected a series of twenty pictures for the third chapter of my “Traces” trilogy. I offered the Atomic Doll photo to the NGO C.R.I.I.R.A.D. to be sold as a postcard to help fund the Criirad-Bandajewski laboratory in Minsk. In 2006, the C.C.C.B. in Barcelona, organizer of the “Once upon a time in Chernobyl” European exhibition for the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, acquired the “Kolkoze Kuybicheva,” my memorial for the seven hundred towns and villages buried in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Since then, “Chernobyl forever” has made its way from exhibitions to conferences and not-for-profit publications. And I said to myself, perhaps, one day, if I could find the words, I would write a travel log of my voyage and its hundreds of pictures that slept in my memory and in my computer. It wasn’t until 2012, seven years after my stay in “the zone”**, at a moment that the story of a confiscated childhood made my winter even colder that year, I started to write and work on the lay-out of this travel log, while listening to “Mister Tambourine Man”***. In 2013, the proofs barely finished, I received an offer to publish the book by a Parisian publisher. I explained that there was no point in publishing the book if it didn’t benefit the children of the area, in the region, in the cursed land, where they are Guinea pigs. In any case, this book must not be considered as just a photo album. Chernobyl Forever, became the concept of a crowdfunding campaign: A book-DVD in benefit for a humanitarian operation. Four hundred and fourteen subscribers have insu
* Slavgorod, in the south-east of Belarus (Concentration villages enterrés) ** Please see the book “La Zone” by Guillaume Herbaut *** “Mister Tambourine Man”, The Royal Album, Bob Dylan, 1966.
red the success of the project and helped fund the publication of the collective work in relation with Chernobyl Forever. The participating authors, Jean-Pierre Dupuy, Vladimir Cherkov, Emanuela Andreoli, Michel Fernex, Jean Gaumy, Jacques Prévert, Patricia Jeandrouart and myself, have donated our royalties to the radiation-sick children in Belarus. In 2014, the text of the Chernobyl Forever travel log had the great luck to come to the attention of Stéphanie Loïk, who adapted it for the stage. In 2016, Chernobyl Forever was performed on stage At the Scène Nationale de Martinique (Martinique National Theatre) and the Théatre du Labrador. Also in 2016, Chernobyl Forever will be available in bookstores in French and available on E-Book sites in several other languages including English. Once again, I would like to thank all those who made this work and its distribution possible. Those who helped in the past, in the present, and of course, in the future. My royalties will continue to be my modest contribution for the benefit of the damned of the contaminated zones in and around Chernobyl… and of Fukushima… and tomorrow somewhere else, that in the present circumstances, and have no doubt about it, is not very far off. The pictures and text in this book are dedicated to them. Alain-Gilles Bastide Paris, October 2015.
* Chernobyl Forever has been adapted for the stage by Stéphanie Loïk.
Chernobyl Forever A TRAVEL-LOG FROM HELL
This is the story of Chernobyl, from the reactor explosion on April 26th, 1986 up to now, as it’s never been told before. We’re dealing with the facts, with the testimony, with daily lives, plain and simple, with the Human, as individual and as Humanity. Everything told in this book is true. Hidden truths, obscured, when they haven’t been forbidden, or truths that no one wants to hear. Now, thirty years after the disaster, an Author/ Photographer portrays Chernobyl as it has never been portrayed. And it’s not fiction. It’s Chernobyl and it is indeed Forever.
(…) We’ve just entered into the center of the warzone. A hitherto unknown type of war, in which it’s impossible to avoid invisible bullets fired by an invisible enemy. There is no escaping: neither on land, nor in the water, nor in the air.
(…) The schools were open during the morning of April 26th, 1986 and the schoolchildren at work in class. I’ll say it once again, they absorbed thousands of times the acceptable dose of radiation without feeling anything. For children, ten times the dose is already too much. So… It’s not even worth warning them.
(…) “My colleague Legassov and I flew over the reactor in a helicopter. My first thought was: « if Hell exists, as some Vassili Nesterenko. April 27th, 1986 believers say, I can say that it’s here, right before my eyes.“ … (…) Chernobyl also destroyed the frontier between the real and the unreal. The rupture is genetic, psychogenetic. It’ a rupture of beliefs and the renouncement of all philosophical schemas.
(…) All humankind’s age-old knowledge, its cultures, its philosophies, its systems of representation and all its senses, were completely unprepared for Chernobyl. The molecular, physical and psychological consequences of the explosion have precipitated mankind into another world. Quotes from Chernobyl Forever. Text and Photos by Alain-Gilles Bastide
(Published by Alain-Gilles Bastide. Managed by Association Photographisme-Photomorphisme. Paris 2015.
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