8 May 2017. We started the day without have finished the previous one. Pablo arrived to Kiev without problems (not as our dry shipper) at 1AM. After a quick update and a few hours of sleep we were picked up by one of the members of the Radioecology Lab in Slavutych, Ukraine, and headed to Chernoby. Once there we moved to Chernobyl city, our “base camp” in the Zone. This city was inhabited by ca. 14.000 persons in 1987, and is still used by a few hundreds, mostly male workers (in time shift regime, and dressed in camouflage costumes). Chernobyl is located in an area (almost) clean of radiation, and among others things is the place of our field station and hotel. As always here, we were quickly surprised by a couple of things. First, we were expecting a rather modest and simple accommodation, in Sergey’s words. And, certainly, we are not at the Ritz, but both Pablo and I have a full suite for each of us (Chernobyl style), with two beds bedroom, living room with tv, dining area and private bathroom. Not bad at 15€/night!! Our second surprise came when we discovered that inside a building located 100 metres from our hotel, and that looks as abandoned as many others, it’s possible to find an ATM machine and a bar/shop!! Surprises never stop in Chernobyl…
Since we had all the afternoon free before starting to look for frogs in the night, Sergey was patient enough as to guide us in a visit to the nuclear power plant (with the brand new protective cover, put in place last November), and to the abandoned (and sadly famous) city of Prypiat. This city, located just 3 km from the nuclear power plant, was in 1987 the home of ca. 50.000 persons that were evacuated a day after the accident. Despite the initial promises, they never went back. No people lives now in Prypiat.
For me it was the second visit to the city, and I had the same feelings as in the previous one last September. A combination of sadness for what happened here to so many families and of more sadness for seeing not just an abandoned city, but a looted one., victim of human greed and stupidity. Almost every room in every building (sports center, cultural centre, river cafe…) has been destroyed by humans after the accident. All objects removed or tear down in pieces. It’s not a city freeze in time and reclaimed back by nature, but a destroyed one.
After this little touristic trip we finally put all our gear in the 4×4 car and headed to the field: Sergey, Pablo, Eugeni (another local colleague) and I. The goal was to look for our focal species, the Eastern treefrogs (Hyla orientalis) in areas of low radiation, in the southwest of the Exclusion Zone. The weather was not really promising, as forecasted. After a warm day, the afternoon arrived with a notable temperature drop and some rain. Once in the field, it was clear that the night was far from ideal for catching treefrogs, a rather warm dependent species. It was cold and foggy. But as soon as we stopped at our first locality, we hear the calls of water frogs (Pelophylax esculentus/ridibundus/lessonae) another warm dependent species. Probably it wasn’t going to be bad after all.
Even better, a bit far in the distance it was possible to hear some treefrog male calling!! It wasn’t easy, or fast, but after more than two hours of searching in an area of small ponds, channels and reedbeds, we got our first 14 males of the season. After this, we moved to a different locality, also in a non-contaminated area, and despite the fog and cold, we also managed to catch an additional 10 males. At the end, it was a great night of frogging in the least promising conditions.
During the day we saw wild boars, red deer and many, many nightjars (I had never seen so many!). And, also today, in our way to Prypiat we saw one Przewalski horse, a lone male, one of the ca. 100 than roam in the Exclusion Zone.
The plan for tomorrow is sampling the frogs collected during the night (lot of different measures, photos and tissues for sampling), and if the weather is not too bad get back to the field for more frogs in areas of medium contamination level. But the weather forecast is really depressing, 2C for the night.. Let’s see..
Since we were moving almost the entire day in low contamination areas, our total dose accumulated today was 2 micro Sv, the same anyone can have at home in standard conditions.