Journey Through Chernobyl

By Shamus Posted Friday Dec 21, 2007

Filed under: Links 49 comments

The small village at the start of the game.  It’s just <strong>packed</strong> with detail.  Aside from the mercs, it actually seems fairly authentic. The empty houses are sad and dreary.  It may not look it, but this is the most inviting place in The Zone.
The small village at the start of the game. It’s just packed with detail. Aside from the mercs, it actually seems fairly authentic. The empty houses are sad and dreary. It may not look it, but this is the most inviting place in The Zone.
As I play STALKER I can’t help but think back to the page I read some years ago by Elena, a woman who rode her motorcycle into the dead zone around Chernobyl. It was a very brave thing to do, but also clearly foolish. I’m grateful for the pictures she brought out for the rest of the world to see, and I hope she doesn’t pay for it later in life.

People are normally fascinated by ruins, but very adverse to stuff like hazardous radiation. (Or even “semi-benign” radiation.) That stuff is not DNA friendly and tends to muck up the cells in your body in annoying and unpredictable ways. Sometimes the damage takes years to become obvious. Sometimes it happens quicker. Sometimes those cells just die. Sometimes they go haywire and make more bad cells, which can lead to grotesque disfigurement, followed by death. The worst part – and what I think scares people the most – is that you don’t know it right away. You get a dose of radiation, and then wonder if you are now hosting rogue cells which have turned on you and have begun to eat you from the inside out.

As a result, most people stay away from places like Chernobyl. But Elana rode her motorcycle into the dead zone and took some of the most haunting pictures I’ve ever seen. Do read the site if you missed it when it made the rounds a few years ago.

The longer I play STALKER the more I want to run out of the zone, get a chemical shower, and find something to do which doesn’t involve absorbing large doses of invisible energy which may or may not be turning the cells of my body into a time bomb. For me the immersion worked a little too well, to the point where I kept wondering what could possibly be worth this much risk.

The world of STALKER looks a lot like Elena’s pictures. It’s filthy, rusty, crumbling, and empty. It’s wonderfully dreadful and loathsome in a way I haven’t experienced outside of a Silent Hill game.

I’ll have more on the game as I get a bit further into it.


From The Archives:

49 thoughts on “Journey Through Chernobyl

  1. Edhering says:

    Interestingly, there’s a Spiegel Online article which questions how dangerous radiation actaully is.

    Anyone who knows much about radiation will cringe when they read what the “glorious workers’ paradise” of the USSR exposed its “workers” to…yet the cancer rates are far lower than expected.

    It’s an interesting read.

  2. Zerotime says:

    Elana’s story is pretty easy to prove fake if you do about five minutes research into it.

    P.S. They’re loners in the rookie camp, not mercs. :)

  3. Oboe Cop says:

    I had heard that her story was fake too, and her pics came from someone else.

  4. Shamus says:

    By “fake” do you mean the pics are not from Chernobyl, or they are not from her?

    Amazingly, I don’t do a lot of “reasearch” here, what with this not being Snopes and all. If you’ve got a link, put it up.

  5. Ingvar says:

    This page indicates that she “merely” brouhgt motorcycle attire on a guided bus tour.

    The photos themselves are apparently genuine, the framing story less so.

  6. Shamus says:

    Ingvar: Thanks for the link, although whoever added the Chrstmas cursor, blinking GIFs, and looping music should be SHOT.

    I’m not sure I’d trust one site over the other. The second site alludes to things which are “easily disproven” without saying what they are. It says Elena is a liar, but itself is an annonymous source.

    It says that “parts” of her story are untrue. But without breaking it down and saying what is true and what isn’t, it’s not very useful. What isn’t true? That her name is Elena? That she was in the zone alone? That the radiation gets stronger as you leave the road? That the amusement park is inside of the zone?

    I’m open to the fact that one or both sites may be full of it, but I remain skeptical of both now.

  7. Shamus says:

    I guess I should add: I did wonder about the pics of her at the site, since she’s not holding the camera and it clearly isn’t on a tripod.

    If it turns out that she wasn’t alone, or wasn’t as deep as she claims, it wouldn’t be any big deal to me. If it turns out she was just taking pictures of abandoned buildings not related to Chernobyl, that’s another matter entirely.

    I guess my point is that I cared about the information relating to the site, not her.

  8. Ingvar says:

    Mm. The Santa-cursor, the reindeers and the snowman were definitely over the top.

    I think, from a brief look at the site and what I recall from previous discussions, that Elena did go through CHernobyl, but as part of an organised tour. So the only lies would be “she got special permission to take her own vehicle through” and “she went through alone on a motorcycle”. On Elena’s Wikipedia page, roughly the same is at least hinted at. Me, I don’t know, I just remember waking up to the news saying there was suspiciously high levels of radioactivity around a couple of Swedish nuclear reactors and they were being shut down, with news of Chernobyl breaking shortly after.

  9. Hal says:

    IIRC, the developers for STALKER went through Chernobyl, too, in order to get photos and video to make the game more realistic.

    I might have to fish out the old PC Gamer where they talked about that.

  10. nilus says:

    I looked at those pictures and I didnt really consider them haunting. Honestly they looked like the run down part of almost any Eastern European city on a Sunday morning.

  11. Clyde says:

    Thanks for the link to the pics, Shamus. I found them to be quite interesting. She does say that she has taken a pillion passenger on occasion; perhaps that was who was holding the camera. I also found her Serpent Wall series about Kiev fascinating as well. If she’s a BS artist, then at least she’s an interesting one.

  12. Davesnot says:

    Look.. I’ve been to many places .. never Chernobyl.. and I’ve worked as a journalist.. This is the real deal.. the naysayers are probably kids that don’t think we went to the moon.

    She says she brought a passenger.. You could drive through that kind of radiation (especially in leathers and a helmet) without worry.. lingering is the problem.. She implied many trips.. which would be the way to minimize exposure.

    She also says she’s gathered photos from others.. However they got the photos.. they’re Chernobyl.. You can’t get photos like that anywhere on the planet.. the pool.. etc.. all that stuff has value anywhere else even as salvage..

    There are people in this world that think things like the moon landings.. or worse, the Holocaust.. never happened.. Look kids.. just because you haven’t seen it on Re-runs of MTV’s RealWorld.. ..well.. you get the idea… these things happened.. but don’t trust me.. go do real research.. include the net.. but check out a book once and a while.

  13. Alacrity says:

    The web is full of scammers, and it’s also full of people who cry “wolf” all the time. Posts of “fake” “photoshoped” and/or “bogus!!” are all over.
    Personally I look at the motives of both the poster AND the nay-sayers. Since the poster is not trying to make any money off this I’m inclined to believe that she did, indeed, ride through. Since the nay-sayers have manner ads and have a monetary stake in driving traffic to their site I’ll cry “bogus” at their cry of “BS- It’s Fake” Especially since they post no credible source or proof, just a lame “fake. we can see it’s fake” with no ref to WHY it’s a fake. Sometimes people on the internet DO perform things that are for no monetary gain, just to get information out. That site and pictures have been around for a while and she’s still as unknown as ever.

  14. On an almost unrelated note, did you see the photos of the real Chernobyl vs the “All Ghillied up” episode of the game “Call of Duty 4”? They are spectacular.

  15. neminem says:

    Haha… this debate reminds me so much of an xkcd:

    My hobby: Insisting that real-life objects are photoshopped.

  16. asterismW says:

    One instinctively feels that after a major catastophe like Chernobyl, there ought to be, oh, blown up buildings, scorch marks, large pieces of twisted metal, etc etc. To just see pictures of what could be any run-down ghost town seems surreal. It’s hard to believe that such a place was, and still is, and will be for a long, long time, one of the deadliest places on earth.

    On a totally off-topic note, I noticed someone’s tasteless and offensive avatar in the comments of the link Ingvar posted. I was just wondering, Shamus, what you’ll do if someone posts here with a Gravatar like that. Is there a way you can ban their picture?

  17. Shamus says:

    asterismW: Gravatars supports “ratings”, so a user can have an x-rated icon and a g-rated one. When I request one from Gravatar, I request a “PG” icon. If there isn’t one avalable at that rating or lower, they’ll end up as a wavatar.

    If they upload something x-rated and mark it as a “G”, then they are subverting the system on purpose. I’ll just delete the comment in that case.

  18. Rob says:

    V: Looking at those pictures gave me bad flashbacks to truly hectic and terrifying parts of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

    I can’t wait for Shamus to get there ^_^

  19. Fuloydo says:

    Not in the mood to do any research on Chernobyl but I will add this to the discussion based on what I remember reading at the time combined with what I remember from college (general Physics BS with one class in basic nuclear).

    Radiation comes in many forms.
    Alpha radiation is a particle radiation consisting of energetic Helium nuclei.
    Beta radiation is also a particle radiation consisting of energetic electrons or antielectrons.
    Gamma rays are energetic photons.

    There’s also neutron radiation which is energetic neutrons. That’s the stuff that makes other things become radioactive. If I recall correctly, Plutonium is a neutron emitter.

    These are what people usually mean when they talk about “radiation”.

    There’s also x-rays and, well, pretty much the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

    Of the four, alpha particles are stopped by a piece of paper. Beta particles aren’t much stronger, a thin piece of aluminum foil or thick clothing will do. Neither will penetrate your skin. Gamma rays are stronger yet and can penetrate several cm’s of lead or even more concrete.

    Gamma also tends to be short lived. The first two can hurt you if you eat or breath something contaminated with something that emits alpha or beta particles but not otherwise.

    I guess my point is, assuming she took basic precautions not to ingest anything, a quick trip through the countryside around the plant wouldn’t be overly dangerous, even if you wouldn’t want to live there. The closer she got to the meltdown site the higher the risk for the stuff that is truly dangerous (gamma and neutron) gets. I seem to remember reading that the actual reactor site was covered in concrete after the accident so you’d probably have to get pretty close.

  20. MikeLemmer says:

    Well, any radiation can make other elements radioactive. Radiation changes random atoms’ elements/isotopes, and it doesn’t take much to change a stable isotope to a radioactive isotope. (I believe there’s only a half-dozen stable isotopes, tops, for any element.)

  21. McNutcase says:

    MikeLemmer: sorry, you’re not quite with it. Alpha, beta and gamma are what’s known as ionising radiation. They knock electrons off atoms, and this has unpredictable (but generally pretty bad) effects. Of those three, alpha particles do the most damage when they hit (they’re big and slow, kind of like a .45), beta particles do less damage (light, fast particles, sort of like a .22 compared to the big slow alphas) and gamma rays will fairly often just go straight through. All these are stopped by interactions with ambient atoms; because they’re big and slow, alphas have little range and penetrating power, and so on. Given that gamma rays can go through an inch of lead without a problem, they’re unlikely to interact with the far less dense flesh of you or me. The likelihood of ionising radiation causing secondary radioactivity is small enough that it can pretty much be ignored.

    Neutrons are a different bunny. These puppies change one isotope of a given element into another (this is how they make nuclear reactors work; Uranium 235 is pretty stable, while Uranium 236 is highly unstable and will fiss in moments, spitting out another few neutrons to hit more U235 and turn it into U236), and as stated, the resulting isotope is generally unstable, particularly if you’re dealing with a heavier element. This will result in ionising radiation being generated within something that’s been hit by a high neutron flux, and this is Bad, particularly if it’s alphas in there. They don’t go far, but it’s internal damage, where things are a lot more fragile.

    As for numbers of stable isotopes, I’m sorry, but I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten more about this than Joe Average has ever known, otherwise I’d be able to give you a definitive answer there too. Half a dozen sounds like the right ballpark, though, maybe even a little high.

  22. Ben says:

    I really want to love STALKER, but I can’t quite figure out how I’m supposed to do anything in the radioactive zones. I can’t stay in there for long, and it seems odd that I have to run back to the first merchant every time I want to buy more vodka, for example. Am I missing something obvious?

  23. Rask says:

    What I have to say will probably provoke a response from Mr. Shamus Young. He may label me “condescending” or even “disruptive”. I realize and accept that as a consequence of what I am about to say. However, I clearly hope that Shamus will read everything I have to say before labeling me. I will start this discussion by arguing that Shamus’s indifference only adds to the problem. Then, I will present evidence that Shamus argues that I am irrational for wanting to criticize his excuses publicly for their formalistic categories, their spurious claims of neutrality, and their blindness to the abuse of private power. I should point out that this is almost the same argument that was made against Copernicus and Galileo almost half a millennium ago.

    Be that as it may, if Shamus is victorious in his quest to anesthetize the human spirit, then his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity. I have a hard time trying to reason with people who remain calm when they see Shamus unleash an unparalleled wave of frotteurism. It is not news that his concept of team play is sideline sulking. What speaks volumes, though, is that if we take Shamus’s antics to their logical conclusion, we see that before long, Shamus will concentrate all the wealth of the world into his own hands. Do you ever get the feeling that he is like a parrot that makes noises for attention without any kind of clue as to what it is saying? Well, you should because he might have been in a lethargic state of autointoxication when he said that violence and prejudice are funny. More likely, perhaps, is that there is still hope for our society, real hope — not the false sense of hope that comes from the mouths of uppity avaricious-types but the hope that makes you eager to compare, contrast, and identify the connections among different types of putrid, fatuitous gangsterism.

    I shall not argue that Shamus’s newsgroup postings are an authentic map of his plan to sanctify his depravity. Read them and see for yourself. There are situations where certain epithets are appropriate and there are situations where they are not. In case you don’t know, society must soon decide either to encourage our spirits to soar or else to let Shamus trick our children into adopting unconventional, disapproved-of opinions and ways of life. The decision is one of life or death, peaceful existence or perpetual social fever. I can hope only that those in charge realize that Shamus, already oppressive with his indecent ebullitions, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our human species — if separate species we be — for his reserve of unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed upon the world. If you think that that’s a frightening thought then consider that we must give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. At this point, our task is to give our young people the values that will inspire them to point out that the emperor has no clothes on. Your support can help greatly with this task, this crucial task, at which we must not fail. :)

  24. guy says:

    gamma rays usally miss, but not always. plus the reactor may have emitted small particles of fuel and waste

  25. Shamus says:

    Rask: That is hilarious.

    If they make one that lets you complain about video games I may never have to write again.

  26. FhnuZoag says:


    There’s a bunch of ways. Early on, radioactive zones are pretty avoidable. Walk around the area, trying to keep the clicks constant, and that’ll give you a good idea of the extent of the radiation. (Machinery tends to be a common source of rads, also barrels, cylinders, that sort of thing.) Try and make it through the area quickly, and use vodka/anti-rad meds afterwards.

    Later on, you are often forced to stick around in areas with background radiation. Then, you need proper protection – firstly, wearing some of the more advanced suits protects you – especially the scientific suits, as opposed to armour. Secondly, there are some artifacts that drain radiation from you. My favourite is fireball, since it’s fairly common, and doesn’t have a very bad side effect. In general, armour reduces the rate at which radiation is absorbed, while artifacts actively reduce your radiation level over time.

  27. Zerotime says:

    Davesnot: I’m not claiming that she didn’t go into the Zone at all, or (and why the hell did you drag this in?) that the moon landing or holocaust didn’t happen, just that it’s more likely that she took her biking leathers with her on a guided tour than it is she managed to gain permission to go in there merely because her father is some sort of environmentalist.

    P.S. Get your keyboard to take its asthma medication. It’s panting when you’re typing stuff on it.

  28. Davesnot says:

    Sorry Zerotime.. I didn’t mean to be talking directly to you.. I was commenting on Shamus’ comments regarding fakes, etc, so forth..

    But.. since you bring it up… Who cares what she brought on her trip.. who cares if she’s really a cross-dresser with a radioactive leather fetish.. The link was there to support some feelings that Shamus had playing STALKER..

    Now.. we know how Shamus loves his comments to become full of attacks.. so.. thanks for that.. my keyboard also thanks you .. but continues to pant..


  29. Jeff says:

    I believe the general consensus is the pictures are real, some props have been moved and thus some of the pictures are staged, and her story is the fake bit.

    It would be like me taking pictures with Gary Gygax, and then claiming he’s my uncle at our family reunion.

  30. Frankly, “Elena’s” photos look more like they’ve been gathered from several existing archives (they’ve definitely been taken with a variety of cameras).

    Chernobyl photos aren’t too hard to find, after all :



    Obviously the existence of photos (and tours) proves that getting into the polluted areas isn’t impossible – but it isn’t exactly open for anyone to just wander about unattended, either; the Zone is one of the most highly policed areas of the Ukraine, so the story attached strikes me as more than a bit fanciful.

    and re: Edhering – yeah, I think the most interesting thing about the whole Chernobyl disaster is the relatively minor effect it actually had on people and the environment (given what we’d expect).

  31. guy says:

    I’m mostly struck by the greenery. I’m surprised that the trees and grasses are doing fine despite the heavy radiation. i am not surprised that the city just looks run down, because nothing exploded. the reactors just caught on fire. never, ever, ever run unscheduled experimental tests on a fully functional reactor in active use.

  32. Sir Pedant says:

    ‘never, ever, ever run unscheduled experimental tests on a fully functional reactor in active use.’

    Thanks, guy. I’ll bear that in mind.

  33. Sir Pedant says:

    Also, I strongly approve of my ‘Wavatar’ (you kids and your ‘hip lingo’). However, I wear my monocle on the left.

  34. Ryan says:

    That was amazing. Elena knows how to evoke emotion with here photography and telling the story behind the crisis, that was just the icing on the cake. Makes me wish I could experience the things she has.

  35. Zerotime says:

    Ryan: You can. Chernobyl tours aren’t really all that expensive.

  36. MikeLemmer says:


    Damn, you leave behind nuclear studies for 3 years and look what happens. Should’ve remembered that.

  37. Snook says:

    What people seem to forget is that fake or not, Elena’s site DOES bring attention to the Chernobyl disaster. People nowadays don’t care too much about the past; I guess it’s always been so. But regardless: things such as this (Chernobyl) shouldn’t be forgotten, and should be taught alongside the Holocaust, the Reformation, and a dozen other calamities in human history.

    I just asked my sisters (15 and 16 years old) and they haven’t even heard of Chernobyl, let alone what happened.

  38. Nathanael says:

    Zerotime, that´s a very interesting tour. It seems it would be fun to visit Chernobyl after all. However, I´m still afraid of the radiation.

  39. Eberhard says:

    Some movies found on the net…

    This is the first time I see a shooter game where you can relax, sit with your mates by a campfire, singing and drinking vodka. Wonderful.

    Nice stealth tactics.

  40. DGM says:

    “Be that as it may, if Shamus is victorious in his quest to anesthetize the human spirit, then his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity.”

    Wow. Shamus Young, Destroyer of Humanity. Quite the epitaph, no? :P

  41. Snook says:

    It’d work well if he was an Orc or something.

  42. Shapeshifter says:

    Let’s not forget some of the crazy flora around Chernobyl. The glow-in-the-dark forest is pretty weak compared to the radioactive moon mushrooms!

  43. Ryan says:

    Found out that they are making a Prequel to Stalker. It’s up on online if you search for it.

  44. Oleyo says:

    Heh, I thought Rask was of his rocker for a minute there :)

  45. Rustybadger says:

    I don’t suppose anyone cares, but the city is actually called “Pripyat” (При́п’ять and other variant spellings exist). I doubt much that you could actually get a tour of the Chernobyl nuclear plant! (Well, ok, I know, it’s the Ukraine, and you can get ANYTHING there for the right amount of money…) In the city of Chernobyl, there are actually still people living in their homes; that city is a bit further away from the nuclear power plant, and while largely abandoned, wasn’t quite as devastated as Pripyat was.

    And the reactor meltdown happened on my birthday. So I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon, and I am making sure MY kids know all about it! Every year on April 26, we sing Russian military songs and drink two litres of vodka just to keep it fresh in our minds.

  46. Blockenstein says:

    @ Rustybadger: Really? I’ve tried drinking two litres of vodka before and it never kept anything “fresh” in my mind. Quite the opposite, in fact. :)

  47. I went to Chernobyl and Pripyat in October 2009 and got a few more pics as well. The links to my review, and pics are :

    Pictures :

    Review :

    Hope you enjoy !!!

    MX (Malcs)

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