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Thread started 02 Jun 2013 (Sunday) 07:50
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LONG WEEKEND IN THE ZONE - newest report from the Chernobyl zone

 
Arkadiusz
Mostly Lurking
14 posts
Joined Jan 2010
     
Jun 02, 2013 07:50 |  #1

PROLOGUE

Isn't it strange to go to Chernobyl for the May holiday? - I ask myself, waiting to cross the Polish-Ukrainian border. 12 May days in the zone, and another 4 last month. The Ukrainian border guard who stops me might recognise me, but he definitely recognises my car. Despite the several pages full of red stamps in my passport, he asks again where I'm going.
– To Chernobyl - I answer, acting bored.
– What for? - to investigate.
– To relax, and breathe in a little iodine - I answer, testing the border guard's sense of humour.

And actually, it’s the God's honest truth that I’m going to relax. "Truth" because spring, the nature which hasn't been touched by human hands for years coming alive, is truly delightful. Apart from the enormous mosquitoes. And "God's" because it's almost Orthodox Easter. The date is set in the same way as the time of Catholic Easter ‒ the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. The difference in the date when it’s celebrated is because Orthodox Easter is set according to the Julian calendar, according to which it doesn't happen until May 5.

THERE ARE NO NON-BELIEVERS IN THE ZONE

Despite the fact that I haven't celebrated Catholic Easter in a long time, God, the same in both churches, probably wouldn't have anything against me taking part in the Orthodox version. After all, there aren't really many difference between the Catholic and Orthodox Church, it's mainly in terms of doctrine. For me, the differences lie elsewhere ‒ an Orthodox service is an incredibly spiritual and emotional experience. Richly decorated gold iconostases (a wall with three doors which is covered in icons), amazing icons, the formal, richly decorated liturgical robes, the smell of incense and hundreds of burning candles and unusual singing. It's enough to take you a step closer to heaven. Anyone who has been to a service in an Orthodox church even once will know what I'm talking about. Which is why I slip in to the church in Chernobyl right at midnight for the Easter service.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/110.jpg

There I find a crowd of people, the majority of whom are resettlers, elderly people who came back to the zone without permission, and workers from the nearby nuclear plant. In the crowd I recognise a dosimeter operator and an old woman who I visited in Kupovate village last year. Everyone is singing. Across from the iconostasis and several icons there are candle holders with dozens of burning candles. When one goes out, it's replaced by another, brought by a succession of people. I light mine. Every so often the "batiushka" (orthodox priest) emerges from behind the iconostasis, which separates the altar from the nave, carrying the trikirion and cross, and fills the iconostasis and the church with incense, while the worshippers sing out Christos voskresie! (Christ has risen). The next hours give way to liturgy, gospel, songs and hymns, full of praise and joy, in which the main theme is the Resurrection of Christ. The church only starts to clear out slowly in the morning. More people are leaving the church than coming into it. That's probably the end of the service, I think to myself and I also go outside. So it comes as a surprise to me when I see hundreds of people standing one after the other around the church. With burning candles at their feet and dozens of baskets full of frosted sponge cakes (paska), bread, wine and eggs. Everyone is waiting to have the products they brought blessed.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/44.jpg

It's starting to get light when all of a sudden the sound of a bell loudly rings out. Then another, and another. I come closer to the place where the sound is coming from. From close up I notice not one, but a whole set of different sized bells. Below them stands a bell ringer in a dark robe who skilfully sets all the bells in motion, pulling up to seven ropes. Each of them plays their part, but all of them merge into one harmony in joyful celebration.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/54.jpg

FORGOTTEN CHURCHES

The Chernobyl Orthodox church is the only one in the zone, or more precisely the only functioning one. The exclusion zone is too big, and was once too populous, for thousands of parishioners to fit into one church. Where are the rest? I asked an elderly resident of the zone for help and he gave me the names of abandoned villages where I should find churches. It's no accident that he said "should", because so much time has passed since the disaster, he didn't know if they were still there. A map and GPS should be enough to check.

The first church, St. Nicholas, should be in the south of the zone in the village of Zamoshnaya. In the attempt to get there, I drag the car along completely abandoned and overgrown roads. The dense branches are constantly scratching the sides of the car and both mirrors have long since been broken by branches. It's only when one of them hits me, leaving a bloody streak across my face, that I close the window. The last section takes the longest, the thick branches and scattered boughs of trees force me to stop the car and move them out of the way or find another road. Once I get to the site, it turns out that only the walls of the church remain.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/73.jpg

But once I get closer I notice that one end of the building has a roof. And in some window frames I also see that new windows have been installed. White and plastic, they don't match the rest. Intrigued, I walk into the building. At the end of it I see a wooden wall filling the role of a primitive iconostasis dividing the altar from the nave. There are three doors on the iconostasis. The middle one, the largest, is closed. This is the holy gate that only the batiushka can go through. On the right and left are the north and south gates. I manage to look inside through one of them.

I'm surprised by the Orthodox relics that are still there, icons, pictures and a cross and candle holder. Everything indicates that the church isn't completely abandoned, that someone visits it from time to time. Most likely former or current residents of the exclusion zone.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/63.jpg

The second church, St. Michael’s, should be in the village of Krasne. This is one of the most far-flung villages in the northern part of the zone, near the Belarusian border. Thankfully the road is much easier. On the way I pass the agricultural village of Zimovishche, where there are an abandoned grain mill, silos and scattered agricultural machines ‒ combine harvesters, sowers and ploughs.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/132.jpg

When I finally get to Krasne, I can't find the church. Generally a church should be located in the middle of a village, near the main road. On the map and GPS it looks like I've reached the end of the village, and I still can't see the church. I also come across a statue commemorating soldiers who died during the Second World War, residents of this village. Many similar ones can be found in almost every village. I immediately notice that the majority of soldiers on the stone tablet have the same surname. The war took whole families.

Several hundred metres further, the church finally emerges from behind some trees. It's huge, you can't miss it. It stands alone and proud at the crossroads, as if waiting for the faithful to arrive. It's in an excellent state, at least on the outside. I notice the date it was built ‒ 1800. The inside betrays the awful truth. All the most valuable relics, images and decorations were taken, most likely stolen, judging from the tracks on the walls. But ordinary pictures of saints, in cheap wooden frames, still hang on the wall of the church. Interestingly, I also see evidence that the church isn't completely abandoned. In the middle there's an altar table ‒ a little table where, beside the icon, there are fresh eggs and bread, evidence of the recent Easter celebration. Next to it there are cards with worshippers’ prayers and wishes and freshly burnt candles. And on the floor, beside the table, I notice a wooden box with several banknotes, offerings left by worshippers, most likely former residents of the nearby villages.

IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/82.jpg
IMAGE: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/wp-content/uploads/92.jpg

It is only a part of the full report, including Easter in the Zone, Chernobyl-2 DUGA complex, most radioactive places in the zone, vehicle graveyard and many more:
you can read all here:
http://www.podniesinsk​i.pl …ong-weekend-in-chernobyl/ (external link)

Arkadiusz



  
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mark48
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Jun 02, 2013 10:48 |  #2

WOW! Thank you for sharing the story and pictures. Visiting entire abandoned areas is something that I can only dream about. What a tremendous and horrific tragedy.




  
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ktan7
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Jun 03, 2013 14:58 |  #3

WOW!!! This is one of the most interesting post that I have ever read here on the forum - seriously... Thank you so much for sharing your experience in Chernobyl.


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grumpy366
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Jun 04, 2013 21:11 |  #4

I want to thank you for sharing this. I am now on my second hour reading on your website. Amazing dedication. Thank you for all the hard work and devotion to an unfortunate tragedy, so we as people can learn and understand what so many endured during this time.


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sgstandard68
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Jun 08, 2013 13:15 |  #5

Wow. Thank you for sharing the story of this unfortunate place. The images capture the feeling of what you have described. Excellent work.


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rgregoryb
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Jun 08, 2013 15:46 |  #6

Fantastic! I really enjoyed the photos and narrative...THANKS!


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LONG WEEKEND IN THE ZONE - newest report from the Chernobyl zone
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