Wildlife in the Chernobyl zone, having seized territory, gradually turns it into a post-civilization reserve. But not all villages remained at the mercy of wild animals. People still live somewhere in the depths of the 30-kilometer zone.
Maria Platonovna is 78 years old; she greets everyone whom fate brings to her yard with a warm embrace and a kiss on the cheek. Together with her, another 15 residents live in the village. Each of the so-called “self-settlers” returned home in 1986, penetrating the exclusion zone in the place where the border was poorly guarded.
Almost all families who were forced to leave the Chernobyl zone received apartments in cities nearby. Maria Platonovna did not recognize the new home, except for her house, hidden in a dense garden, and therefore refused to leave it. About 200 homeowners live today in the zone. These are elderly people, cut off from the rest of the country, from civilization, so it’s clear that it is not easy for them to live.
“We are all very old,” Maria Platonova says. She adds: “If we have lived a day, that`s good. I come to life when children come from Kiev. And besides this, living here is not very interesting. But, you know, this is our land, our homeland, our whole life has passed here.”
There are fewer self-settlers from year to year. After the Chernobyl disaster and subsequent evacuation, people who lost their homes were deprived of hope of returning. Most people lived in Pripyat, the Soviet “city of dreams”, built specifically for Chernobyl workers a few kilometers from the station.
This city with a population of 50,000 inhabitants became empty per day. Nobody was allowed to return, and now it is an archetypal ghost town in which the twentieth century seems to be mothballed.
Recently, Pripyat has been recognized as a safe place for short trips. Today, it is one of the most original tourist destinations in Ukraine. About 60,000 people visited the exclusion zone last year, who wanted to see firsthand the amazing picture of the collapse of human civilization.
The sad fame of this city makes many wants to boast on social networks – of course, in the same gloomy style. Enter the tag #chernobyl on Instagram and you will see photos of unknown costumed characters, sometimes with gas masks or with terrible-looking dolls among the local utopian landscapes and traditional tourist pictures.
The level of radiation is relatively low in Chernobyl, which is surprisingly located farther from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant than Pripyat. Recently, it has been quite lively, it is here that workers who decommission the Chernobyl NPP stop here, scientists and tourists regularly come here, the hotel works.
However, it is not possible to stay here for a long period. All work in shifts. The hotel staff decorates the flower beds with flowers, everyone is trying to make their guests and visitors like their city, and upon returning home they remembered Chernobyl not so badly.
We forget that we are the Chernobyl people
After 33 years from the day of the tragic events that took place at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, a fateful meeting took place in the small village of Narodichi, which had been evacuated in due time, in the old school building. Today, this village is gradually returning to life, and in 2010 it was taken out of the exclusion zone.
The scientists, representatives of the public, doctors, ecologists and officials from the State Agency of Ukraine for the Management of the Exclusion Zone gathered in Narodichi have been waiting for this meeting for many years. On the agenda are the changes on which the future of this region depends. For the first time after determining the exclusion zone, its limits are planned to be changed.
More than thirty years of painstaking research have allowed scientists to conclude that a significant part of the zone is safe. You can build here new constructions and grow agricultural crops. The village itself is located in one of these safe areas. It is quite calm here today, children from the local kindergarten are joyfully playing on the street. The fence, decorated with all the colors of the rainbow, contrasts sharply with neighboring apartment buildings, gray and unfinished.
“There were 360 children before the accident,” Tatyana Kravchenko, the head of the kindergarten, explains. “I remember the day of the evacuation very well. The children, along with the teachers, were taken to a clean territory,” she recalls. “Three months later, we were sent back, but at first no more than 25 people returned.
However, more people gradually arrived, new children began to be born, and the kindergarten began to fill up. We have 130 pupils today. According to the manager, she rarely recalls that her village is located in the exclusion zone. We are trying to gradually forget that we are Chernobyl victims,” the woman says.
Is it time to fix the map?
All participants carefully listen to the words of their colleagues at the meeting. The discussion took more time than expected. Representatives of local government, for the most part, believe that the time has come to remove restrictions from their land. However, this is a complex and multifaceted issue.
Those affected by the consequences of the Chernobyl accident receive material compensation from the state. This income matters here, in a village with a high unemployment rate, and even in a country where the average monthly salary does not reach even $400.
In addition, many are still afraid of radiation and its effect on their own health and the health of future generations. Despite scientific studies, the long-term consequences of the accident, which may affect health, are still not clearly visible and compelling. This doesn`t give people peace of mind.
It has been unequivocally proven that radiation has caused about 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer. The authorities could not organize a ban on the sale of contaminated milk in the region, and therefore many of the children of the time received large doses of radioactive iodine along with milk.
There is a suspicion that radiation has only lurked slightly, and is still capable of causing various forms of cancer – there is no comprehensive evidence of a refutation of this theory among scientists.
Professor Richard Wakeford of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine of the University of Manchester explains this by the fact that doctors are looking for a “signal” in their research that certain health problems are directly related to the Chernobyl disaster.
“A signal is something that stands out clearly from the background noise of other causes. Detecting such a signal is very difficult. The background noise in this situation is very powerful – the entire economic context is associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is believed that some cases of cancer, in addition to thyroid cancer, may be indirectly associated with the Chernobyl accident.
However, to isolate them in a situation of socio-economic chaos, which, of course, affects health, is almost impossible. From a third to half of the population of Europe is ill with oncological diseases, therefore it is difficult to catch a purely “Chernobyl signal”. As for other health problems, including birth defects, it is still not very clear whether they are caused by radiation.
The situation is also confused by the fact that in certain areas there is actually a large lack of iodine. Iodine in a non-radioactive form is found in milk, green leafy vegetables and seaweed. Lack of iodine in the diet is a proven reason for the lack of early development of the brain and spinal cord. Thus, one of the possible causes of congenital malformations is that there is little iodine in the environment. That’s why counting cases of cancer caused by radiation is a highly controversial matter,” the professor says.
We are not going anywhere
But what the World Health Organization is absolutely sure of is the fact that the Chernobyl accident negatively affected people’s mental health. This is stated in the fundamental report of the World Health Organization, devoted to the analysis of the long-term consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. People had a fear of radiation, the usual course of life was severely disturbed.
As it turned out, fear of radiation is a very important factor affecting life even 30 years after the accident. This fear is harmful to both the physical and mental health of people. The fatalism and hopelessness inherent in those who consider themselves doomed due to radiation, are likely causes of high levels of alcoholism and smoking.
Both of these habits, of course, are unhealthy. This is especially revealing in Narodichi. “A terrible tragedy occurred just 100 km from our village. It still dominates our daily lives,” the villagers say. How to help these people get rid of a sense of doom? It is very, very difficult. Despite the difficulties, authorities and the public must ensure that people learn to live again without the fear of a radiation nightmare.
After the meeting, cautious optimism is seen on the faces of the participants. The zone map has not been officially changed yet, but it is important most of those present to see an impending need for changes. Residents want their land to come to life, and the scientists themselves understand that many sites within the zone really no longer need restrictions – this is a positive moment.
“Unfinished houses in Narodichi could be completed and occupied by people. This is our dream,” say the villagers. “We live here and are not going anywhere. Our children live here and grandchildren will live. Soon, we will be able to revive our village and return here all those who once deprived of their homeland,” local residents are sure.
The chances of making this dream a reality are quite obvious.