For everyone who was evacuated from the Chernobyl zone after the Chernobyl accident, attachment to a place is closely related to attachment to their native land. It is the earth that has global significance for its inhabitants, while involuntary resettlement can destroy the established vision of its world.
Despite the fact that the Chernobyl immigrants are modern enough representatives of society to get lost in the “wide world” outside the home, they, like many others, still have a tendency to identify the house with the hearth and give it a deep symbolic meaning.
Pagan traditions have always been maintained in modern society along with the Orthodox. Therefore, for its members, the earth has always been inhabited by gods and spirits who live in nature, along with the souls of their ancestors, which can harm or protect.
Stable faith in the ancestors formed among the evacuated from the villages of the Chernobyl zone a deep sense of the need for a long life within the borders of their native village:
“… I love everything in the village, even the graves – and those of mine, native, are so beautiful .. I’ll go to the funeral, but I don’t want to leave from there. So what if the hut has collapsed there – the parents are there. You reach the village – such a thorn in the heart stabs that you can not stand it. They drained the swamp in the same place – it was such a beauty… ”, Zinaida Trofimova says, she is 84 years old.
It can be concluded that her native land in the Chernobyl zone is not only alive as a creature, but it is also in close association with the graves of her ancestors. Thus, the social structure for the Chernobyl immigrants is reproduced as a deep respect for the places of burial, and faith in the ancestors has become a strong factor in preserving the original, to an emergency identity.
This identity can be understood as a feeling of home, where everyone can feel intimacy with each other and be accepted by the villagers “as their own” by definition.
The life story of the pre-accident migrants from Zalesye, Vladimirovka, Gorodishche, Vilchi, Andreevka, Derkachi, Buryakovka and more than 30 settlements evacuated after the Chernobyl accident is more important for themselves than the story of their own life in a new place. Therefore, each of them does not feel at home at the place of resettlement, but considers his home his native village, there in the Zone.
“The new place did not become a real home for Chernobyl resettlers, every opportunity to see their homes and villagers evokes the feeling of a home that they had before the accident.”
Artifacts brought from the Zone as icons, along with religious significance, received an additional function of representing the lost land – sacred and almost inaccessible in the broad sense. The conventionality of these objects, along with the fact that they were brought from the house and absorbed its atmosphere, makes them “pleasant forms of memory”.
The fact that not only icons, but also people were moved from home, explains the additional function of reproducing the interrupted identity of Chernobyl victims. Leaving their homes in the Chernobyl zone after the accident, people left icons in them according to their belief that, as long as there is an icon in the house, there is God in it. The older generation of Chernobyl immigrants explains the importance of icons in the house:
“So, according to tradition, it’s probably going to have an icon in every hut in the corner, where the sunrise is. And in those houses where we used to live, I also had an icon. Although a man leaves home, he never leaves a hearth without an icon… “
In other words, to have icons in their new home from their native land for Chernobyl residents means to feel connected with their past, history, religious and cultural traditions of their native village. Attachment to the place influenced the life and views of Chernobyl victims. Immediately after the resettlement, many illegally, through forest roads, returned to their homes left in the Exclusion Zone.
These were mainly older people who could not adapt to the values of the new place and felt uncomfortable in other people’s homes. In addition, since the elderly are usually lonely, they were resettled together by several people in one house during the relocation, which was also not comfortable for the elderly.
Attachment to the house turned out to be very strong among the immigrants – the house is needed in order to belong to it. Many of the migrants of a younger or middle age who today have good housing, work and family in a new place said that they would also return and rebuild their destroyed houses if the authorities opened a part of the Chernobyl zone for repatriation.
Therefore, for Chernobyl residents, their native places are of great value; they represent a connection with the ancestors who once lived there. And although for many evacuated from the Chernobyl zone their new place of residence has become a real home, nevertheless, any opportunity to see their former family homes, villages and fellow villagers gives them a special feeling of the house that they had before the accident.
Life after the accident
Despite the fact that today information about the Chernobyl accident, about the Exclusion Zone, about the Chernobyl victims themselves is available, most ordinary Ukrainians perceive all this as something that does not exist here, not now, and concerns someone else.
Avoiding public discussion of the problems of the Chernobyl zone and supplanting the memory of the Chernobyl accident through ostentatious educational practices impedes the transformation of Ukrainian society into a modern galaxy that can learn the lessons of its own history, rather than be weighed down by it.
Such a transformation, first of all, requires courage to realize its vulnerability and willingness to interact with all the possible consequences of the Chernobyl accident for future generations.
“The diagnosis we give them is money.”
Today, Chernobyl settlers avoid awareness of the threat of radiation and the effects of the accident on their health. So they are trying to form the illusion that, if radiation is not visible, it does not exist, therefore, cannot influence them. However, the very lives of these people have long been considered something “unreal”.
Since the life of an individual did not have value in the Soviet Union, hundreds of Chernobyl liquidators were doomed to death. After that, they, like many people evacuated from the Chernobyl zone, were denied the status of liquidators, which would provide for some material and social benefits for them.
After the collapse of the USSR, the Ukrainian state extended the policy of discourse of the “unreality” of the life of a single person who was affected by the accident. As the administrator of one of the hospitals noted in relation to the Chernobyl victims: “The diagnosis we give them is money.”
Thus, from the beginning of the accident, Chernobyl victims were between the dependence on the government, which was supposed to provide information about what had happened to them, and the need to deal with the same government, proving the radiation nature of their diseases.
Scientists believe that the loss of control over our feelings becomes a loss of control over our judgments, which makes people vulnerable to technologies, including nuclear, which neither they nor the world governments can completely control.
Therefore, Chernobyl victims are forced to accept various judgments as to the ultimate truth about what actually happened to them from “expert sources”, for example, from Japanese experts, or to draw it from various media. All this is a consequence of the fact that living in a risk society, they can not trust their own instincts.
The life situation of Chernobyl victims and, in particular, self-settlers is complicated by the fact that they cannot even trust their own government. This is evidenced by the policy of “double morality”, which the authorities are pursuing in resolving the consequences of the Chernobyl accident.
Using the Chernobyl discourse as a form, representatives of the administrative authorities fill it with content that is convenient for themselves in order to avoid responsibility for meeting the needs of self-owners.
For instance, arguing that there are dangerous doses of radiation in the Zone, they refuse to those who want to return to their homes in the Zone, they also refuse to those who have long ago returned to the list of self-settlers, which facilitates access to the zone through the provision of a pass.
However, those who wish still find ways to become self-owners, albeit not de jure, but de facto, making an appointment with those who were lucky to register as self-owners before. With such a record, they get the right to enter and leave the Zone. The “illegal” self-settlers themselves are ironic about this situation:
“… There is a special list in Chernobyl. I live here, but I’m not a self-settler. Granny Olya, did not settle down there too. We are aliens from another planet – we have come down and live here. Nobody ascribes us anywhere. How many we didn’t file, how many applications we didn’t write in Chernobyl, where we just weren’t – nobody accepted us anywhere. They said: “There is radiation – you cannot live here.”
Self-settlers become hostages to the trend of “legitimate” totalitarianism of power institutions in order to avoid the threat of the spread of radiation from the Chernobyl zone. The social guarantees that homeowners should have, like citizens, are blocked by unlimited power by representatives of government bodies to decide who can fall into the exclusion zone and be in it, and who is forbidden to do so.
In this situation, the Ukrainian authorities continue to bureaucratize the control of the consequences of the accident in the style of their Soviet predecessors.
With this strategy, the accident and its consequences were gradually “normalized” in public discourse. The illusion that “everything is under control” was supported by both the Soviet and Ukrainian authorities.
The social benefits currently envisaged for Chernobyl victims are, more likely, nominal rather than real; they cannot solve the emotional, recreational or health problems of migrants. By the way, Chernobyl victims, who have the status of victims, receive less than $4 a month for recovery.
Contradiction of Chernobyl discourses
Space is a political project, the status and significance of which changes over time. The ambiguous status of the Chernobyl zone as a semi-closed territory, where on the one hand they organize excursions, and on the other hand they build summer cottages, causes the need for an open discussion about changing the meaning and functions of the Exclusion Zone for Ukrainian society. Three discussion processes can be defined in which the Chernobyl zone exists, is perceived and discussed today in Ukraine – Soviet, Ukrainian and alternative.
The first discourse is the concealment of the consequences of an accident. It was identified to counter the so-called “radiophobia” among the population, which reported numerous diseases that the Soviet government did not want to associate with the accident. The second discourse gradually arose from the first – it can be described as the “normalization” of an accident in public opinion.
At the same time, Ukrainian society, playing along with this “normalization”, is content with news about 80-90 year old settled grandmothers who dance and keep a unique authentic chronicle of local folklore for numerous foreign tourists visiting the Exclusion Zone.
And Ukrainian and international journalists exploit Chernobyl victims from the Zone to get materials that sell well for their media. Finally, the last alternative discourse was formed by immigrants who do not perceive the Zone as a place of danger or alienation:
“… For some, Chernobyl is a zone, and for us, it’s our native land. This is alienation for people. And we were born there. We knew and know all the tracks… “
In addition, many immigrants have long since moved in their minds the accident itself in the distant past, because of which for them it lost its tragic significance. The Chernobyl exclusion zone, like the Chernobyl victims themselves and the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, continues to exist in the mirror of Ukrainian modernity – real and unreal at the same time, noticed or hushed up depending on whether it is convenient for the authorities and society to notice them, is it convenient to talk about them.
Moreover, if the Zone is just an object and a phenomenon of the discourse of normalizing the consequences of an accident, then immigrants cannot be included in the concept of mirror reflection, since they exist outside of any theories. This study was aimed specifically at making more people hear their voices.