Today was the last day of our trip. It was a very special day because we were going to visit the Centre of Chernobyl. For that we took the train, with 4 other people, including 2 Swiss tourists, one banker and politician from Zurich region, their tour guide and our translator. All of us were going to visit the central. Our translator was actually working at the central on a project of cleaning up the fuel waste of the reactor. She told me that there were still 3000 people working at the central. I knew that Walentina among other people from Slavutich were working there. It felt a little bit strange to know that all these people are putting their life in danger. To them there does not seem to be any big problem. They are happy to have a job that pays well.
After 45 minutes, we finally arrived at the central. It was pouring rain. It added a dark touch to the already eery atmosphere. The doors of train that workers take every day opened and there we were.
Guards everywhere who checked our passports and papers very carefully. I was impressed by so much security. Then this lady came to me and said something about our passports, took them and soon disappeared in the backdoor. One of the Swiss asked why we had give our passport and them not. Our interpreter simply said: "oh they are from a different group". I guess this clearly set us apart from our compatriots. And I think it would be right to say that our intentions about seeing Chernobyl were quite different.
We were invited to enter a building that was standing right across from reactor 4. To see it from the bay window with my own eyes was already quite something. After reading so many articles, watching documentaries about it, hearing all stories of life and death of so many people involved in this catastrophy, it still felt like a dream to have it in front of me. I could see people of the size of ants working on the sarcophagus and this gave me the chills. I could also see the meter indicating 120 mini gamas. With the help of a miniature model of the reactor, we were explained in details the accident but I had seen already so much at the Chernobyl museum in Kiev, that there was no surprise for me. They also showed us the plans for a new sarcophagus as the present one is slowly falling apart. It worried me to hear that the deadline for starting to build it keeps being delayed.
Then we went outside and were allowed to take pictures in front of the reactor. I thought it was quite morbid to take a picture of us smiling in front of the reactor as if it is was tourist monument but nonetheless we did it.
Then we got in a bus that was going to take us to Prypyat, the dead town where more than 50 000 were evacuated 20 years ago. I was a little bit anxious to see it. When we arrived at the centre and got off the bus, I felt quite uneasy. I saw the dead buildings, the rusty amusement park that had never functioned, the posters of this parade that was going to happen, the broken doll and the police hat on the ground. It is like time had stopped. It felt like a horror movie from Steven King. We toured the town carefully, trying to not touch any irradiated nature. I saw a pair of boots just standing in the middle of the street and I knew right away the intention behind this act. I knew I was walking on radioactive ground but I also knew that everyday 3000 people are working in a radioactive zone! I looked at the interpreter, she was bare feet in her tongs!
We did not stay very long in Prypyat, it would have not been healthy. We then went to the administration building where again there was huge security control. We were invited into a large room where a different guide was there to present us the centre. The picture she painted of the central was quite shocking. I don't know if it was her words or her attitude about it that was so intense but if I had not seen and heard all testimonies of people who have been sick or have known people who had died because of Chernobyl, I would have believed like her that everything is fine! To her, we could just as easily be hit by a bus the on the way out of home as them dying from radiation! I guess when you live in a chaotic, unsafe environment, you tend to normalize things in order to survive or was she paid by the government to tell us lies?!!! She finished her rehearsed speech by inviting us to see the catfishes that were living in the cooling river by the central. She did not tell us though that we were going to have them for lunch?! But before lunch, we had another interview. The TV crew from Slavutich had followed us to the central. I did not know they were doing a documentary on us. Then a guy came tom me and handed me back our passports, with a copy and a disk. Chris and I looked at each other puzzled. What was that for? We had to wait the end of the day to finally understand the mystery.
It was about mid-afternoon, when we finally left the centrale but before being able to go on the train, we had to be checked by a specific machine to see for any sign of contamination then again show our passports.
I was actually glad to be out of the centrale. I did not feel very comfortable there, not so much because of the risks but more because of the hidden truth about it.
I was told by the interpreter that I was going to be very tired after my visit. "I don't know why" she said "but I used to sleep a lot when I first started working at the central. Maybe it's because of the radioactivity, who knows?" And she was right, everyone on this train except for Chris, the translator and one of the Swiss tourist, everyone was sleeping!
It was about 5 pm when we arrive in Slavutich. One of Wictor's colleague had come to pick us up to drive us to the museum of the town. It was a new museum, presenting Chernobyl catastrophe but also the story of Prypiat and Slavutich. It was weird to see pictures of Prypyat when alive after see it dead for real. The story of Slavutich was quite interesting. This 19 year old town was built in less than a year! A lot of countries contributed to its constructions. They sent money but also materials and workers that 's why each neighbourood has a very distinct architecture and style and was named according to the country who supported it.
After the visit of the museum, we went to tour the community centre and watched the video the TV had made of us. Then Wictor told us the biker club had come to pick us up for a ride in the forest but Chris and I were so tired that we had to decline the offer. I felt sorry because I know it would have been much fun.
Instead we went to a nice restaurant with Wictor's family. They are such great people. They made us laugh and Wiktor and his son showed us magic tricks. They did not know that Chris too was passionate about magic! We had so much fun. I hope we can see them again. They invited us to come to Krimea with them next year. That would such a blast!! But who knows what we are going to do or where we are going to be next year??! There is only one thing I know this is not going to be the last trip we ll do!