The accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant led to the mass evacuation of people from the cities of Chernobyl, Pripyat, as well as from a dozen small towns bordering the Exclusion Zone.
The total number of evacuated population in 1986 was about 100 thousand people. Relevant regulations were adopted immediately after the accident, prohibiting civilians from living in areas with high levels of radiation pollution.
Nevertheless, even taking into account legislative restrictions, part of the evacuated population returned to their homes after some time. This mainly concerned rural residents, whom nothing could deter from the desire to live, work and die in their native land.
According to various sources of information, by the beginning of 1987, the total number of people returning to the Exclusion Zone had been about 1200 people. The number of settlers living in the Zone itself fell rapidly for each subsequent 2-3 years, and by 2017 has amounted to only 130 people. Rural residents initially returned to their homes and villages.
Those who previously lived in the city, but made an important decision for themselves, that upon returning to their native lands, he/she was ready to exchange an apartment in the city for a house in the village — they settled in 11 settlements of the Exclusion Zone, more or less suitable for living and maintaining a primitive household.
The main reasons for the return of people
It is customary to prioritize among the factors that stimulate people’s desire to return to radiation-infected, but still native places:
- economic impact
- socio-psychological impact,
- demographic influence,
- administrative and legal influence.
The country plunged into a deep economic crisis soon after the Chernobyl accident and the associated evacuation. Incomes of the population began to fall sharply. It became difficult to balance the minimum level of income with the necessary costs incurred by settlers from the Exclusion Zone in temporary places of residence. Complicated financial problems, family disorder in places of resettlement, lack of opportunities for free choice of a new profession, as well as the loss of additional benefits provided for people living in the Exclusion Zone – all this motivated people to return to the Zone.
Also, a huge role was played by the unwillingness to leave home forever. And if there was still fear for their own health and the health of children in the first time after the accident, then this fear began to dull a few months later. In addition, the state began to pay good amounts of compensation to victims of the Chernobyl accident.
There were corresponding benefits, thanks to which it was possible to afford to carry out periodic preventive measures of health, at least funds were allocated regularly by the state for this. And last but not least, for those who stayed in the zone: the state still provided for the option of providing them with additional housing, at least for young families.
Although this subsequently led to some difficulties, which were caused by the limited possibilities of influence of state authorities on people who received housing in “clean” areas, but remained to live in the Zone. It cannot be ruled out that the indigenous population of the places where some migrants were evacuated did not always welcome new residents with joy.
There were grievances that additional privileges were created for new residents, sometimes the indigenous residents, in favor of the evacuated, were rented out housing. As a result, this led to hostile relations. Such disagreements were not everywhere, but the fact of their existence is foolish to deny.
If at first the immigrants from the Zone were greeted with loaves, especially when representatives of the media followed after them, then there were some insults, quarrels, and disappointments after some time.
The average age of the settlers who returned to live in the Exclusion Zone was 65 years old. As you can see, these are people of a rather advanced age who have made for themselves, perhaps the most important decision in their life – to end their journey in their native places. Today, as before, their own vegetable garden and orchard are the main source of their “survival in the Zone” for these people.
Part of the population resorts to picking mushrooms and berries, and fishing and hunting help out. The enterprises located directly in the Exclusion Zone regularly help the homeowners – partial traffic is provided, once a week a mobile shop with the most necessary foodstuffs and goods necessary for everyday life goes around the village, a medical examination and treatment are organized.
The Ecocenter enterprise regularly conducts special radiation monitoring of food products that the settlers themselves cultivate in their personal plots. Representatives of the Ivankovo district administration are doing everything possible so that the landlords do not need firewood, so that their relatives can visit them, on funeral days, and on church holidays, uninterrupted operation of vehicles to Chernobyl, Pripyat and other settlements is organized.
It is practically not realistic to convince these people that the concentration of cesium-137 in wild animals, fish, mushrooms and other “gifts of the forest” exceeds the permissible norms. Some local residents naively believe that if iodine is regularly taken in certain amounts, then life in a radiation-infected area does not interfere. That is how the remaining 130 live out of the 1200 people who once returned. This is their choice.
The miraculous power of iodine or obvious logic
The catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, its tragic consequences, opened up a host of questions to the world scientific community that had previously worried mostly a narrow circle of specialists. Iodine, with its miraculous power, is among them.
How and why does this substance help combat the effects of radiation exposure? When irradiated with radiation, a large number of isotopes of radioactive iodine are formed in the thyroid gland. As a result, this almost always leads to cancer. Why is this happening? The bottom line is that nuclear plants that use atomic energy contain enriched uranium.
It is its content in the environment at the time of the explosion and the release of iodine isotopes enriched with beta and gamma emitters that causes fatal harm to health. The dangerous compounds of iodine easily penetrate the body through the respiratory system and skin, even eight days after the accident. Specialists call this form of infection “an iodine shock”.
It is customary to use potassium iodide as a certain protection against such processes of damage to the body. It is able to block the irradiating effect of iodine isotopes on the body of a person who has been in a zone of critically high levels of radiation. Simply put – potassium iodide simply absorbs radioactive iodine, removing it from the body.
But it’s not that simple
Some doctors are ambiguous to preventive procedures associated with the use of iodine. They believe that each organism reacts extremely individually to such prevention. In addition, the conclusion that it is possible to “store the body with the right amount of good iodine” in the event of a large dose of radiation is very vague and unproven.
An epidemic of “iodine protection” swept across Europe immediately after the Chernobyl accident – children and adults drank iodine-containing preparations, lubricated the skin with iodine. Doctors did not have rich practice in this matter at that time and believed that the faster iodine therapy after irradiation, the greater the chance of reducing radiation exposure to humans. As for prevention, then, as they say, “the grandmother said in two.”
If you drink a few drops of iodine 3-5 hours before irradiation, you can almost completely neutralize a low dose of radiation. If this is done 2-3 hours after the radiation exposure, then the degree of protection is reduced by a factor of three, and taking iodine five hours after the irradiation gives almost no guarantee that the radioactive substances will not cause harm to health. Here is such sad medical statistics that settlers of the Exclusion Zone are completely neglected.
Today, we can only say with 100% certainty that iodine in its pure form is still necessary for a person, especially those living far from the sea. The best alternative to any medicine is an elementary iodine mesh, which for prophylactic purposes fully provides the body with this element.
The Chernobyl zone is far from the sea, but even thirty-three years after the Chernobyl disaster, such radiation prevention does not provide reliable guarantees that it is absolutely safe to live in the Exclusion Zone. But self-settlers are hardened people, seasoned both by time and radiation.
They continue to live there, knowing that they are not forgotten and not left to their own devices – social support is extremely necessary for most of them. Settlers often receive various humanitarian assistance from public and charitable organizations. Time may have healed their old wounds, but the phantom pain of the events of April 26, 1986, remains with them forever.