Kid of Speed
On April 26, 2011, Ukrainians carried single red carnations and lit candles to remember the explosion at Chernobyl that took place 25 years ago. The explosion was the worst nuclear disaster in history, and the radioactive fallout affected 77,200 square miles of the then-Soviet Union and Europe. At least 31 people died trying to stop the fire at the reactor, and 9,300 were acknowledged to have been killed by the fallout. The actual number of the dead is widely disputed, and some claim as high as 100,000.
Elena Filatova writes a blog called Kid of Speed about the experience of riding through the ruins of Chernobyl on a lowered 150-horsepower Kawasaki ZX-11. The images she posts of classrooms filled with hastily abandoned toys and writing on the blackboard are powerful and disturbing. Her language is spare, simple and strong:
"Each time I pass into the zone, I feel that I have entered an unreal world. In the dead zone, the silence of the villages, roads, and woods seem to say something to me . . . something that I strain to hear . . . something that attracts and repels me both at the same time. It is divinely eerie—like stepping into that Salvador Dali painting with the dripping clocks . . .."
"The roads are blocked for cars, but not for motorcycles. Good girls go to heaven. Bad ones go to hell. And girls on fast bikes go anywhere they want."
There is some debate whether Filatova actually rides the roads, and the truth to that is known only to her and the few that may have ridden with her. Truth and literature are separated by the grayest of borders, and hotly contested today as more and more of the writers we love come into the light as writers first and journalists perhaps not at all. At least in this case, the value of the literature is in the reading, not the being. Elena writes beautifully, and her words are a fitting tribute to that disastrous day 25 years ago.
As an aside, I was able to get her to reply to an email and give me permission to reprint her work in my book. She refused, however, my offer to come visit and go for a ride with her. Shame.