Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I blogged about a woman taking a motorcycle through Chernobyl and her web page. It looks like it was a fraud.

Neil Gaiman
A fraud exposed, and a true thing...

Found this on the forum - thought you might find it interesting. You'd wonder why somebody would go to the lengths to fake something like 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.

This sucks. It was such a cool story. One thing that I realized when thinking about this is, how do you fact check the fact check on something that so far away... Is there anything other than this post to e-POSHTA debunking this story?

via Xeni @ Boing Boing


Who cares that she didn't actually ride her bike alone there? That's such a tiny part of the story. The photos are the best part, and (apparently) they're not fake.

"It was such a cool story."
Exactly. What's the problem exactly? Why does it suck now?

Ohhh, "fact checking"... I see.. the whole "journalism with a small j" thing.

You really should read that book I gave you dude. ("The Triumph of Narrative")


google hacked?

i wonder, if this is a fake: ??

a friend of mine from chicago just send this. appearently it´s local. i´m currently in germany and i´m getting the normal google page.

Well, it is still a cool story and the picture are great. But I got "duped" again and I don't like that. It's a matter of trust and reputation. If I had posted it as a "story" and not as a "fact" I wouldn't feel so bad.

However, just to nitpick, nowhere did you say in your original post that it was a fact. And to get metaphysical about it, facts cannot be put into words. When one tries, it becomes a story. ;)

Besides, you credited Markoff.. it's his fault!! ;)

You certainly aren't the only blogger to post this story. Neil Gaiman posted the same thing on his blog and posted that it was apparently fake a few days ago. So, I wouldn't feel too bad.

Careful, here, too. I walked semi-alone through some of the areas of Chornobyl, and have not had administrators stop me or ask me to be accompanied. It all depends on where, when, and how. There's a small but constant influx of plunderers, bribing guards (who stand there for $5/day) to get in, and then there's the international orgs like the UN working to setup geiger counters, or cleaning areas that need cleaning such as to not become a biohazard in addition to the radiation.

There's a lot of myth out there, and I am sure the biker girl is just about as genuine as the guy who claimed he'd seen the UN build a missile silo, there, but some of the assertions above are about as dubious as the original piece.

the story is/was a little stupid, while the pics are very are very interesting

I dealt with a number of the nuclear scientists in Moscow who were flown down to Chernobyl in the first hours of the incident. They tell me a funny story about the Politburo.

The scientists, after crunching numbers in Moscow for about four hours to work out some worst case scenarios, jump on a military plane and are flown down to the region. They set up a cordon and start doing some geiger counter readings to establish a safe line. They set up barricades X miles out from the plant and start enforcing a "lock down."

In comes the Politburo, zipping into the area in their big Zil limos. They stop them at the barricades and are like "you can't go in there" to which the Politburo replies "Get lost, we're the politburo, we go where we want" basically. They go past the lines and come back a few hours later.

The scientists stop them again and say "you can't take this car out of this area" which gets another huffy-puffy reply but then the scientists pulls out his geiger counter and runs it along the guy's Zil limo. beep-beep-beep and the Politburo guy goes white. "Take it--take it!"

So now, if you ever go down the "graveyard" of firetrucks, helicopters, etc that are all too contaminated to move, you'll also find some nice near mint condition Zil limos as well...

I would be peeved if I passed along this story too. Also, now that I know that the story is false, the bike rider's stylings seem like a kind of Disneyland-ization of an honest to God wasteland.

Mike: Not really. Imagine a US ghost-town without stupid tourists graffitying everything in sight or taking leaks on old walls. There's theft, so most of the valuable things that can be carried are gone (I remember one particular camera a friend of mine bought in Kiev, which set off the geiger counter outside the UN embassy when he carried it past), and the cleaning crews are slowly removing cars and other things from the dump sites, but it's more like Buck Rogers' return to a deserted Manhattan than a wasteland.

Thanks Jonas. I guess I was afraid that if you set foot in the city, you might turn into a pumpkin or a toad, or something. The thought of a modern city that has become a radiated ghost town is kinda scary though. An usettling precedent, but hell -- I'd ride my bike through there on a dare. Nothing gets the adrenaline flowing like the clicking of your geiger counter and thoughts of fungi-formed clouds.

But now, let the sun come out! (and hope along with it) The good people of France and Japan are looking to help us out. (ITER reference)

I agree with you, Joi, that I would not be happy to have been "taken for a ride" like that. So far, Snopes has nothing on this one.

BTW, Boris Anthony: There is a difference between fiction and non-fiction, and it's an important one ... especially given the proclivities of western media these days.

If you say so kobekko. ;)

I developed an interest in motorcycles a few months ago - about the same time I finally got broadband. As beginners luck would have it this was one of the first "cool" stories I found, but even to a newbie like me it was pretty obviously a fake, as the bike never appeared in any "zone" photos. But who cared - the photos were amazing in their own right and we were inspired enough to send Elena email about where we like to tour on our own (non-existent) Harley.

Try: Urban Legends Reference Pages Hoax Busters Museum of Hoaxes

Granted, only the last had this story, and only recently, but they're always my first defence before posting anything.

Boris Anthony: I meant the difference in intent and presentation, not necessarily in outcome or meaning.

In "The Triumph of Narrative" Fulford repeats the partial-truth that "journalism is an imaginative construction". This doesn't, however, diminish the auditor's investment in knowing how closely the semiotic function of a piece (story?) which is intended to relay "facts" approaches congruence with the event reported.

... and while I agree with your epistemological implications, I am, for better or worse, in a less deconstructionist frame of mind these days

and may need
to swing
back toward the poetical



Kobekko: ahhhh. yes. :) I owe you a beer.
And while we can argue what level of awareness/education/informedess the "auditors" have to begin with, as well as the "reporters" intention of relaying "facts" (as opposed to looking good to their editors/what have you), as well as what amount of credence we can give such "media" that is corrupted by outside influences completely separate from any events/situations that need to be relayed, that is not the case here, right?

Joi felt embarassed/inconvenienced by having reported somethign as "fact" which turned out to be "fiction". And that is undertsandable, considering his stature as a tall "broadcast tower" in the world of blogs (and elsewhere, ahem... AP... ;)

In other words, I concede your point. :D

Boris: How about a Leinie?



Hey, How do we know for sure that the story is a hoax, it may well be, but what evidence do we have to the contrary? somebody says she didn't drive through there? hmmm...

You all seem to ignore somthing important. She didnt do it for fame. or for money. She brought global attention to a something long forgotten. Besides, the pics tell the true story, not what she writes.

"My Chernobyl Rides" captured my imagination. The author is brilliant, whether in the saddle or the mind. If not for her, why would I have ever cared--or known--about the importance of staying on the asphalt, about the fire engines, the "shining in the sky," how (from an earlier version), if she had gone off the asphalt, she would have glowed, about the hot bikes for sale--what a fabulous world. One day it will be a true story, but about NYC.


The precise manner of Elena's data collection is being questioned by people who have a stake in promoting the reopening and repopulation of the Chernobyl area. Should we trust the word or the judgement of the "authorities" who employ people such as Rimma, or Rimma herself? I don't think so -- those authorities are notoriously dishonest. On September 5th, 2005, a study released by eight UN agencies recommends the repopulation of the Chernobyl "zone of restriction," arguing that the "psychological problems" caused by the evacuation of the area has caused more problems than the radiation. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the nuclear fallout from Chernobyl has caused an increase in cancers, particularly among women and children. It appears to me that the promoters of "business as usual" are once again downplaying the risks of the residual radiation in the Chernobyl region in an effort to spur economic growth -- a gamble for the health of anyone who chooses to follow their very optimistic advice and also for the future genetic health of their descendants. Why would any one want to take such risks on the advice of the notoriously corrupt governments of Belaros, Ukraine, and Russia, which have always placed national economic "progress" above the health of their citizenry? And in recent years the Food for Oil and African child abuse scandals involving representatives of the UN have shown that UN workers and agencies are as subject to corruption and deciet as many of the governments that they monitor. -- Greg Fegel.

When people write in and say that Elena's bike was not photographed within the Dead Zone I don't think you guys realise how big the Zone is. It's a huge are, much of it is through forests and minor tarred roads. many dirt roads that come down from the north. Many people have been through areas of Chernobyl without passing any of the checkpoints. And the aussie guy who walked around on the grass and the soil and reckoned the geiger counter showed he was ok? Soil absorbs the radioactive fall out a hell of a lot more than tarmac. he's nuts if he thinks he was (or indeed) is safe. And those pics where you can see Elena's hands? She did say she used a tripod, did you all miss that?
Despite many people trying to discredit Elena it's a fact that she has drawn more attention to the disaster than anyone else. The thing to now is stop whinging about whether the story was staged or not and remeber that twenty years on and they still haven't reinforced the damned makeshift cover over the blown reactor. And the goverment of the Urkraine and Russia have still never released an offical death toll.
I agree with the guy who said dont believe Rimma. Chernobyl is still a damned dangerous place, and the radiation is now in the lakes and rivers and god forbid perhaps in the water table as well.

Sorry to re-post so quickly, something I meant to mention but forgot. The woman who says Elena's story was fake, in regards to she was carrying a bike helmet around with her.
Rimma only mentions that she saw Elena once , with her then hubby. Yeah? So how come she is wearing a different bike jacket in some of the pics? She has on a green Kawasaki jacket in some pics and an older black one in others, which would lead one to think that she has actually been there more than once huh?
I see no reason to question Elena's story myself, people are always so quick to try and put others down.
Perhaps Rimma might like to produce the paperwork she filled out to take Elena and her hubby into the Dead Zone?
Perhaps the Urkraine Goverment would by now have produced documents recorded by the entrance guards that had the names and ID of the vehicle occupants, the dates and the rego number of the car they allowed into the Zone?

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I found this disappointing, but I agree to some comments on Joi Ito's Web that still the pictures in the Website was really absorbing (I think when I went to this site there was no such a statement). I wrote about this topic before in Japanese. Read More

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