Lack of awareness of the current state of radioactive decay in the Chernobyl zone, along with the semi-legal practice of its use, level the status of the zone as an exclusion territory. The boundaries of the Zone are rather blurred, although there is an officially defined boundary around it that separates the 30-kilometer territory around the reactor.
The blurring of these boundaries is due to the fact that immediately after the accident they were determined very conditionally. According to the researchers, after the accident outside the Exclusion Zone, there were an order of magnitude more radioactively contaminated territories than directly in the Zone itself.
The ability to infiltrate forbidden territories, breaking the law and giving bribes, has always existed. The fight against illegal entry into the Zone failed. Today, getting into the Zone has become possible and accessible for everyone, for this it is not necessary to be a researcher or a tourist – this undermines the inviolability of its borders.
These facts mean for the present and former residents of the Chernobyl zone that there is no need to restrict access there at all. Here is how one of the Chernobyl workers describes the discrepancy between the legal and real status of the Exclusion Zone:
“… There has already been an official site. If I want to go fishing or hunting in Chernobyl, then I pay money and go quietly there. This is all wrong. If this is a Zone, then it must be a true Zone. And our officials only “say for nothing” that they will make a unique reserve, restore land and tourism. And everyone understands that there is no radiation – for a long time it has already been possible to make a 10-kilometer zone. They said that along the Pripyat government officials had already divided the land among themselves – houses are already being built there today. Many are attracted by untouched nature and the river for more than 30 years …”
This discrepancy makes the migrants to perceive the changes that have occurred with their houses and villages in the Zone not as absolute, but through the prism of the stages of radioactive decay. It is this fact that affects the possibility of returning home, especially if some areas of the Zone will nevertheless be recognized in the near future as livable.
For representatives of the authorities, the Chernobyl zone is a problem due to radioactive substances in its soil and water, which is still considered unsafe. However, the state does not yet have the desire or the means to solve this problem.
The Chernobyl zone, as a spatial phenomenon, is both real and abstract, which allows us to compare it with heterotopy – an object that exists and does not exist in reality at the same time, like an object in a mirror.
This territory is heterotopy too because its legal status, like the Exclusion Zone, merges with the fact that Chernobyl residents see their home in it, tourists as a place for excursions, and the state as resources that can be exploited. All this gives rise to the existence of conflicting factors practiced in the Zone today.
Multiple Identities of Immigrants
The collective memory of the Chernobyl disaster is inseparable from the identity of Chernobyl victims. The relationship of collective memory and identity has been explained and proven by scientists:
“We keep memories of every part of our lives that are constantly reproduced – a sense of our identity is preserved with their help”.
The fact that memory changes over time also implies a corresponding change in identity. Since resettlement was an event that caused a gap in the collective memory of Chernobyl victims, it is logical to comprehend his experience through the connection of space with individual identity.
To the request to answer whether the displaced persons evacuated from the Exclusion Zone consider themselves Chernobyl victims, and what they understand by such affiliation, the following answers were received. Both people who settled on their own and older and middle-aged generations of immigrants mainly associated the Chernobyl identity with a spatial formation, and not with the Chernobyl accident, being proud in turn of their origin:
“… When in a conversation somewhere I hear about Chernobyl or there is some kind of broadcast on television, I feel that I belong to Chernobyl. Most of all due to the fact that he was born there. Some responsibility has already been developed for what happened. And of course, love for a small homeland, we must live with it, and we must respect it in ourselves”.
However, for some, the Chernobyl identity was associated precisely with the Chernobyl accident and its consequences for health, as well as with the memory of stigma experienced:
“… I consider myself a Chernobyl victim, because I am disabled now. I have a headache, heartache, constant dizziness. Every year I lie in the hospital for the liquidators, near Kiev. I did not know that my illnesses were from radiation. Now, I have the status of a disabled person of the second group in cardiology … “
Although some people evacuated from the Chernobyl exclusion zone do not associate the Chernobyl identity with radiation-related diseases at all, they are still the subjects of discussion of the identities of the victims of the Chernobyl accident.
This process was described as a “condition determined by the disease” and carried out by doctors regarding Chernobyl victims, which secured them the status of patients whose ailment cannot be completely predicted or cured. In the late 90s, this status prevented Chernobyl workers from having normal work, which often led to problems in social life.
Today, since the social memory of the Chernobyl accident in society functions as a discourse, it does not regulate the life of Chernobyl victims as before. The reason for this is that they simply stopped fighting for the social benefits granted to them by the state, considering such a struggle useless. However, they still have not gotten rid of the stigma of “infection” with the consequences of a nuclear catastrophe, which was fixed in the name of the social group – “Chernobyl victims”.