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25 May, 2004

Not so ghostly town

I'm disappointed to say that this story, about a motorcyclist visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, has been revealed as a fake.  The circumstances of the trip are not as described, and some of the photos were staged.

Mary Mycio, writing at e-Poshta, reposted at the UER online forum:

I am based in Kyiv and writing a book about Chornobyl. Though it was full of factual errors, I did find the notion of lone young woman riding her motorcycle through the evacuated Zone of Alienation to be intriguing and asked about it when I visited there two days ago.

I am sorry to report that much of Elena's story is not true. She did not travel around the zone by herself on a motorcycle. Motorcycles are banned in the zone, as is wandering around alone, without an escort from the zone administration. She made one trip there with her husband and a friend. They traveled in a Chornobyl car that picked them up in Kyiv.

She did, however, bring a motorcycle helmet. They organized their trip through a Kyiv travel agency and the administration of the Chornobyl zone (and not her father). They were given the same standard excursion that most Chernobyl tourists receive. When the website appeared, Zone Administration personnel were in an uproar over who approved a motorcycle trip in the zone. When it turned out that the motorcycle story was an invention, they were even less pleased about this fantasy website.

Because of those problems, Elena and her husband have changed the website and the story considerably in the last few days. Earlier versions of the narrative lied more blatantly about Elena taking lone motorcycle trips in the zone. That has been changed to merely suggest that she does so, which is still misleading.

I would not normally bother to correct someone's silly Chornobyl fantasy. Indeed, correcting all the factual errors and falsehoods in 'Ghost Town' would consume as much space as the website itself. But the motorcycle story was such an outrageous fiction that I thought the readers of e-Poshta should know.

In another UER posting, Tony Brown mentions visiting the area with Rimma Kiselitsa, the same tour guide as had taken Elena:

... one of the pictures on her original site was inside a kindergarden. It's a picture of a baby's crib, with a photo of Lenin, a child's gas mask, and some toys. These photos were 'staged' by Elena's husband. He found the photo of Lenin elsewhere, put it in the cot and placed a gas mask alongside then took a photo of it.

This annoyed Rimma immensely. She was not impressed from start to finish about Elena and her husband, as they seemed to be trying to take photos for shock value - not how the place really is. As part of my day's tour, I took over 400 photographs. I watched Rimma remove the gas mask and photograph of Lenin, and put them back in their original homes.

The reason I was told all of this was because Rimma is very annoyed about the whole affair - she's getting phone calls from movie producers wanting to make movies about this 'heroic' girl. She's getting people demanding the same unlimited access pass that Elena supposedly has. These do not exist, and she's sick of explaining it to people.

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