37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Sunday 25 November 2018
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has seen a huge increase in tourism over recent years; with 60,000 paying visitors venturing into the zone in 2017, and a higher number expected by the end of 2018. But not all visitors go through official channels. The ‘Stalker’ subculture – its name borrowed from the 1972 post-disaster sci-fi novel, Roadside Picnic – describes those who choose to sneak into the Zone illegally.
Following secretive paths and camping in ruined buildings, Chernobyl’s Stalkers are pitted against a landscape populated with police and guard dogs, barbed wire fences, the occasional wolves and, should they stray too far from the clean zones, the threat of radioactive contamination. Their reward, however, is the chance to experience a world quite unlike any other: a terra incognita where a fallen empire now lies frozen in time. For Stalkers, Chernobyl takes the role of a thousand square mile (2,600 km²) museum to mankind’s destruction, in which the absence of crowds, power and other trappings of the living world lend to a uniquely compelling illusion of a land post-apocalypse. Yet still, for all its ruin, this is a landscape defined by the beauty of nature run wild.
I had been to Chernobyl before, but never like this – and so one hot week this August, I slipped into the Zone with friends to experience Chernobyl as the Stalkers see it.
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