4 липня 2010 30/05/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
Tags: chernobyl, chornobyl, exclusion zone, journalism, july 4th, kiev, kyiv, travel, ukraine
It’s beyond my journalistic caliber to land in a place like Kyiv, snap my fingers, and expect magic. Despite robust tourist statistics Ukraine lacks the most basic infrastructure for foreign travelers. Russian, not English, remains the second language. Official government websites are often outdated or have vanished. E-mail has yet to become culturally ingrained.
Foundations were slowly laid. My editor contacted two western photographers working in the country but neither were available for assignment. On one’s recommendation a local stringer named Ivan was approached and agreed to the job. While Wired was engaged in one dance I was waltzing with international organizations, having my name passed from scientist to minister, courting interviews. Everyone wanted me to call when I was in town.
Direct contact with Ivan was established days before leaving Paris for Poland. He attempted to coordinate affairs with a recommended fixer named Vlad with little success. It took until Tarnów before I was given Vlad’s e-mail. The plan was to journey into the exclusion zone on July 4th because I thought it would be funny and because Marina, Queen of Kyiv, had two tour groups making their own trip that day. Vlad also agreed to act as my representative by taking a list of phone numbers and arranging interviews so I could hit the ground running.
Ivan had an exhibition in L’viv but was set to return the day Janice and I stumbled off the train. Phone calls were met with recorded messages and e-mails were not returned. Calling Vlad yielded the same result, although he e-mailed back to say he wasn’t in Kyiv. No mention of scheduled interviews, so I started dialing numbers only to be yelled at in Ukrainian. A couple people who had agreed to meet with me wrote e-mails expressing regret that they were suddenly out of town. Days recycled.
On the eve of our Chornobyl invasion I finally had Vlad on the phone. He’d run out of credit, which is why calling him had me talking to robots. While driving to the post office to arrange my affairs– on Saturday when no one would be in the office– his engine exploded. He had never mentioned that home was 200 kilometers away. Vlad suggested that Ivan could arrange a car and act as translator, drive to a border town, and meet his associates who could smuggle us in.
The agreement was Ivan would be paid after the job by my editor, and that he was responsible for handling Vlad’s expenses. Showing up in the pre-dawn hour to meet a couple strangers ready to breach a government imposed blockade sounded like a probable hostage crisis.
While preoccupied with visions of Slavic gangsters Vlad explained that his associates were not working the next day. The planned trip to Chornobyl on July 4th was never going to work, information not pertinent enough to divulge previously.
After throwing my computer around, punching walls, screaming, vodka and beer Janice gently led me across Khreschatyk to a coffee shop. While sitting and stewing curbside amongst well-heeled patrons Ivan called. He remained under the impression that Vlad was going to fix his car and drive out to Kyiv, collect us, and head north as originally planned. I was given a different number for the fixer and told that Ivan was coming into town the following day. He didn’t live in Kyiv either.
Our waitress convinced me that I would like a third triple espresso, then screwed up the tab and only charged me for two. Certain that horrible things happened to waitresses who get the checks wrong I tracked her down and explained the error. She returned to our table and told me the third was a present, so I took her picture which horrified Janice who had been clinging to the end of a very frayed rope. We walked down the boulevard to Billa, a Czech grocery chain, to pick through their sickly looking vegetables. We needed something to keep us alive while we hid away from the world watching Eastern European TV.
Much love and appreciation to Kate for her unfortunately ill-fated poster. Janice took the picture of me ripping my hair out at the computer.