Tuesday, May 25, 2004

"Ghost Town" website a hoax? Well, maybe...

I'm sure by now most of you have seen the "Ghost Town" photo essay from a "hawt Ukrainian chick on a phat bike (TM)" and her rides through Chernobyl. It's still out there at this address. I got the link from Dad, who got it from Slashdot (and there is NOTHING weirder about this whole thing than finding out that my dad reads Slashdot!) I sent it off to Lex at Blog on the Run and so on and so on - this is how stuff gets around the Internet. So in reading Neil Gaiman's on-line journal this evening (and if you weren't, why not?) I ran across this:
Chornobyl "Ghost Town" story is a fabrication TOP
e-POSHTA subscriber Mary Mycio writes:

I am based in Kyiv and writing a book about Chornobyl for the Joseph Henry Press. Several sources have sent me links to the "Ghost Town" photo essay included in the last e-POSHTA mailing. 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 Web site 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 Web site.

There was also a link to a Canadian Urban Exploration Resource site which had the full text of the rebuttal above as well as a bunch of forum entries from guys whose biggest gripe as best I can tell is that hawt chick is MARRIED.

I'm kind of amused by this, given the vast amount of absolute disinformation on the Web. If you believe the anti-Ghost Town posts, they're really saying that she rode her bike TO Chernobyl, not THROUGH it and that her journey through the town was as part of a little tour that anyone can do and she doesn't really have special access and her dad really isn't a scientist. Well, okay, so she spiced up the story a bit and maybe staged a couple of the photos by putting a couple of things together that weren't in the same frame, but... she did really go through Chernobyl. The pictures really are of Chernobyl. She really is a hawt chick with a big bike. I mean we're not exactly talking Jayson Blair invention here and she's not a flipping reporter anyway.

The main reason I can see for the kind of reaction I'm seeing is a) some guys who feel like they should have known better had one pulled over on them and b) hawt chick is MARRIED! I say get over it - I thought the whole website was pretty damned disturbing and moving and well done (and yes, she is hawt!) and if she and her hubby really do put together a book I'll be tempted to buy it. Yeah, she sweetened her story a bit but that doesn't change the impact of me seeing pictures of Chernobyl and being bowled over by both the vastness of the destruction (both seen and unseen) and the fact that we really never knew much about what actually happened. I'll admit to being gullible - I have to check factcheck.org and snopes on a daily basis just to stay sane - but this one just doesn't bother me all that much.

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