Questions for Elena:

Elena—where have you been on April 26, 1986? What happened to you and your family on that day?

This day was not different from the others, we played on the streets, we had south wind, so radiation was not high in Kiev. When levels start picking up my father sent me and my sister away, he put us in a train with no tickets. Panic had already begun, so train was full of children. My father says those days the levels of radiation in Kiev was over 1 milliroentgen per hour on eye level and 20–50 milliroentgen on the ground.

Now days such high levels can only be found in radioactive burials in Chernobyl.

Most Kievers escaped and stayed at their relatives till the middle of May 1986, then schools, colleges, factories and other facilities started demanding employees and students back, so we had no other choice other than to return to radioactive Kiev.

Where are the people of Tchernobyl today?

People were relocated and now live in the different cities and towns of Ukraine—most in Kiev. Resettling was very painful for them. It's like transplantation of a limb or replanting of the tree, which often fail to take root at new place, especially if environment is different.

Most Chernobyl evacuees lived in rural areas and here we have very big difference between life in cities and that in villages. Let me drive a few parallels to explain the problems.

Language—in cities people speak Russian, in villages Ukrainian. This is a major barrier.

Tempo—in villages life is static, in cities dynamic.

World view—in villages derives from nature/knowledge, it is organic, while in cities it is determined by engineering, art, tending to be mechanical and pragmatic.

Attitude—In villages attitude is telluric or organic, it derives from and is entwined with a cult of ancestors and is impossible without sacred traditions. Life in the city on the other hand is pro-civilization; it is a will to wield worldwide might, beginning with massive re-ordering of the surface of the earth itself. A city is international by nature, while a village is sub-national.

But what affected the villagers most deeply was the spiritual deprivation after their relocation. Life in villages is religious by nature and by this it is distinct from life in cities, which is irreligious. A country soul is one whose gentle ways were influenced by the Christian period of history. It shines through everything with the rays of the Christian sun. In the city these rays have long been quenched by the lurid practices of godless civilisation.

By this reason many of Chernobyl evacuees have died from drinking, homesickness and despair, while others returned to their homes and died from radiation. Those of them who were young and strong settled in different places and now live with us.

What will happen with the reactor in the future? It will never be safe, will it?

I can not predict what will happen to the reactor. There were few attempts to start building new sarchophagues, but all failed. All I know is that as long as political and economic situation in Ukraine remains unstable no one will invest in this multi billion dollars project.

People say it's much safer now to travel through the 'zone' of Tchernobyl. Is this true? What about radioactivity in the soil? Will people ever be able to live there again?

Travelling is much safer now, but living is still not safe. Nature shall heal the land and I hope some day people will live in some places again.

Elena—on your website you publish lots of photos, information, diary entries and thoughts of yours. What is it you are looking for? What makes you go back again and again?

I am sure there are many people around the world who would do this work, but not all have money to travel here and not all speak language and know how to get permission for visiting Chernobyl or how to bypass checkpoints. I know this, because I am a native. Chernobyl is by my side and carrying this work is easier for me than for people who live far away. Chernoby is also a part of my life and I feel like I have a certain obligation to tell about it.

Some day I hope to fix my motorcycle and continue my story.

What do you think when you cross the imaginary border into the Land of the Wolves?

The imaginary border into the Land of the Wolves for me the bridge some 60 kms on west from reactor. There is dead village Bobyor (Beaver) which was located along the bank of the river. This place is very beautuful and standing on this bridge I always feel like I lose some sense of reality, which is really a loss of the presence of Time.

Normally humans feel like time stands still in Chernobyl. It's because Time is that in which all things pass away yet in Chernobyl nothing changes. In human life some ten or fifteen years is always a significant amount of time, something always goes on, while in Chernobyl nothing passes away for the same period, thus it feels like I stand on some bridge to infinity and I stand there for thousand years seeing the same picture, thinking the same thought about vanity of our existence and fleetingness of human age, which is just a brief moment in the decay of isotopes as they slowly, imperceptibly, flare from one element into another.

I feel on this bridge, like I am between two worlds. One that I am leaving behind is ours- the world of civilization, where eternal restlessness, turmoils and the fleeting passing of each present moment is the only mode of human existence; where Chernobyl forgotten because most people are nothing but an embodiment of present impulses, and for them that which has been exists no more.

When I cross the imaginary border I think that the world I am leaving is a purely physical, while one I am about to enter is a metaphysical; where roads without pedestrians, counters without shop keepers and churches with no priests; because it neither heaven of God, nor is it the kingdom of Caesar, it is now realm of a Pluto, where all—past, present and the future flow together and exists in one mode.

I also think about life that once boiled in Chernobyl—about ordinary human life, where some people build careers, others fight windmills. Life where some dig storm cellars, while others erect air castles. Life where some sow seeds they never see sprout, others reap a harvest they did not sow... Now, all their strivings, achievements and passions are just a pale shadow on the wall.

Do you believe that people will still talk about Tchernobyl in 10 or 20 years?

People can not forget about Chernobyl completely. Because it is such a huge territory, poisoned with radiation, it will always be there and will always remind of itself.

Are you against nuclear technology?

Nuclear technology posits a death sentence for the world; it is very dangerous in human hands.

What would you like to say to the children, born over the last 15 years? And what to their parents?

Do not feel forsaken, the world is grieving for you.

Do not stare over-long into the Abyss of your misfortune for, as Nietzsche said, if you look for long into the Abyss, the Abyss will look into you.

The meaning of this is that you going to limit yourself with thinking about infinite things, such as time, the universe, and human stupidity.

Elena, are you still an optimist?

I am a cheerful pessimist.

Astrid Wehling/Wirtschaftswetter/October 2007