Stalkers are people who are engaged in industrial tourism, exploring abandoned buildings and entire ghost towns. Their name came after the film “Stalker”, shot by Tarkovsky. It is based on the book “Roadside Picnic” by the Strugatsky brothers. The book and the film take place in the so-called Zone, where unexpected artifacts appear after an anomalous impact. The Chernobyl tragedy happened in 1986. And later, the first stalkers begin going to the Exclusion Zone illegally. They explore Pripyat, the Arc radar station, abandoned villages, city basements, ruins, and so on.
34 years after the Chernobyl tragedy, 4 stalkers share their personal experiences from trips to the Zone. Why do they illegally go and constantly return to the Exclusion Zone, realizing that it’s against the law?
Daniil Pochtarev, a manager:
“… I belong to the late generation of stalkers. I have always associated the zone not only with a catastrophe, but also with a magical place. Previously, I didn’t go deep into the topic of the Zone and problems of the ChNPP. The purpose of my first trip was to listen to my favorite Pink Floyd album on the roof of a Pripyat 16-storey building. I listened and looked at the ChNPP, at the “Arc” and at all this epic silence.
I found out more about the Exclusion Zone only in 2015. Then, I really decided that I wanted to go there. At the stalker forum, it was recommended to have at least some kind of hiking experience. But I didn’t have. So, my friends and I went to the Zhytomyr forests. The relief and landscape there are similar to the Zone. We were living in the forest a couple of days. This was a good experience. Then, I found a guide on the stalker forum. He agreed to take my friend and me to the Zone.
The first trip to the Zone is like first love. You will never forget it. The first trip is fear of any rustle, a step into the unknown. Who knew then that we would run out of drinking water on the way to Pripyat? The stream where we planned to get water was dry. It was very hot. So, I had to drink unfiltered Pripyat water. It was the tastiest water in my life. It was clean both in appearance and taste.
A stalker: I find peace of mind in the Zone…
It seems to me that going to the Zone is a test of oneself, immersion in one’s own fears. They may not be directly related to the hazards that surround them. One of the first sensations is absolute freedom, which ordinary tourists don’t have. The employees of the Exclusion Zone monitor all guides so that they don’t enter illegal places. By the way, there are many prohibited places. For example, a basement of the medical unit, which received the first victims of the Chernobyl disaster. Radiation background is very high even today.
The clothes of the victims (firefighters, rescuers, ChNPP personnel) were thrown into the basement of the hospital MSCh-126. Until now, this place is an apocalyptic landscape not for the faint-hearted.
Many people, not knowing what radiation is, look at us suspiciously. However, the radiation level near the opera house in Kiev or on Khreshchatyk is several times higher than the permissible level. I have 9 trips to the Zone. Moreover, I have already led groups of people there. Crossing the border of the Exclusion Zone, I perfectly understand that I am breaking the law. But when I break this law, I don’t cause any moral or physical harm to anyone. It’s difficult for me to explain the behavior of stalkers who riot and destroy everything they find in the Zone. Unfortunately, there are such people too.
The fires that harmed the Exclusion Zone in April 2020 led to the deaths of several abandoned villages.
I didn’t have time to visit many villages. And now, I really regret it. But even more, the management tries to leave stalkers holding the bag for the fires in the Chernobyl Zone. In fact, it makes no sense for stalkers to set fire to the place where they rest and find peace of mind. Nobody in his right mind would burn the hotel he lives in. There are enterprises in the Zone that are engaged in deforestation. They set fire to the forest to hide the traces of deforestation. It seems to me that the fires that occur in the center of the Exclusion Zone are related to this…”
Every hour in the Zone is a new adventure
Marina Dymshits, a filmmaker:
“My first trip was in 2016. Then, I already lived in Germany. I studied at a film school and wanted to shoot my own documentary about Chernobyl. However, I couldn’t find a team for filming. You know, the Germans are extremely law-abiding. Moreover, they are scared by Chernobyl and afraid of radiation. It took a long time to select a team. Chernobyl has greatly changed my life. The sensations will last for decades.
I have been to the Zone six times. I visited abandoned villages, Pripyat and the Arc. During the first trip, I shot a film. Then, I filmed everything, which did not leave the soul indifferent, in a row. I’m sure that in the Zone, a person steps over himself both physically and psychologically. For me, every hour in the Zone is a new adventure. I feel alive. And I feel everything more acutely. When a person leaves the Zone, he already perceives the world in a completely different way.
For stalkers, a special sense of the perception of the world lasts for several more days after leaving the Zone.
Laws are written for a reason. So, getting into the Exclusion Zone, I understand why we need them. Firstly, for the safety of those who go there. And secondly, to stop looting. Any object can be potentially radioactive. As a result, other people can be injured. But stalkers are people who know what they are doing. We carefully prepare for campaigns. Besides, it’s not in our interest to steal these places. They mean too much to us.
So, there are idealists, gambling addicts and thrill-seekers among stalkers. The Zone is the territory of life for the first. They treat it like a holy place, carefully step over every stone. The second, having visited twice, stop raving. They played enough computer games. Still others see art in vandalism, painting the steles in Pripyat…”
Radar ARC: the Soviet obsession with gigantism
Anna Barinova, the head of department:
“I really wanted to go to Chernobyl, but not with an excursion. Well, I wanted a real extreme. I knew there were stalkers, but I never communicated with them. I found an ad on the Internet, asked the conditions and how much it costs. After discussing all the details, I went there. First, we walked through the forest. When we started approaching, we heard laughter. Our guide said that these were “metalworkers”. They were stealing metal in the Zone. We went around in a place where they did not see us. Sometimes we walked in swamps. In some places, we had to cut our way a little. So, we reached Pripyat.
Our guide knew an apartment where we could stay and spend the night. It had a sofa; there were old posters and a wardrobe. We had a snack and went for a walk in Pripyat. We walked through all the famous places such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals, a swimming pool and an amusement park.
You know, there is an oppressive silence in the city. It was interesting to study myself in a completely new atmosphere: how my psyche, senses, body worked. After visiting the kindergarten, I didn’t leave the feeling of children’s laughter and crying behind my back. The human psyche is an unpredictable thing. It can come up with anything.
The next morning we went to the “Arc”. Perhaps this is the most thrilling experience from the Zone. “Arc” is a grandiose monument to human labor and absurdity at the same time. A hunk of metal in the form of an antenna (array 150 meters high and 500 meters long) is a reminder of the Soviet past. The obsession with gigantism in this design still shocks everyone who sees it live for the first time.
The Chernobyl Arc is the world’s only instance of an early detection system for ICBM launches. This arouses even more interest. There is no limit to human absurdity. At first, we invent atomic missiles, and then look for ways to defend against them. A military garrison was located near the radar. And the military lived in it, carrying out the functionality of the radar facility. Today, only the name remains of it: Chernobyl-2 and several abandoned dilapidated structures.
The Zone is an energy drug for stalkers
Constantin Costa, an English teacher:
“I went to the Zone in 2015 for the first time. First of all, I was interested in the Arc radar station, and then Pripyat. We gathered a group of three people who hadn’t been there before. My friends drew a small map where they indicated the main landmarks. And we went. We were walking for all night. In the morning, we came to an abandoned village. We stayed in the village for the whole day and spent the night in someone’s abandoned house.
We usually moved at night. You know, there are many patrols in the Zone (they move on foot, by car or by horse). So, we had to avoid them and walk very quietly. I have never seen anything more grandiose than the Arc station. This is a very large structure. Moreover, Soviet posters have been preserved in the administrative building. They depict Americans who “threaten world peace”.
I have a hobby: I like climbing in abandoned places. Dungeons, ruins, roofs, hangars… These places have historical value for me. The zone is very interesting in this case. Besides, I really love nature, and I like when it conquers its territory. I went for the first time in November and felt almost nothing, except for a strange anxiety and doom.
The second time we went was in July. Just crazy impressions! In Pripyat, nature seems to envelop you in its green hugs and doesn’t want to let you go anywhere. This is the picture of how nature wins from man what belongs only to it. And that fills the soul. Sometimes you lose your mind from the triumph of this victorious battle between nature and man. At the same time, understanding how much doom and tragedy is in everything that surrounds you touches every nerve. In short, the Zone is a source of energy discharge for most stalkers. If you visit this place once, you can’t cross it out from your life. I think the Zone is an energy drug for stalkers.