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By TestPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 4 min read
Top Story - December 2023
Dall-ee generated

Overall, I’m not a dark tourism fan. But it was my friends 40th and dark she wanted to go. And so dark was where I was at. Being placed in the heart of central Europe, Slovakia is the perfect location for branching out. And so it made for a perfect position for an old friend to kick off her, 'celebrations'.

I was essentially given two choices. And I had to choose one, at least or risk letting down someone I care about deeply. Auschwitz or Chernobyl? Neither of which appealed much. I mean it was my summer holiday, couldn’t we just hang out in the street markets of Thailand or wander around the groggy cobbles of Rome? Nope. Apparently not. So, Chernobyl it was. It seemed less awful in a highly un-rational kind of rationing. Ignorant maybe. But accidental mostly, at least.

From Slovakia, Kiev is a short distance away by plane, less than two hours. Fortunately, being European grown (at the time) I didn’t have to worry about all the visa jazz. My friend, who is from New Zealand had a much harder time. Soviet paperwork is a ball ache of heavy duty order.

I thought of this trip yesterday, Christmas day, as I contemplated life, love and the universe whilst munching on smoked almonds (delicious by the way - especially with a side of Shiraz). I thought sadly about the exquisite beauty of Kiev - with its architectural prowess. All Byzantine loveliness, shaped by the hands of ancestors who had grappled through hardship and loss. I cannot begin to think of it now. Shelled and desecrated by evil.

Then, as I remember it, I fell in love with its heart. The kindness of it. Everywhere we went people were keen to talk, to tell us of their heritage. In restaurants –we only ate in traditional alleyways – waiters would scramble to recommend a local dish. A delicacy of the homeland, Borscht, Holubtsi, Varenniki. And vodka. So much vodka. In so many renditions. This city is where I also discovered ‘crab’ flavour Pringles. Sadly, never to be encountered since.


I thought of these people. These wonderful soul filled people. I thought of what Christmas day must be like for them. All that they have had to endure. With no understanding of war. And, gratefully, no experience to draw on. It is unimaginable to me. And then I thought of Chernobyl, and my trip many years ago. The tragic disaster zone, now a tourism magnet.

I have written about it many times in my dreams. This place of desolate hope. I have thought about it often. But never really spoken of. It is a place that is with me, has become part of me in a way that is not easy to explain.

It was April 26, 1986, deep in the night when reactor 4 of the nuclear power plant exploded, spewing radioactive material into the dark air. Emergency services arrived, ill equipped. Armed with water to fight the fire. Protected by nothing as they carried out their 'duty'. No one told them. No one warned them that they would be dead within days. It took another 36 hours for Pripyat, home to the plant workers and their families, to be evacuated. And even then, resistance from the residents made it difficult. They could neither see or feel the threat as it seeped into their blood streams. Eating them from inside out, why would they abandon the only home they had ever known? Many of the elders refused to budge. Distrust in the government and a lack of tangible threat made them convinced of other conspiracies, more toxic than atomic energy. For some, the effects were immediate. For others generational, years of thyroid cancer, seeping down from one newborn to the next. The poison malignant and ever present- causing deformities or certain death in equal measure.

Now a cement “sarcophagus" covers the reactor, reinforced in 2016 by steel. The half-lives and lives of the toxins will live forever.

Chernobyl sign

My trip to the exclusion zone was tainted by trepidation. This was going to be no art gallery. The mini bus bumped through the unnatural forest of iodine tinted trees as the city dissipated into a memory of civilisation.

Standing amidst the abandoned buildings of Pripyat, the silence was palpable. Crumbled homes had been ravaged by the natural elements. Vines encasing them with little regard for human endevour. Earth endures. And it will endure long after we have destroyed it. The big wheel- in London a symbol of the city. An eye to the microcosm. Here. Frozen in time. The laughter of children suspended in animated glee. The joy that once was.

The Ferris Wheel Pripyat

But still amongst the shattered ruins. Hope. Hope in the dandelion springing from the cracked wall. Hope in the dog protecting the bridge.

Chernobyl Dog

Hope in the fish – twice their natural size, breathing life into toxic waters.


And hope in the innocent sticker, “In Dream World”

Sticker in abandoned high rise

Time had stood still. But nature and dreams would march forward in their way. The only way they knew how. Unrelenting. Taking root and growing against the odds.

Somehow, in my Christmas musings it gave me peace. Hope that whatever the world encounters, whatever we all endure, there is always a crack in the earth, a space to grow. And become.

Life despite it all.


About the Creator


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