(This is the story of Elena Filatova, Russia's 'Kid of Speed'. If you missed Part One, it is HERE.)
'The roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want.'
As Elena and her high-powered Kawasaki approach the ghost town of Pripyat, the city abandoned after Chernobyl, she has more to say about the wildlife.
'This hellish inferno has become a sort of paradise for wild animals - at least on the surface. Boars and wolves live in the abandoned farmhouses. These animals thrive with many others with no humans to prey upon them, but nobody fully understands how the nuclear poisons have altered their genetic makeup, the extent of their migrations, or their interactions with the adjacent 'safe' areas. Grotesque mutations have been reported, but zoologists deny that...'
Elena decides to visit the most dangerous sites at Pripyat first, and then move away from those areas. These would be around the Sarcophagus and near the famous Red Forest. The 'Red Forest' was the place where the initial cloud of debris settled. The trees changed color and died from the radiation. The photo of the Red Forest is not Elena's, but a stock photo taken after the disaster.
'Usually, on this leg of the journey, a beeping Geiger counter inspires me to shift to high gear and streak through the area with great haste. The patch of trees in front of me is called 'Red' or 'Magic' wood. In 1986, this wood glowed red with radiation. If I were to keep walking through the wood to the reactor, I would glow in the dark tonight. Maybe this is why they call it magic wood. It is sort of magical when one walks in with biker's leather and walks out like a knight in shining armor. They cut them down and buried them under a meter of earth...'
Elena reaches the center of town and begins taking some pictures. She goes inside some of the homes, and visits a Pripyat kindergarten, one of the sites others have visited previously. The entire city is a monument to the dangers of nuclear power, and a museum without guards. No one touches any of the items left behind. To do so is foolish and could cost you your life. She makes some notes as she moves quickly through the town.
'At first glance, Ghost Town seems like a normal town. There is a taxi stop, a grocery store, someone's wash still hangs from the balcony, and the windows are open. But there are many places that are not structurally safe, or have collected pockets of intense radiation. One is the cemetery. The reletives of the people buried there cannot visit, because much of the radioactive graphite core is buried there. One must be especially careful in houses with open windows facing the nuclear plant. It is one of the most toxic places on Earth...'
She posts a picture of a bridge where people gathered in large crowds to witness the Chernobyl disaster, not realizing the danger since the Soviet government was keeping a tight lid on any details. Most people thought it was just a fire.
'The day after the accident, this place on the bridge provided a good view of the gaping crack in the nuclear containment vessel ruptured by the explosion. Many curious people came here to have a look and were bathed in a deadly flood of x-rays emanating directly from the glowing nuclear core...'
In the center of town once stood a statue of Prometheus, who according to legend stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. It was moved to the power plant after the accident, as a sort of tribute. Elena cannot reconcile this, but she has a comment about the leftover May Day posters and signs she discovers in an abandoned building. (See picture)
May Day, the Russian version of America's Labor Day, was due to happen just a few days after Chernobyl.
'All of this happy horse@!$%# was for the upcoming May Day and stored in the (election center). It was quite boring to participate in an election with one candidate only from one party, so the turnout was very low. Then the election officials hit upon the idea of offering free drinks in return for a vote. This inspired the electorate to become very interested in politics...'
Elena is extremely bitter about how the former Communist government handled the disaster, both in the way they sacrificed people by the thousands trying to contain the meltdown, and what happened in the nearby major city of Kiev.
'The communist government kept silent about the accident. In Kiev, they forced people to take part in their stupid Labor Day parade and it was then that ordinary people began hearing the news about the accident from foreign radio stations and the reletives of those who died. The real panic began about a week after the accident. Those who were exposed to the high radiation in the first ten days when it was still a state secret, including unsuspecting visitors to the area, either died or have serious health problems...'
Elena has some final thoughts to share about the aftermath of Chernobyl.
'In keeping with a long tradition of Soviet justice, they imprisoned all the people who worked on that shift regardless of their guilt. The man who tried to stop the chain reaction in a last desperate attempt to avoid the meltdown was sentenced to fourteen years in prison. He died three weeks later.'
'Radiation will stay in the Chernobyl area for the next 48,000 years, but humans may begin returning to the area in about 600 years, give or take a few centuries. If our government can find the money and the political will to finance the research, perhaps a way will be found to neutralize the contamination sooner. Otherwise, our distant ancestors will have to wait until the radiation diminishes to a tolerable level. Some scientists say it may be as long as 900 years...'