03-09

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (ChZO), most of which is located in the Kiev Region, can be reached from Kiev by car in an hour and a half or two hours. This is an area of small villages and hamlets which, as you approach the Zone, give way to nothing but forest. At the Dityatki Checkpoint, those venturing this far will encounter several policemen, three ginger cats, and a red dog. The checkpoint sits on a peculiar boundary – a barbed wire fence, which stretches away from it into the fields on either side. The policemen check our passport details against those on the list sent in advance. Legally, only local workers and relatives of squattterrrs can enter, along with tourists, who are permitted to enter strictly in the company of a guide. In 2009, this area featured in Forbes magazine’s list of the twelve most exotic tourist destinations in the world, alongside Antarctica and North Korea. In some spots, radiation levels exceed the permitted dose by thirty times, but this does little to deter the curious from coming to see the planet’s most large scale monument to manmade catastrophe. Over the last ten years, forty thousand tourists have visited the ChZO. The flow increased substantially after the 2007 release of the popular computer game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, whose action is set in the environs of the ChAES (Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station). Since then, illegal entrance has increased too: around 400 stalkers are detained each year, to receive a 400 hryvnya fine (around 1.2 thousand roubles, or €16) for breach of administrative regulations.

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