Dispatches from a radioactive wasteland

Ransom Riggs

Forget about a ghost town -- this is a ghost country. The 30km-wide "Zone of Exclusion" that radiates outward from the ruined nuclear plant at Chernobyl has, since a hasty evacuation one Spring day in 1986, been known as one of the most contaminated and uninhabitable places on Earth. (It's also one of the creepiest.) Now that radiation in the Zone has begun to leach down into the soil, mosses and water below its abandoned villages and farms, it's considerably safer to explore (though partaking of local fruits or game ain't a good idea), and so a new kind of life is blooming there, slowly but surely: tourism. About 800 curious souls are led on carefully-monitored, organized tours every year.

One such tourist is the self-styled "Kid of Speed," a Russian, leather-clad biker chick named Elena who, so the story goes, loves to ride her 147hp Ninja up and down the empty streets of the Exclusion Zone, camera in hand. It may be part fantasy (access to the Zone is tightly controlled, and motorcycles specifically prohibited), but her words and pictures paint a haunting (if gleefully hard-boiled) picture nonetheless:

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Radiation fallen out uneven, as on a chess-board, leaving some places alive and other dead. It's hard to say where the fairyland begin.

More fairyland after the jump:

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