April 20, 2014:
When your son asks you if, for his twenty first birthday he can go somewhere no one else would go, it proves difficult; that was how myself, my son Ben, his best friend Abe and his mum Claire ended up being at the 30km exclusion marker to Chernobyl in the Ukraine on the 12th April!
Many of you will probably know of Chernobyl, for the uninitiated it was a Russian nuclear power station that on the night of the 26th April 1986 had a major explosion and blew a toxic deadly radioactive concoction into the earths atmosphere. The locals (all 52,000 of them) living in Prypiat the local town, were not told what had happened until four days later, they were then given two hours to ready themselves for mass evacuation, they never went back and to this day
people are still dying from the exposure to radiation.
To enter an area that has been devastated by radiation is an unnerving prospect, we joked about lead lined pants but deep down everyone of us knows how radiation affects us. So, armed with Geiger counters and an amazing guide on our educational visit, (the Ukrainian people do not see Chernobyl as a tourist attraction),we ventured into Prypiat.
What can I say, it took our breath away and made the hairs on your neck stand on end. Twenty eight years of neglect and nature has clawed back the land. We wandered down overgrown paths where houses havestarted to decay, left behind are the every day things that we use, cookers, pots, pans, shoes. What hits home are the areas where the children had been. In the kindergarten were shoes, cuddly toys, dolls,beds and books, everything once used now covered in a toxic dust. In the hospital, bottles of saline used for the burns they couldn't dealwith, bandages, beds, notes and the clocking in board for the medical staff on duty during those awful few days. In maternity row upon row of rusty baby cots; the average age of adults in Prypiat was 26. Theiconic Ferris wheel and funfair sits, never used, as does the football stadium, it was to be opened for May day, by that time everyone had gone. In a school are hundreds of gas masks all totally useless to radioactive fallout, left with numerous textbooks on desks, all of which made us think long and hard about a multitude of things, as my son said" this is how our planet will look IF we blow ourselves up".
What many of you will not know is that had the people who risked their lives for us to rectify the mess had failed we were all 18 hours away from Europe being turned into obscurity by a second explosion. So onMay 1st spare a thought for the liquidators, these were the men who knew what was going to happen to them when they went into the powerplant, they didn't all die then, some of them are dying now, including our tour guides uncle, these people are unsung heroes. If you get the chance, go to Chernobyl, in a way the place is beautiful, yes it is radioactive but the dose you get is less than theaverage flight. It is awe inspiring, it certainly gets you talking and it certainly is not somewhere you would normally go for a twenty first birthday. If anyone is interested in seeing photos or would like us to come andgive a talk, contact me,
Rachel Laycock 810016.