I started writing this article a few days ago, and to tell the truth I was not sure we had really achieved much this year. With Covid-19 and the collapse of the tourism industry, many people who rely on Chernobyl to put food on their table were left without work for many months. When things seemed to be improving again, we got hit by the second lockdown.
Having looked back through the year, I have understood that this was not a wasted year – whilst we may have not operated many trips to Chernobyl, we actually managed to do more work on other things and achieve more than we have in any previous year until now. We managed to put foundations in place for the future to ensure that 2021 is even better than any year before, and have made great plans that unfortunately can’t be revealed yet. But keep checking back for news 😉
Fires in Chernobyl
The Spring saw the worst fires in Chernobyl in our memory. The fires are thought to have been started deliberately and unfortunately destroyed some historic locations in the zone such as Kopachi Stalker Camp, Emerald Pioneer Camp, parts of Fairytale Pioneer Camp and some villages.
These fires quickly overwhelmed the zone based fire services and reinforcements were drafted in from all over Ukraine. The fire covered more than 67 thousand hectares in just the short period it was lit.
The following photos have been provided by Alexander Sirota:
Fundraising for fire fighting equipment and supplies
After it became apparent that the fire service was overwhelmed by the arson, we clubbed together and started organising supplies and equipment for them, in 24 hours we raised 57,000 hryvnia.
There were suddenly more than 1,500 people working in the zone to fight fires, and they were not just lacking fire fighting equipment but basics such as food and water.
We supplied Backpack Sprayers, stew, pastes, water, food, apples, oranges, cakes, buns, cookies, napkins, masks with filters, sleeping bags, mini-generators, bathrobes, gloves, etc.
We were also been asked why firefighters in Ukraine do not have these basic items, like it is some third world country. We respond by asking why nurses in many countries including UK and USA were fighting Covid-19 without protective equipment.
Emergency services are not funded properly and we take them for granted. In the Chernobyl zone there is another problem – after digging through contaminated ground, this equipment can’t be used outside of the zone. The good thing however, is that through this fundraising there will be plenty of good equipment ready for future use.
It needs to be noted and thanked that Taranis gave discounts on equipment – it is a very kind gesture, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Firefighters memorial restoration
Some time ago, it was understood that the amazing, but unauthorised memorial to these people in Chernobyl was in a dire state of repair. However, as the monument was not official – it was not any organisations responsibility.
This internationally renowned monument was constructed 10 years after the Chernobyl tragedy, in 1996 and dedicated not only to the firefighters and others that lost their lives at the time of the incident but also to the 600,000 workers involved in containing and clearing up the aftermath, otherwise known as the ‘liquidation’ of the Chernobyl disaster.
The idea of creating the monument originated in May 1995, when the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy was approaching and a plan to commemorate the work of the liquidators was discussed and, after 4 months of gathering information and processing many sketches, a working design was approved and the location of the monument was chosen to be in the immediate vicinity of the fire brigade station; to the left of the gate and checkpoint, to be precise.
On April 15, 1996, the sculptural composition, ‘To Those Who Saved the World’, was installed on the site and officially unveiled on April 26, 1996; the 10th anniversary of the disaster.
For over two decades, every year on the anniversary of the tragedy, hundreds of people have lined up near the monument, a siren has been sounded and people have laid flowers at its base. This has become a special, sacred place for those whose relatives died during the liquidation.
These days, you can find many photos near the monument, and it has even become an international symbol of the city of Chernobyl, where visitors stop to honour the dead and take photos in memory of the great tragedy of our time.
To raise money, we organised a special 6-day trip to Chernobyl, you can either pay for a place on this trip, or you can make a donation for entry into a free prize draw to win a place. Entry into the prize draw starts at €10 and further information is available here. We are drawing the winner on December 31st 2020 and there is an option to donate and enter the prize draw until this time.
Animal welfare work continued
We have continued to work closely with the Clean Futures Fund, giving money where possible and promoting the superb work they do. Next year we plan to continue our collaboration and further details of this will be released shortly.
The best patch designs in Europe
A friend of ours who works in the zone, and lives in a village close to the Dytiatky Checkpoint produces velcro patches – these are very popular in Ukraine and with visitors to the zone, through our collaboration we are now offering these for sale through our website with shipping directly from Ukraine where they are made to order.
The Wobbly Atom was born
Starting during the fires, our Zoom meetings quickly turned into a virtual pub known as The Wobbly Atom. During the lockdown we were meeting at least three times a week and later when people started returning to work once per week, and we still meet once each week now. It’s been great to get to know the people behind online profiles who we had seen for years, and also been a great way to get to know new people.
We made Wobbly Atom Glasses
We hope the lockdown is the only one we experience in our lifetime. The Wobbly Atom was created from the zoom meetings we had started during the Spring fires, because they turned into a way that people could continue socialising, laughing, smiling and joking during the worldwide lockdown. To keep the good memories alive, we had glasses produced – these have proven popular and are still available here.
Eugenia graduated from university
Our beautiful, wonderful, amazing, crazy and awesome Italian Trip Partner graduated.
She wrote a thesis entitled “Among Pripyat ruins: A photographic journey into a forgotten disaster”, where she wrote about the Chernobyl disaster, from the point of view of the people who still live there, using her experiences of visiting the zone.
Chernobyl Exploration Group grew and grew
The Chernobyl Exploration Group on Facebook really is the heart of the English speaking Chernobyl community. During the fires we were the leading source of information for foreigners and had many other countries communities using us as a source of information.
We finished 2019 with 5,593 members, as of 16 December 2020 we have 13,754 members.
Our most active day was 13 April 2020 with 527 new members, 96 new posts, 632 post comments and 4,431 post reactions.
Of our 13.7 thousand members, 11.5 thousand have been active in the group at some point in 2020.
Whilst we are an English speaking group, we have members from 100 different countries! Most people are from the UK or USA, but we have over 700 members from Lithuania, 660 Mexicans and 500 Italians.
Our single city with the most members is Vilnius, Lithuania.
On the administration side of things, Charlie has approved the most posts and Stephen has approved the most new members.
Andy Kay made made a meme
During the fires in Chernobyl – we tried to keep people updated via the group the best we could. However, after a slightly irate post where someone decided to try calling me on Facebook Messenger at 2am (waking me up), our local comedian Andy decided to turn the situation into a meme:
Our work was recognised and thanked by the State Agency
At the State Agency of Ukraine for Exclusion Zone Management
For significant contribution to the restoration of the monument “To those who saved the world”
Chairman of the Public Council,
December 14, 2020
We continued our education program
One of the most important things that is at the core of what we do is education.
The focus of our trips is to educate people about the zone, show them the Soviet life, to show them the reality of radiation and teach how the zone is still working today and can never be fully abandoned.
Most students we helped this year were studying tourism and dark tourism, and some were focusing just on Chernobyl itself.
Assistance has also been given to a number students who are researching urban exploring, as many urban explorers visit Chernobyl.
And lastly, we released an app
Something I did not imagine at the beginning of the year was that lockdown would give me enough time to learn how to code Android apps!
ChernoMap is my first attempt, and seems to work well. There is an update in the works so watch this space!
This year has also seen us auction some amazing collectable items to raise funds for good causes in Chernobyl. Despite Covid-19 and the tourism industry collapsing, we have managed to continue doing great work and achieving our goals.
The one consistent thing all year, is that everyone in our team enjoys the work we do and we always have a smile on our face. Even when things look bad, if you are doing what you love things will never be that bad…
Happy New Year from all of the team at Contamination Zone
Since you’re here…
Contamination Zone is a group of people who are united by our love for the Chernobyl Zone. Every year, we raise thousands of euros for good causes, such as firefighting equipment, monument restoration, animal welfare and more.