Chelyabinsk. The way my grandparents say the word is nothing like the way the newscasters on CNN pronounced it last week. The L is soft, and the accent is on the A. Chelyabinsk.
The name of this Siberian town deep in the Ural mountains, where meteoric hellfire rained from above and spawned a thousand nightmares, has loomed large in my imagination my whole life. I’ve been grateful for its existence and upset by its inherent strangeness.
I wanted to visit — to mimic the interminable and terrifying train ride there my grandmother and grandfather each took out of the soon-to-be Lodz Ghetto in late 1939 — but when I found out it was considered by many scientists to be the most polluted place on earth in the 1990s due to hushed-up government nuclear waste dumping and three serious nuclear accidents that irradiated everything, I postponed my trip. Indefinitely.
And now? The place that saved my grandparents’ lives, threw them together and, ultimately, allowed me to be born, is getting its 15 minutes.