Mr Kamish, you are just back from the last travel: how did it go? Some news?
During my last trip, I escorted a journalist from Germany to Prypiat in conditions of intensive patrolling. The police helicopter was regularly flying round the perimeter, and several times we were almost spotted. However, it didn’t prevent us from seeing everything and getting ourselves drunk almost to amnesia: one morning, I asked him the name of a abandoned village where I had taken him. In the eight days, we drank twelve liters of vodka. It probably saved us from getting frozen stiff and allowed us to see everything we wanted: we spent three days in an abandoned church and three more days in Prypiat. We toured eight villages and I had a feeling as if I had walked round the world twice.
In these days the new shelter (rifugio) will be definetely placed. How the zone will be changing un the future? And how with the new shelter are changing the zone in you mind, in your perception of the writer of the zone?
My perception won’t change. Yes, the new shelter seems so out of place now, in contrast to Soviet-era architecture. However, let us remember how people’s ideas of architectural harmony and inappropriate eclecticism change in the context of time.
Sometimes new styles or trends in architecture come as a result of catastrophes. The brightest example should be Sicilian baroque. After a massive earthquake architects had so much work to do, and there were not enough good architects to do it. As a result, poor architects were also invited to rebuild the many destroyed houses. Their contemporaries considered their work to be odd, but it became a kind of architectural model over time.
What strikes us as odd at first, arouses no irritation at all in fifty years, and in another fifty years becomes a matter of cultism.
Many photographers of the Zone whom I know speak about the unnatural appearance of the monumental structure and complain that it spoils the usual landscape for their photos! Dear friends, don’t forget about several other monumental structures nearby “Duga”: the giant over-the-horizon radar antenna Chornobyl-2 of the size comparable to the pyramid of Cheops. Can its 150-meter-spires look natural against the background of collective farms? But they do, just because we’ve got used to that sight.
Or the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant? In the days of Ukraine occupied by the Soviet Union, it was positioned as a man-made wonder. After all, it is also a monumental structure surrounded by collective farms. Even if we travel forty years back in time, the newly founded city of Prypiat will look absolutely unreal – a micro-district of Kyiv lost among the swamps of Polissia. Its being in vicinity of old country houses also used to be a wonder in those days.
Look how the last sun’s rays reflect against it! The sunset is just opposite the building. This glitter looks like there is another sun there! Are we now the residents of the binar-solar system? Will we see two sunsets at the same time – every day? Just for that one thing, the new shelter should be welcomed.
And the next book? With your literature about Chernobyl, what messages you want to send to yours audience?
Underline it in red: I don’t think that literature has to contain a holy fucking “message”. It is no parable. For me, D’Annunzio’s joy of life is closer than the drama of social pamphlets and anti-utopias.
That is why I don’t write about all of us Ukrainians fighting at the barricades during the Revolution of Dignity three years ago. I may have been still looking for a key to do it, but I cannot do it with pathos.
Ukrainians are very emotional and many of my compatriots have a Paolo Giordano inside them, though deeply asleep. But sometimes, modern Ukrainian literature have is too serious face. I don’t want to try that mask, and here is whyLa Zone was written about the today’s, living Zone, unlike another works on Chernobyl by my compatriots which are focusing on its tragic past. I will never do it, because the victim complex is foreign to me.
My next book? It is about Chernobyl plunderers. About the fallen angels living close to the Chernobyl Territory boundaries in the villages which are still populated. They can scrap a metal bridge or try selling an air bomb. This is something that directors’ video cameras and photographers’ lenses have never seen before!
By the way, the book of my illegal vagrancy in the Zone that caused a stir in France under the title La Zone this spring, will most likely be translated and published in Italian. At the moment, I cannot tell you all the details, but wait and you will know it.
An imagination exercise: when you will stop your trips to the Chernobyl zone?
I have already stopped. This year, I’ve made over thirty illegal trips to the Zone and all of them, except two, involved my showing the Zone to foreign journalists. For the last two years, I go there for no special reason very seldom.
I don’t like counting the time I have spent illegally in the Zone. I don’t see it as an achievement either, but I am asked about it all the time. Two years ago, my own Ukrainian publishers asked me to count that time (to use it for my promotion in the book market). I estimate it about sixty trips. Recently I noticed that this phrase has been traveling from one of my interview to another. But there is so much time passed since that moment, and now the number of my trips is more over a hundred. I calculate that I have lived over a year of my life illegally in the Zone. Or, if we take Prypiat, for example… I stayed for over a hundred of nights in this abandoned city. What an idiot: I could have used this time to travel round the world on Costa Concordia.
There is a tradition among the Zone stalkers to compare their experience. I am skeptical about such measuring methods. Ask the old women living along the Zone perimeter or the drunkards who search it for scrap metal – they have been there for thousands of times over the last thirty years. Just you never meet such people in your friend list on Facebook.
Yet a year of life is too much for me. I don’t want to be in the Zone. I want to be in a writer’s residence in Italy, where every writer should have a bottle of ice-cold Perrier to go with his spicy pasta. Do you know any such place?
We speak about the illegals people. In one of yours previous interviews you said that in generally you are tolerant with the differents kinds of them. But, at the same time, it appears that you have different opinion about them. It appears that you understand the motivation of who you called “stalkers” but you are like indifferent with the people – in generally tourists – that travel in the zone only for to collect mask antigas and pictures. What are the differents ways that these persons live the zone? What do you think about the occidental tourist that visits Chernobyl just the time of some hours for some pictures? Some advice for the occidental tourist or also for the ukrainian tourists?
You see, those illegal tourists also include bloggers, vloggers and photographers. Naturally, the overwhelming majority of them do their job at an amateur or absolutely nasty level. What I would like to see is bloggers slowly developing into writers, vloggers into film directors, and photographers into incredible professionals. I would like to see the Zone visited by artists and especially by composers working in the ambient style. The Zone is an ideal place for that.
I’m not embarrassed by the fact that there will be many such people. Many creators, though only seldom they are good enough, are the soil to prepare us for really genial things which will go down in history and become landmarks of art.
Moreover, I don’t think that such number of creative people is too much for the Chernobyl Zone. I am sincerely amused to hear some of my compatriots trying to tar the Chernobyl topic for being niche stuff. Too often they are inconsistent: for example, they don’t say that prose by Western Ukrainian highlanders is niche, but in fact it is also a kind of location-related literature. And it is not unique, because there are many mountains in the world – and there are many texts written about them. On the other hand, there are only a few exclusion zones.
They just haven’t realized the inexhaustible literature potential of this place yet.
In my travel of two days in the zone I find something that I called a “scenography of horror” created by the many journalist and photographers that in the years visited the zone (for example the dolls near the window). So it means that the zone is not originala s when it was abandoned. What do you think about that?
I think that the scenography of horror with dolls and masks is not just history – it is an old history. Quite naturally, it has lost its relevance just as it happened to huge vacuum-tube TVs. Imagine that you have a smartphone but you ate still using an electronic pager. The installation with a doll on the swing in the Zone is an artistic technique from B-class horror films.
In case with the Zone, horror is a transient emotion of the first encounter. Therefore it is stereotypical. There is nothing left of it when a person goes even a little more deeper into the Zone and spends some time there. Horror is then replaced by peace.
That is why I recommend all directors of documentaries, who come to see me for advice, to become insiders – just a little. Move to Ukraine for six months, visit the Zone many times and read lots of literature on the topic, watch all the films made about it and so on.
You see, most projects suggest one visit to the Zone, one perspective, one route to follow and a conversation with one and the same old woman-squatter. Yes, those are little projects, but this fact doesn’t stop my desire to bring more variety into the views of their authors.
The only exception among all film directors that I know is Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi, an insider and a well-known person in the Zone world who makes his films about it and knows it through and through. His sort-length film about the Chernobyl Zone, “Nuclear Waste” (2012) won the grand prize of the film festival in Locarno. Myroslav’s latest work, “The Tribe” (2014) stirred the week of criticism at the Cannes film festival two years ago and received over thirty exclusive awards including European Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, London Film Festival and many others.
Next year, Slaboshpytskyi will present a new full-length film about the Chernobyl Zone. The rights to release it have already been acquired by many European countries, and ratings of American film critics say it is one of the most expected events in the next year. And I believe that this film will become the best work on the Zone ever.
When the media speaks about the zone his focus are about Prypiat. But the zone i also other, for example the little villages scattered everywhere. In these villages the situation is not changed from the disaster? What you can find? It exists one village more important for you, to whom you are more fond? What is the reason, if it exists?
Villages at the outskirts of the Zone draw me because I am tired of Prypiat and other main sights long ago. Therefore I am trying to shift the focus of film directors and film-maker to this side. Think about such important word as exclusion. The actual name of the Zone is the Exclusion Zone. We often say that but we have forgotten the essence. In Prypiat you will not feel exclusion: there are crowds of tourists, a couple of enterprises, dogs barking and so on. But at the border with Belarus, where there might be no living soul for ten kilometers around you, except for wild animals and probably some smugglers, without any mobile communication available – that is the real exclusion.
I love villages where living conditions of the gone people are well-preserved. It helps you to arrange a really superb country house in such a village, to come back there as if you were visiting a grandma. A dead grandma.
I know that in the zone lives some old persons that want to die in their land. I think taht in ypurs travel you spoke with some of them. Can you tell us one of that meetings?
There are over a hundred such people. And this is also another overworked image used by all photographers and film directors. There is a story for you to understand how overworked this image is. There is a fable among the Zone workers: a team of very professional journalists came to see such old woman for an interview. They entered her house and their lighting engineer – very well-paid for his job – started arranging border lights. When he finished, the woman looked at him skeptically, and placed the lights herself… making the lighting better than he did. You see, she had had so many interviews that she learned how to set lights better than best lighting engineers.
She wrote poems on little pieces of paper and was shy because she had no teeth but was filmed all the time, so she covered her mouth with her hand. I am sure she wanted to be left alone more often, but she was filmed every day as if she were an animal in a cage. Isn’t it an irony of fate: a person comes back to her old house and agrees to this solitude but greedy tour operators and journalists hungry for new topics turn her life into a never-ending film set.
I avoid meeting such people. I do go into the Zone not to see people but to be alone, without people.
The zone: divided between two countries, one in Ukraina and one in Belarus. Have you ever visited the Bielorussian’s zone? It makes sense to speak of the zone as a new “special country” without persons? You do not feel unfinished for that division? You do not feel without a part of yourself?
I’ve been there several times, and it’s very different.
Belarus and Ukraine are two different countries. Their Zone and our Zone are very different. Ukraine has got all those objects we consider landmarks: Prypiat, Chernobyl Power Plant, Duga radar station, Chernobyl. In the Belarus Zone there are only villages, many of them populated by foresters and police, and many other demolished.
Fauna is richer in Belarus (for example, there are bisons there) but not mach for a tourist to see. In addition, there is no Zone effect when a certain territory is encircled with barbed wire. In Belarus, the Zone is divided into sectors: in some of them you can gather berries, some are only open as pastureland, and some cannot be entered unless you have a permit – like in Ukraine. It all depends on how much radiation pollution is there. The Belarus Zone is blurred.
I understand that you have a visceral attachment to the zone. How you see the future for that land? Chernobyl will remain so forever?
The evolution of excluded territory and its perception takes a much faster pace than you think. While twenty years ago this place was interesting to scientists and plunderers, ten years ago it was deep asleep in a cloud of myths, but it saw a kind of media boom over the last five years. It is a part of some general process of globalization – just look at the crowds of people at the feet of Everest and Leaning Tower of Pisa.
I believe that the main benefit of popularization is the increasing number of the truly interested creative people. Hence, the growing numbers of works of art about Ukraine and the Zone in particular. Therefore, more good, great and even genial works about them. I am not a snob willing to turn back the time and see the past which cannot go back. I look into the future with as much hope and optimism as my alcohol addiction allows me.
Your travels in the zone: what do you discover of new in every travel? I mean mentally and for the emotions and also a level materials.
The most interesting transformation is here: fear and anxiety, adrenaline and nerves turn into peace and quietness the longer I stay there. If I practiced yoga or some other fashionable stuff for middle-class audience I’d say something like “In a couple of years spent in visiting the Zone I found it a perfect place for meditation.”
The typical day in the zone, if you have a typical day…. And the life of every day: what do you eat and drink? Have you all foods in your backpack, foods that come from out of the zone? Where do you sleep? How many days on average you stay in a zone? The shorter trip and the longer..
My days consist of fog in the field, and nights are filled with starry sky which big city lights never outshine. Every time I bring a new person here and every time I try to look at the familiar shapes of buildings at a new perspective. It so boring here for me; I discover new places to go to, where tourists never step.
Food? It is not necessary to bring stewed meat or tined food – it’s just a stereotype. I can easily buy some ready-made food at a supermarket, pack it well and live on that for several days. Yet, it works in cold weather so that the food won’t go bad.
Sleep? Illegal tourists never sleep in tents – they don’t need it. We choose abandoned houses in villages or high-risers in Prypiat. Why strike a tent if you can enter any house you like? It is one of the pleasant things about going to the Zone illegally – absolute freedom. On a legal excursion, you will be given accommodation at a Chernobyl hotel with several thousand people next door, and there is nothing exotic to enjoy.
When the next trip? Have you some expectations when you start a new trip? Or is better to find a surprise?
Exactly in the moment when I meet a journalist, writer, composer, a film director or an artist with a project that can get me really interested. My hobby has long ago evolved from escapism and exploration to the desire to help other creators see the Zone from some unexpected perspective.
Almost all the winter I will spend in the Zone within the framework of one very interesting project, I would say. However, I will be there legally. I am grateful to heavens for that, because the Zone in winter is about total horror, darkness and alcohol torture for fans of extreme, frozen Antarctic expeditions and deadly mountain ridges.
This year, I have made over thirty expeditions, and I hope the next one will be no sooner than in the spring.
Original (Italian): http://www.rivistaetnie.com/chernobyl-markiyan-kamysh-74822/