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May 15, 2004 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Is Elena another Kaycee? (Scroll down to posts by "dizzy') Someone who claims to have knowledge of the Chernobyl Dead Zone posted to a number of motorcycle forums claiming that Elena coloured the truth quite a bit with her highly publicized Chernobyl motorcycle trip. [More inside]
posted by SpecialK (43 comments total)
To save the load on Neal's server, here's the pertinent post:

Posted by: Dizzy
14 May 2004
Given the evidently sincere outpouring of emotion from all of you who have seen Elena's website, I am sorry to report that much of what she wrote is not true.

I don't know if she has a motorcycle but I do know with 100% accuracy that she did not ride her motorcycle in the exclusion zone or in the "ghost town" of Pripyat. Riding in any open vehicles -- be it bicycles or motorcycles -- is banned.

She went to Chernobyl by car with her husband and a friend. They took a standard tour of the zone -- these are becoming quite common now that radiation levels have fallen. Their vehicle was a car provided by the Administration of the Exclusion Zone. Most of the photographs were not taken by her. She was not invited by a nuclear research facility. There are no chemical showers anymore.

To point out all of the inaccuracies and untruths in her website would take up as much space as the website itself. The story of Chernobyl is a very important one and Elena is to be commended for reminding the world about it. It is unfortunate that she had to cloak the story in so much fiction.

For any of you bikers who would like to ride a motorcycle in the Chernobyl zone, forget about it. It won't happen.

I am not a troll. I have travelled to Chernobyl many times (by car) -- most recently last week. I know the people that Elena (she also calls herself Lena) and her husband encountered. They are furious about this biker fiction.

Lena, if you are reading this, sorry to "out" you but this fiction has gone too far. People have been hurt by it, jobs have been threatened, and it continues to cause trouble in the zone.

I know exactly where you took your photos of you on the bike (by the Chernobyl raion sign, for example, which is outside the zone). In other words, I know all about this little charade of yours. Your intentions may have been good and I'm sure you were surprised by all the attention your website got. But before you decide to write books, you better think about the embarassment you will suffer when the truth gets out into wider circles. If you sign any contracts and receive money, you may even be liable for fraud.

Please don't take that as a threat because it isn't. Just some advice.

So -- the specific claims that are interesting are the fact that you can't get a motorcycle into the dead zone, because it's an open vehicle.
There's a lot of information on tours that I could find, but my google-fu didn't turn up anything about restrictions on motorcycles.

It's interesting nonetheless because there really is no proof that she actually was on a motorcycle inside of Pripyat. As a rider that does tours similar to what Elena claims to have, I know that I ham my motorcycle up in front of everything possible. After the picture with the sign, there's no pictures of the MOTORCYCLE inside of the zone... just her carrying her helmet.

Put your detective hats on, kids...
posted by SpecialK at 1:50 PM on May 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

(And yes, I realize that Elena didn't ask for any money or anything, so not quite similar to Kaycee -- but she still received a whole heck of a lot of attention and possible book/movie deals.)
posted by SpecialK at 1:51 PM on May 15, 2004

wow.. I almost forgot about Kaycee.
posted by Latitude11 at 2:02 PM on May 15, 2004

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I hope one or the other of the gals confesses their imposture before this thread is closed to comments. (If anybody's wondering where's the harm if Elena made it up, Dizzy says in a later post that cyclists have been trying to sneak into the zone to replicate her "feat," which is bad enough if she in fact did it but really reprehensible if she made it up.)
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on May 15, 2004

SpecialK, who is this person? Could you have provided a little background for those who are not familiar with what's going on?
posted by PrinceValium at 2:18 PM on May 15, 2004

Here's the story. Warning: Angelfire site
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:39 PM on May 15, 2004

This BigBikeWorld thread may be worth watching, as Dizzy and Elena are both posting there.
posted by raygirvan at 3:06 PM on May 15, 2004

"Photos on this site are mostly mine or from my dad's archive. Few pictures were taken by other photographers. Unfortunately, I do not know the names of authors of those photos because I received them through the internet."

I finally just read through that entire site for the first time. I don't see any place where she's said that she took all of the photos. I also read the "radiation showers" comment as "This is where they gave people showers", not "I had to take a shower".

It reads through more like a historical photo essay, with some pictures by the author and other pictures just for illustration.
posted by mrbill at 3:17 PM on May 15, 2004

The original site now has an Author's Note saying: "I am being accused that it was more poetry in this story then reality. I partly accept this accusation, it still was more reality then poetry ..."".
posted by raygirvan at 4:21 PM on May 15, 2004

That's nothing - I pubically accuse Matt of making up 17,000 user names and typing all their entries in obsessively so that people would be fooled into thinking that there's a real community here.

It's getting to the point where anyone will contradict anything on the internet without posting any proof whatever. I say dizzy can post proof or shut up.
posted by pyramid termite at 6:00 PM on May 15, 2004

That's nothing - I pubically accuse Matt of making up 17,000 user names and typing all their entries in obsessively so that people would be fooled into thinking that there's a real community here.

Been there, done that.
posted by DaShiv at 6:27 PM on May 15, 2004 [1 favorite]

Although, I might add, the confession was entirely above waist-level.
posted by DaShiv at 6:29 PM on May 15, 2004

mrbill -- The site changes constantly. If you can find a mirror of the original site, it's *very* different -- and constantly speaks of riding at high speed through the streets of Pripyat. That site (about 14 pages) has some very different photos on it and is the one that was publicized worldwide and was mentioned in USA Today, etc.
posted by SpecialK at 6:35 PM on May 15, 2004

DaShiv - I try to be clever and all I end up with is a rerun ... (sigh)
posted by pyramid termite at 6:41 PM on May 15, 2004

Matt was on a magazine cover?
posted by bingo at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2004

good times. Meta me!
posted by mathowie at 6:55 PM on May 15, 2004

I'm fascinated by all the people who are on that sport-touring board who just don't want to believe that Elena was lying.


If you see someone posting about touring Easter Island on her Vespa, don't blow my cover. This could be my ticket to fame and riches--hooray!
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:00 PM on May 15, 2004

Her story seems to check out to me. Maybe she wasn't clear enough when she originally posted it as to whether certain pictures were hers or somebody else's. Still, I don't think there's really enough here to warrant any sort of denial that she didn't go.
posted by destro at 8:58 PM on May 15, 2004

You don't think the well-documented facts that access to Chernobyl is tightly restricted, and that all tours of Chernobyl are escorted and all passengers transported in the administration's cars, kind of casts doubt upon her story of driving around there by herself on her motorcycle?

Especially since she just has a little "oh, I bribed someone" hand-wave about all of that?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:12 PM on May 15, 2004

I find it quite interesting how everyone else on the board is completely ignoring the allegation that "Elena" is lying, and instead seems to accuse "Dizzy" of having her "own agenda", although no one seems to have a clue what that agenda is.

It accurately mirrors the reception that Joe Wilson and Richard Clarke have received after having written their books. I'm quite flabbergasted that people would be willing to ignore compelling evidence of neglect (Clarke) and outright high crimes (Wilson) and instead skip right to accusing the messengers of having "political ambitions" -- even though the accusations are obviously orchestrated by people who wear their own political ambitions quite openly.

Oh well, at least it seems that this "faith over fact" attitude is not confined to the political arena.
posted by clevershark at 10:27 PM on May 15, 2004

I'm fascinated by all the people who are on that sport-touring board who just don't want to believe that Elena was lying.


Reminds me a lot of the people on this board.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:27 PM on May 15, 2004

The problem I have, and what I was hoping the MeFi community could help verify (since my google-fu didn't turn up anything) is that I can't verify whether or not she could've gotten in, yes or no, either way.
posted by SpecialK at 10:28 PM on May 15, 2004

She never said she bribed anyone.

From one mirror (let's call it v.2):

This is a credential control point, one of two dozen checkpoints that lead into dead zone. Special permission is required to enter the zone of exclusion. Mine is issued by a governmental organization. Thank You, Daddy!

And from another mirror (v.1 of Elena :

The word CHERNOBYL scares holly bijesus out of people here. If I tell someone that I am heading in "dead zone"... you know, what I hear.. In best case- "are you nuts?" My dad used to say that people afraid of a things which they don't know. Dad is nuclear physicist and he also says that of all dangerous things he can only think about one, which is riding on fifth or sixth gear on my bike. In any way, dad and their team work in "dead zone" for last 18 years. They doing researches from the day when nuclear disaster happened. The rest of guys in a team are microbiologists, doctors, botanists.. etc. I was 7 years old back then and in a few hours after accident happened dad sent us with sister off with the train to Grandmother. Granny lives 800 kms from here and dad wasn't sure if it was far enough for us to stay away of troubles. We had communists at power those days and they kept silence about this accident and then people start learning by themselves and real panic began in 7-10 days after disaster. Dad says, that in those first 10 days exposure to radiation was so powerful that one day of staying in Kiev those first days was equal of 1 year of living in Chernobyl now. Here is map that shows radiation level in different parts of dead zone and which I updated for our local biker club in February 21st of this year (2004)

So it was always assumed that Ms. Filatova got special permission because she was the daughter of a nuclear scientist AT Chernobyl and as such knew or should have known the dangers of riding around there without anyone paying attention.

Now how do you take a picture of yourself on a motorcycle when you are the only one there? It's not like she had a tripod. While many of the photos appear to be old photos, not taken by her, there are enough that appear to be taken by an amateur that I'm inclined to believe Ms. Filaotva's story.
posted by calwatch at 12:45 AM on May 16, 2004

google-fu tip, btw: try searching for "kiddofspeed"
posted by calwatch at 12:52 AM on May 16, 2004

calwatch - Motorcyclists have a love like you wouldn't believe for our machines ... we take pictures of our rides next to or inside just about anything. It's inconceivable to any one of us that we'd ride through somewhere as famous as Pripyat/Chernobyl and not take a picture of the motorcycle with the reactor in the background.

(sorry about the size on that last picture, and yes, that is me... with my old bike, not the new and improved model!)

there's also a lot of pictures of her on the current site in motorcycle *gear*, implying that she did the ride. So it'd be pretty easy to get someone to take a picture of her on the bike. ;) No, my conclusion is that she went on a tour, but didn't do the tour ON the motorcycle, which was a big part of her story. I don't appreciate dishonesty... especially when someone's story is spread all over the 'net, and it wasn't true.

Oh, and my google-fu is good, you can find her site just about anywhere. However, it wasn't good enough to confirm or deny dizzy's claims one way or another.
posted by SpecialK at 1:49 AM on May 16, 2004

But she went --- alone -- on the bike. It's fairly easy to set a camera on something and auto-time it, but it's much more difficult to find a free standing object in the middle of an open area, without triggering the self-imposed radiation limit.

Don't be so quick to call someone "dishonest" when all the facts aren't in yet.
posted by calwatch at 2:01 AM on May 16, 2004

Did anyone actually read the link to the Author's Note I posted above? She has admitted that the story was partly "poetry" rather than reality.
posted by raygirvan at 5:13 AM on May 16, 2004

clevershark - I'm ignoring dizzy's accusations until she comes up with some actual facts - access is retricted to Chenobryl? Gee, Elena had already told us that. The pictures weren't all hers? She told us that, too.

Just what has dizzy said that was evidence of anything? And how come it took her so long to speak up? And seeing as she's admitted that she's an American who's recently come to the Ukraine and almost certainly doesn't know the culture, the people or the language all that well, her statement that Elena would never get through the checkpoints is based on a superficial knowledge of the situation there. She wasn't in the country when these trips were taken and doesn't really know.

So, what's dizzy's motivation? Surely, you've heard of trolls ... Elena's innocent until proven guilty and dizzy hasn't even come close to probable cause, yet.
posted by pyramid termite at 6:39 AM on May 16, 2004

pyramid termite and other true believers: To quote raygirvan, with a little added emphasis from me:

Did anyone actually read the link to the Author's Note I posted above? She has admitted that the story was partly "poetry" rather than reality.

Kind of takes the steam out of the "dizzy is a psycho troll" theory, doesn't it? That Elena keeps changing the wording of her story doesn't help credibility, either. Nobody's saying that she didn't go to Chernobyl, just that she's hyping it way beyond the facts, and that seems pretty well established to me. But don't let your faith be shaken if it's that important to you.
posted by languagehat at 7:32 AM on May 16, 2004

I assumed the "partly poetry" thing was referring to her use of photographs that she didn't take. Like the story wasn't a fact-finding mission, but more of a site-seeing trip.

Still, I don't see what's so unbelievable. I know plenty of people who have snuck into abandoned areas with well posted guards. And if she had some help from somebody, how hard could it be?

And if they already have tours by car, why is this such a big deal anyhow?
posted by destro at 9:01 AM on May 16, 2004

I'm pretty sure travel writers have been hyping their stories way beyond the facts for about 2000 years. It goes with the genre. So, good for her.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:18 AM on May 16, 2004

Wow. I'm really interested why so many people want to believe the stuff about the motorcycle and being alone. Clearly, she went to Chernobyl. Clearly, she took some photos of it.

But there is no reason to believe--other than that she said so--that she toured Chernobyl in any way other than the way everyone else tours Chernobyl. Anyone can go to Chernobyl, tour the Dead Zone, and take photos. It costs about $200, and you have to fill out a bunch of paperwork.

Of course, that isn't an interesting story. It's much more fun to pretend that you snuck in, all by yourself, on your motorcycle. And it makes the story better to use other people's photographs, until you get caught at it, and then to acknowledge them and say that you meant to do so all along, etc., etc., etc.

What happened to "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof"?

Calwatch, since this story has changed so much in its different iterations that I'm not even going to bother to spend the time finding a version in which she says she bribed someone. I do remember reading that, though, but it's certainly possible that my memory might be faulty.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:49 AM on May 16, 2004

Isn't it funny how none of the naysayers came out and said stuff like, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" - as if riding a motorcycle is extraordinary - until one anomynous person on an obscure web board calls it a lie and offers nothing but hearsay for rebuttal? Where were all you guys when this site first caught the web's attention? Surely, if this was such an extraordinary claim, you would have objected immediately.

I'm still waiting for facts from dizzy - present me with some and I'll be more than willing to consider them. Until then, the simplest explanation - that Elena rode her motorcycle through there and took pictures - remains the best.

That hardly makes me a true believer - prove that she was lying, will someone?
posted by pyramid termite at 10:06 AM on May 16, 2004

Some interesting links -

"Despite there being a 30km exclusion zone from which 116,000 people were evacuated, a total of 15,000 workers are still employed in "the Zone", as it is known. Some work in rotating shifts at the Chernobyl power plant itself, the surviving reactors of which are still running at full capacity. " (That was 1999 - now they're shut down.)

"The Zone has its own laws, different from those on the outside. There are elderly folk who, years after having been forced to leave, moved back to their contaminated villages to live out their days in abandoned villages, feeding on the vegetables they grow on irradiated land. There are people who sneak across the Zone’s poorly-guarded borders to steal car parts and scrap metal from dump-site repositories of some of the world’s most radioactive vehicles – the trucks, helicopters and tractors used in the initial cleanup efforts."

"Today, some 4,000 people call Chernobyl home, albeit a temporary one. They are shift workers, scientists and forest rangers whose main jobs are the continued dismantling of the station (Chernobyl’s remaining reactors were shut down for good in 2000), researching the effects of radiation on surrounding nature and wildlife, guarding equipment from vandalism or looting, and ensuring the prevention of forest fires."

"The scene of the world's worst nuclear accident, has defied the gloomiest of prophesies by becoming one of Europe's richest wildlife habitats, teeming with endangered species."

"On an autumn afternoon, on a dirt road lining the shore of one of the idyllic ponds that freckle the lush, rolling region surrounding the Chernobyl sarcophagus, five men in white environmental suits, cinched booties and gloves, wearing respirators and carrying dosimeters, stand in peculiar contrast to the barefoot boy on a bicycle carrying a creel.

The men in white, scientists from America on an expedition to find the details in the damage done by the 1986 detonation of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, have just pulled a catfish from the same contaminated channel as the Ukrainian youngster. When the men run their Geiger counter over the top of their fish, the machine jumps to life, registering so much radioactivity it sounds like they're vacuuming sand. They will take this fish back to their nearby lab and prepare samples of its tissue for shipment to more sophisticated laboratories in the U.S., where its DNA will be analyzed. The boy's fish, which registers the same amount of radioactivity, is headed to the boy's home, to be prepared for dinner."

But ... but ... dizzy said, "Riding in any open vehicles -- be it bicycles or motorcycles -- is banned. "

There - that's one of dizzy's statements disproven.
posted by pyramid termite at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2004

If it helps any, her poetry and photographs were recently on a Swedish culture news show called "Kobra". I did try and read the credits after the show to see if she had gotten proper credit for the segment but you know how fast those things fly by. I don't think that show would have made a segment about her pictures and gotten a Swedish VO to read her words without a little bit of fact-checking....
posted by dabitch at 11:09 AM on May 16, 2004

Wow, there's an awful lot of moral approprium flying around about this story, and most of it is directed at one side.

Some questions:

Does anyone else find it curious that Elena didn't take any pictures of the bike? (Forget, for a moment, spurious problems like how to get a picture of her on the bike -- she could just shoot the bike. Or the fact that she's depicted carrying a Shoei bag.)

Does anyone else find it curious that the vast majority of Elena's defenders are men?

Does anyone else think that the fact that the vast majority of Elena's defenders are men might have something to do with the fact that she's a hot babe?

How about the fact that, when confronted with the accusations in the "Big Bike Forum", Elena changes the subject?

And, finally: Why is it that people care so damn much about whether Elena's story is true or not? Why do they care enough to waste so much effort cutting down her would-be debunker?
posted by lodurr at 5:57 PM on May 16, 2004

On the other hand, could it be that "the authorities" might not want the pictures to get out? Not for any good reason, just the usual reasons why authorities want to keep thing sunder wraps.

Why haven't we heard any statements from the authorities at Chernobyl, or anyone going ON THE RECORD challenging Elena's claim?

We know Elena's full name. Who the heck is "dizzy"? What's her agenda?

Is someone just jealous of all the attention? That seems like a likely explanation. Sure the site has been changed a lot, but mostly for clarification purposes. And, yes, I suppose she might have taken some artistic license, but that doesn't detract from the main idea of the story, which is she rode on a motorcycle to take pictures of Chernobyl.
posted by calwatch at 8:54 PM on May 16, 2004

We know Elena's full name. Who the heck is "dizzy"? What's her agenda?
posted by "calwatch"

The irony is too much for me.
posted by languagehat at 9:49 AM on May 17, 2004

she could just shoot the bike.

Like this?

I don't find the "can't find a place to shoot" argument holding much water in light of third-person perspective photos such as this. Looks to be plenty of foreground asphalt in which to park a two-wheeler.

I came across the site a second time, after a major revision added numerous photos that I hadn't seen. Interestingly, I can't seem to find the part where she talks about the roar of her motorcycle breaking the silence, nor anything indicating that she was actually riding within the exclusion zone.

As ghost-sites go its still really neat, but the idea of "stealing the road" did have a certain romanticism to it, didn't it?
posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:47 PM on May 17, 2004

she could just shoot the bike.
Like this?
Well, sure. Except, like, maybe shoot it inside the zone. That sign is at the edge of the zone -- the bike is facing the zone, outside of it.
posted by lodurr at 2:14 PM on May 17, 2004

OK, you win. Someone with credentials has debunked the story.

Mary Mycio writes this post to the e-Poshta mailing list (a freelance writer and lawyer in Kiev).
posted by calwatch at 11:07 PM on May 20, 2004

I like the fact that two of the first three reactions express anger that Elena has a husband.
posted by bingo at 4:27 AM on May 21, 2004

I have not read this site in a long time, but I know during the times I monitored it she never ever said she had bribed someone; it had always been with her daddy's nuclear pass.

I found the site through a link on a Fallout fan site, and who knows where the originator got the link from ? I could ask. Might be significant, might be not.

I must ask those of you who say she did bribe, when you read that she did. I must clarify that I hold no position on this matter at the moment, and I have not yet read the debunking. I am however very curious to know whether or not she did say she bribed; if her story changed that much at one time.
posted by firestorm at 5:18 PM on May 24, 2004

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