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What do stalkers take with them?

Before the first step into the zone, one checks his provisions. The contents of a backpack severely depend on the stalker class. Game fans are clothed in suits from Nike and snickers while their seasoned counterparts hide behind military grade outfits and heavy boots akin to those used by experienced hunters.

One pocket is always occupied with an EPD. Those who are here for a short hike may not take one with them. Individuals wear steampunk-like gas masks that actually have a practical purpose and should be worn when nearing a dangerous area. Having a gas mask on also looks cool in a video.

Many stalkers are not your typical blue collared guys from offices nearby. They are actually quite knowledgeable about the intricacies of survival in the wilderness. However, even the most practical of rules useful in the wild are of no use here, where everything is poisoned and dead. A common advice is to take enough water and nutrition rich foods with you when planning a lengthy expedition.

Pripyat stalkers

Never leave the civilization without a medical kit. A few bandages, effective painkillers, and anti-inflammatory preparations should be enough. A true life saver kind of a medicine is certainly iodine which is vital and fights off radiation.

Nights may be cruel here. The darkness is less frightening if you have a flashlight and a kit to make fires faster. There is a possibility to meet police and they will mercilessly arrest you and even put you in jail for entering the area.

True stalkers never leave litter behind them. They plead to others to not contaminate the area with industrial litter. Trash is usually collected and carried to wastelands. Many are sure that preserving the very original spirit of the place is a goal worth pursuing.

Pripyat stalkers

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant’s Reactor No. 4 exploded, and the ensuing nuclear fire burned for 10 days, releasing 400 times as much radiation as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. A radioactive rain of cesium, plutonium, and strontium blanketed parts of Ukraine, western Russia, and Belarus. Twenty-eight years later, Chernobyl remains the world’s worst nuclear accident. (Caveat: The Fukushima disaster is still playing out.)

The long-term effects and death toll of Chernobyl are controversial and hard to quantify. The World Health Organization expects a total of 4,000 deaths linked to the event, including those who died in the initial disaster and cancer cases that have developed and will develop afterward. Other organizations, such as Greenpeace, contend that the health hazards have been wildly underestimated and that eventually the death toll will hit nearly 100,000.

The fallout was political as well. The Soviet Union’s inability to deny or control the story of the disaster arguably represented the first cracks in the superpower’s totalitarian myth—cracks that would widen into glasnost and within just a few years shatter the Soviet state. It will likely be generations before the consequences of Chernobyl are fully understood, and we are only one generation into what will be a centuries-long nuclear parable.

Pripyat stalkers

As the first generation of Ukrainians born after the Chernobyl tragedy comes of age, a small subculture of them is now doing the unthinkable: defying government prohibitions and illegally entering the highly radioactive Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, or “Dead Zone”—for fun. This group is monitored and pursued by the police and not fond of journalists: They curry in the forbidden, recover meaning from Soviet detritus, and take digital appropriation to new extremes. “It’s a post-apocalyptic romance,” as one young man put it.

Shortly after the accident, the Soviets declared a 1,000-square-kilometer Exclusion Zone uninhabitable, and mass evacuations began to take place. Nearly three decades later, the Zone remains among the most contaminated places on Earth, and at its center is the ongoing hazard of Reactor No. 4, with 200 tons of lavalike nuclear material underneath.

Just 3 kilometers from the reactor is the plant’s company town, called Pripyat. Today, the bleak radioactive ghost town’s abandoned apartment buildings slowly fall apart and pay quiet homage to the nearly 50,000 people who fled. Pripyat is full of still-lifes; a table set for dinner, a Ferris wheel squeaking in an elegiac, fruitless wait for children. Wild boar snuffle through rusted playgrounds, and kindergarten napping areas are scattered with wide-eyed, broken dolls, thick with radioactive dust. From the top of a high-rise, one can see “the sarcophagus,” 3 kilometers in the distance, covering Reactor No. 4, which sits cracked and rusted and wafting radioactive dust. Twelve-foot-long catfish swim in its long-defunct cooling pond.

For the “post-apocalyptic romantics” who have taken to sneaking into the Zone, a visit to Pripyat has become the Holy Grail. Like trauma victims returning to the scene of the incident, they come here for reasons they can’t fully explain.

Pripyat stalkers

The term that has come to be used for those who sneak into the Zone is “stalkers.” It’s a word and a cultural type with deep resonance in this part of the world, first appearing in a 1971 science fiction novel called Roadside Picnic, by the Russian brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. In the novel there are “post-Visitation” (presumably by aliens) worlds in which “Zones” harbor inexplicable, deadly phenomena. The government tries to tightly regulate the area to keep a group of thieves called “stalkers” from sneaking in and taking out artifacts. In the book, stalkers must evade both the police and a strange array of invisible, deadly booby traps.[1]

What the artifact-gathering stalker in Roadside Picnic truly wants is meaning and hope, represented by the wish-granting “Golden Sphere” that rests at the center of the Zone.

Eight years after the release of the book, Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky adapted it into the now-classic film Stalker. Both book and film became cult classics in the waning years of the Soviet empire.

[1] During the preparation of the article were used the materials of the site http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/roads/2014/09/the_stalkers_inside_the_youth_subculture_that_explores_chernobyl_s_dead.html