I was somewhat familiar with Chernobyl before going there. But whatever I knew came in fragments; photographs and short articles that once in a while receive a casual mention somewhere. Still, this was enough to evoke superficial images of the apocalyptic kind. But like the four corners of a picture, there's always a lot more beyond.
When nuclear reactor no. 4 exploded on 26 April 1986, the legacy and weight of this single event cast a shadow on what came before. Chernobyl and its surrounding towns, models of Soviet progress, were quickly redefined into a singular chant: "the worst nuclear disaster in history." As a physical place, its taken on a meaning that has stretched out to represent something intangible.
Terrifying facts and figures accompany disasters. How much radiation was released, the countries it affected, politics, long term health effects, death, and other things that attempt to quantify or understand what happened.
But to go there, there's plenty that cannot be measured. To be there, apocalyptic visions are coupled with the strong current of life. For outsiders like me, this is to feel an undertone of paranoia, a danger that the geiger meter's clacking wants to suggest, yet all to be contradicted by the spirit of the people living with what has been handed down to them.
In the midst of flourishing trees and crumbling abandoned structures, the psychological and emotional scars that people bear, what I forgot is that life goes on. Chernobyl has adopted its notorious role in history, and we should not forget. But to see past that is important as well, it is to see a home and recognize the people that live in it.