Homesick for Chernobyl
A conversation about Chernobyl, April 26, 2016.
Agnieszka: You woke up terrified. What did you dream about?
MN: I was walking across the Waszyngtona roundabout with a radiation dosimeter in my hand, which suddenly started showing higher readings than I’d ever seen before. The device made a loud beeping sound. I knew this level of radiation exceeded what one can safely be exposed to. I also knew one cannot escape it or hide from it. The only thing we could do was to shorten the time we were exposed. You were there with me. We walked alone across the Poniatowski Bridge. We stopped in a bar, situated in an old, masonry tenement house. On its doorstep, the radiation level went down, but still remained much above the accepted norms. We ordered something to eat and sat at the table, staring at abandoned Warsaw. Our friends turned up, looking as if they were reconciled to what was happening. The only thing I wondered was how much food they had left in storage. The shelves were empty. Then, the news hit us that, following a terrorist attack, there was an explosion in a nuclear power plant near Berlin.
You said the dream was very realistic.
It was. I was scared.
Of what? That we would die?
Under such circumstances it would be unavoidable.
There aren’t that many people who walk around with a dosimeter.
I do that quite often, since I started traveling to Chernobyl. We keep forgetting that we are constantly under the influence of the so-called “background radiation.” The level in Warsaw comes very close to that of the Chernobyl zone. Few people associate higher levels of radiation with a plane trip. Above cloud-level it’s twenty times higher. When I take such measurements on the ground, I can stay away from the source of it; on a plane, there is no way I can do it. A one-hour flight results in higher level of exposure than several days spent in the exclusion zone. Of course, such levels cannot be compared to deadly levels absorbed by the people during the explosion of the power plant. Those actually killed.
There were instances of internal burns and damage to body cells. First, the bone marrow and digestive tract were affected. Internal organs started bleeding, intracranial pressure would go up. People were dying in agony over several weeks. No one was burnt alive by the radiation, as one of the Chernobyl myths had people believe.
Was it a painful death?
How are the people who actually live in the exclusion zone? They keep absorbing varying doses of radiation. They eat the crops of local farms, drink water from local wells.
The worst that can happen is swallowing a radioactive particle, which is why it’s forbidden for small children to stay within the zone, so they don’t put anything in their mouths. But increased radiation is not found everywhere. After three hours of walking you can suddenly come across a piece of graphite, which was most likely inside the reactor or in its immediate vicinity. Close to it, the level of radiation goes up two hundred times. You take a step back and it’s where it was earlier. If you come close to such a piece for a second, nothing happens, but if you set up a tent next to it, it’s a different story.
They say that as far as food is concerned, mushrooms and fish are the most vulnerable to radiation. They eat both. People even come all the way from Kiev for fishing and mushroom-picking in the area of Chernobyl.
It may happen that in a basket full of mushrooms there will be only one which was exposed to radiation. The locals prefer to think that the surroundings of the 30-kilometre zone, where they live, are not contaminated. No one goes mushroom picking to the so-called 10-kilometre zone, stretching around the nuclear power plant. Anyway, to measure the level of radiation in a mushroom, a simple dosimeter is not enough. All food would have to pass through specialized equipment, so that we could conclude, without a shadow of a doubt, that it’s harmful.
On your way to the zone, did you think you could be exposed to contaminated water or food?
I ate packaged food, or I brought my own. It was impossible to refuse a cup of tea or a glass of moonshine. Anyway, you could see those people were still alive, at a senior age. On the other hand, the discomfort was constantly under my skin. It made me think that the impact of radiation may differ from how scientists explain it, how I understand it. It may in fact be harmful.
What did they say at the National Centre for Nuclear Research in Swierk?
After the fourth or fifth visit in the zone, I was concerned I may have been exposed to radiation. I asked the staff if I should undergo any examination. They smiled knowingly, as they themselves organised trips to Chernobyl. They work with an experimental reactor on a daily basis. They know what they’re talking about.
Do you remember the day you found out about the explosion in Chernobyl? You were six years old. I myself remember a late-night visit at a hospital. The doctors who were friends of my parents gave me and my sisters the Lugol’s solution.
I remember months full of fear, anxiety, constant reminders about it. This single word repeated several times a day.
Chernobyl. Nothing about radiation. Together with my brother we stopped drinking liquid milk overnight. It was replaced in our cupboard by powdered milk. I remember where it stood. My mother did not explain much. From her accounts, I know about our grandmother’s visits. She brought us updates regarding successive bans. My grandmother was generally fearful of all sorts of food-and-bacteria-related threats. She saw germs everywhere. We were told not to go outside (these were some of the messages broadcast on television). Neither were we allowed to eat dairy products in our kindergarten. Every time food was served, I would remind the ladies working in the kitchen that I couldn’t drink milk because of Chernobyl. Initially they accepted this with calm. Then, once almost everyone stopped thinking about the contaminated meadows, where cows would graze, they felt annoyed. They would tell me to carry a sign on my neck. This would last for several months, until they told me that they cancelled the alarm on television and they gave me a full portion. I shared this joyful piece of news with my mother, who came to collect me at the end of the day. I remember how we rushed home, straight to the bath. I remember huge anger and fear on my mother’s face.
She said she would give you a bath because she saw you playing in the kindergarten sandpit.
Back then I didn’t see it that way. Until recently, I was convinced that this bath was because of the milk. Like she thought she could wash off the milk I drank. I even found it funny.
Every household probably perceived the threat to be whatever they could cope with, mentally. My parents actually believed that the Lugol’s solution dealt with the problem completely. Even today they are unsure if it did help or not. Do you think that Poles actually did know about the consequences of the explosion?
Everyone could have their own interpretation of what happened. Over many years I was angry for associating this accident with fear but, over time, it dawned on me that the way adults absorbed and dealt with the Chernobyl catastrophe was characteristic of the era.
You mean that the knowledge of what really happened was not readily accessible, within your immediate reach?
I have something broader in mind, the system itself. People from Ukraine functioned in a system which was even more distorted than ours in the 1980s. It would seem that educated engineers, involved in the maintenance of this power plant, should know how a reactor is built, what threats are associated with this source of energy. But these engineers would burst out laughing when their concerned wives brought home from their neighbours the information about the explosion. They’d been told they worked on trouble-free facilities, safe enough to be erected in the Red Square. They gave in to the propaganda. Their common sense was put to sleep by assurances from “the top.”
And today, don’t they feel they were exploited, used, deceived by the authorities and the media?
They speak similarly to the way we do in Poland: “Such were the times.” We may find it astonishing that no one was critical, but towards what? There was no point of reference, no available sources of scientific knowledge, no opinion coming from independent experts. What remained was fear, distrust, emotions, panic among those whose intuition told them something was wrong. I suppose I would be part of that category, just like my mother.
Would the truth change anything?
Of course! The world was encircled by a radioactive cloud. Instruments in Poland detected it two days after the explosion, on 28 April, in Mikolajki. On the following day, the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection issued an alert. After that, a policy of disinformation was introduced. The authorities were concerned that such news would impact the attendance during May 1 celebrations. That is the difference between the Fukushima explosion and the one in Chernobyl. The Japanese instantly informed the world about the threat, released information about radiation levels and updated this information every day. If the Soviet Union had not blocked the flow of information, maybe there would have been fewer people affected.
The first information about the victims of the catastrophe reached me with images of a deformed baby or two-headed calf. My grandfather, a simple peasant, pointed out that it wasn’t proof of radiation because similar anomalies had happened before.
Even today, opinions are split. Some of the ecological organisations keep trying to prove that after the explosion the number of cases of thyroid cancer and babies born with genetic defects went up. The term “a child of Chernobyl” was in widespread use, with an implied meaning of “with some kind of disability.” In Belarus, a child care centre was set up, where “contaminated” children were supposed to be admitted, because there were so many of them. Officially, however, it is said there were 134 victims.
The use of the Lugol’s solution was prescribed because it was widely known that a large dose of iodine protects the thyroid from absorbing the radioactive isotope. According to experts, from today’s perspective, prescribing this solution was not necessary. I heard that salt with iodine had a more significant impact on thyroid-related illnesses among Poles. In the villages close to the zone, we met mothers who were absolutely sure their children were getting sick because of radiation.
Whenever I visit those villages next to Chernobyl, I hear stories confirming that people begin to suffer from thyroid-related illnesses when they have specific benefits coming out of that. If children can be sent on a camp trip to Poland or Western Europe, then almost every child has an aching throat or headaches. It’s the same with adults. When it was announced that healthy people can come back to work and get new apartments, almost everyone recovered from their ailments.
Which is why, even though many people do have scars on their thyroid, it’s hard to estimate the real number of casualties or the affected. The data on health complications remains unreliable even today. From my perspective, it’s more of a sociological catastrophe than an environmental one.
Based on the accounts coming from the wives of the so-called liquidators, i.e. people called upon to deal with the crisis, one could conclude that their husbands died not because of radiation but because of alcohol abuse. The entire nation believed that vodka reduces radiation.
They looked for a pretext. They needed vodka as medicine, not for the Chernobyl catastrophe but for their personal tragedy. The world they lived in changed beyond recognition. I’m thinking about the villages surrounding the zone. Every man there had found employment in the power plant, a kolkhoz or other facilities. Suddenly, they lost it all and they were sealed off from the rest of the world with a fence. A line was drawn to denote the areas where survival was not possible and where it was possible. One could not describe the whole of Ukraine or Belarus as affected. The borderline had to be put somewhere. There was no use for them. They got a pension – a poor one, yes, but they wouldn’t give one to a healthy person, would they? And women somehow managed, because after meltdown they did what they always did. They gave birth to children, cooked, washed and talked to one another. Maybe this is why there are more women there. Now, no one pays them a visit – there’s no reason to, they live by a dead-end road. Their children leave homes in search of a better future. Older generations stay back in a sense of hopelessness, getting scraps from social welfare benefits, unlike those who were evacuated from the zone. They received significant damages and new apartments.
Are you thinking about those for whom Slavutych – the new city in the middle of the forest – was built?
Slavutych was supposed to provide all of the necessary comforts for power plant employees, those evacuated from Pripyat, but also to the newly arrived. The youngest city in Europe was built by eight republics of the Soviet Union, with all of its districts given a distinct architecture style. Even a villa district was established, for higher-ranking employees. Swimming pools and an outpost of the University of Kiev were set up. The sentence that follows was the motto of the builders of Slavutych: “From the ashes of the old we will build a new world.”
Are people happy there? You’ve met them, haven’t you?
I stayed with the people who make extra money by sharing their apartments with tourists. When I photographed the wedding of their friends, I met many young people. I would come back for the second, third, fourth time, and there would be fewer and fewer of them. They left because they had no prospects there.
The power plant is the breadwinner for the inhabitants of this city, which is why the rhythm of their lives is adjusted to working at Chernobyl. Mostly men are given employment. Women, if they find employment, usually run canteens and the workers’ hotel. The power plant has laid a special rail track, going through Belarus, which brings the power plant staff for work in three shifts. You see people on the streets only during the hours when the train arrives and departs. For the rest of the day, Slavutych is deserted. Instead of the clock, there is a Geiger counter on the railway station, showing the current level of radiation. Social life takes place inside the wagons. Commuters take the same seats every day, they play cards and talk. Their social activity is confined to this single hour.
Maybe their work is their life? Do they like it?
Every piece of news about successive accomplished stages of the cleanup in the power plant is a big cause of concern for them. It means some of them will no longer be required. They don’t want to leave but lack of wages forces them to. Today’s Slavutych is getting deserted before your very eyes. It will most likely become yet another “city of ghosts” – the last victim of Chernobyl. I saw the power plant thanks to Zhanna. I was introduced to her by Pawel Mielczarek, the organizer of the trips to the zone. Zhanna studied in Poland. We agreed she would teach me some Russian and I would tell her about photography in exchange. It turned out that she is the daughter of one of the directors of the power plant, and she had never visited her father’s workplace. I waited for her to have a chance to visit her hometown and I went to Ukraine on the same date. Her father proudly showed her around his kingdom. Managers introduced their divisions. They talked about their jobs with commitment and passion.
Do those who worked in the power plant thirty years ago feel like heroes?
I don’t think so. There is a deceased liquidators cult there. Women mourn their husbands, setting up memorial altars in their households, but I sense more of a burden than heroism among those who actually experienced the tragedy.
What were you looking for in the abandoned and devastated Pripyat?
I would visit the city over a period of eight years and watch with interest how the compositions made of props would change. I saw the “walking” piles of gas masks and dolls, put in place by “nuclear tourists,” even though this might be a bit too general of a name for people who come to explore this place. They come there in search of adventure – in military boots and torches on their foreheads. They go to uninhabited buildings and are overjoyed when they “do” the roof of some kind of high-rise building or a hospital basement. In Pripyat they see the kind of architecture that we are all too familiar with: blocks of flats, schools like a thousand Polish schools built to celebrate one thousand years of the Polish state. When I entered, it felt like going back to my elementary school, I knew how to go from my classroom to the gym. It felt like home.
So what’s the adventure?
It’s the awareness that you are in a place that has been crossed out from the map of the world, at the same time it has a very important place in it. No one should be there. You watch as the traces of normal, very recent life wear off.
There’s adrenaline to it, the taste of risk, some mystery. You do know that a horror film was made, entitled Chernobyl Diaries. The plot takes you to Pripyat. A group of Americans on an extreme exploration trip decides to go to the “ghost city.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Those people feel that among those abandoned walls and items left behind, they discover something shocking. I’m surprised I haven’t heard about any accidents involving those explorers. The architecture itself is more of a threat than radiation. In Poland, it was announced that the durability of large-panel blocks is questionable. The government wants to implement an inspection programme for blocks of flats built of panels. They say prices of apartments in blocks of flats will fall. The same techniques were used in the zone, however, there has been no maintenance activity on those buildings within the zone for the last thirty years. Many of them stand there, without roofing, under rough weather conditions. They can collapse any minute, which is why guides are important.
I still don’t understand why you went there.
I was really impressed by the natural environment. It’s easy to come across wild animals in the zone. I saw a herd of horses, a family of wild boars, which completely ignored our presence. I was even more impressed by the greenery springing through concrete or a playground swallowed by the thicket of growing plants. This is something that the visitors could not have influenced.
Nobody controls nature within the zone. Some people think that the overgrown plants and the animals are the post-radiation mutants. What actually happened is that they were left alone by the people.
Here, nature wins over civilisation. I find more of the untouched “human” traces in the countryside. Down there, wooden furniture was not stolen for scrap. Curtains are still hanging in the windows, pictures on the walls. Tourists who come to the zone for two days do not feel like spending three hours on a bus for the sake of visiting two empty cottages. For me, it’s there that the story of the people starts.
How about those people who were evacuated from Pripyat or Chernobyl, was it any easier for them?
At least they were not transferred to a different world. The only thing that changed was their geography. If they had worked in the power plant, they could choose any power plant in Russia. The conditions they were offered were either the same or better. I heard more stories about the people from the countryside. Anyway, their attachment to where they lived in the 16-year-old Pripyat was different from farmers living on their farmlands for generations. The countryside was their home and they never stopped missing it. People in the city could handle it.
They didn’t miss anything?
They still do. They keep saying it was “oczien komfortnyj gorod” [Eng. very comfortable city]. They could not go back to their homes on a permanent basis because after the explosion Pripyat came within the strict 10-km diameter. Several days after the evacuation they were allowed to go back and collect the most important items. They took what they wanted on the lorries provided by the military. They were given access to dosimeter measurements and transport.
And now, why do they come back? You accompany them on those trips.
They have a huge sentiment for this place. This is where they spent the best years of their youth. This is where their children were born. I still have this image of Siergiej Akulinin, our guide in the zone, engraved in my memory. He used to work in the power plant. He was physically in the plant during the explosion. He saw me taking photographs of the people who were moved by the experience of visiting their homes in the countryside. On the way to his apartment in Pripyat he warned me that he was not a sentimental type and he would show me around without emotions. We entered a dilapidated interior, just like hundreds of others I saw. He goes first. There are some remnants of a wall unit, some scraped off wallpaper, nothing that can give a place the character of a home. Siergiej points his first steps towards the open windows and closes them by pressing the frame, meticulously, despite the fact that there were no window panes in it. It was a very powerful gesture, saying more about his longing for home than any number of tears would have told me.
Do many people behave as if those were still their homes?
It’s a different story if you enter a room belonging to someone who has gone missing or is deceased, where everything is left in its place with considerable attention and care, untouched over the years. A room like that tells you everything – you can sense the presence of that person. Inside the zone I was in apartments which were deliberately devastated and emptied of equipment and furnishings, so that no one decided to live there after the catastrophe. Almost all of them were devastated to the same extent. They have nothing familiar, nothing important for the family who once lived there. When I visited their homes with the displaced, they found the quiet little traces of their lives -- lines scratched on a doorframe, used to measure how tall their kids were growing, traces of pictures, scraps of photos. In my presence, they would furnish those dead apartment spaces with their living memories.
You moved around with a guide.
Without a guide I would not be able to even enter the zone. To get there, you have to have the special permit, based on a detailed description of your visit programme, the places you want to visit. I was not interested in the area of the power plant or the dampsite of radioactive waste so it was comparatively easy for me to enter the zone. You are not allowed to stray from your programme because the local police stop the cars and check if those who pass have met the formal requirements. The guides are emissaries of one of the agencies who apply for tourist or media permits. Some people repeat the same stories over and over again, responding with reluctance to questions of a private nature. Do you remember the woman from the information centre at the power plant in Chernobyl? When asked about whether she was afraid to work there, she would respond with: “Eta priwatnij wapros” [Eng. It’s a personal question]. Fortunately, during a private trip, guides often say more.
Do you remember what your intentions were when you first came to the zone?
Despite my mother’s concerns, I don’t want to say that I did it to spite anyone. I grew up with fear on my back against something I didn’t see. I felt that the trip to this place would free me from something intimidating. I didn’t want my mother to find out about this trip before I came back from it.
You joined Antonin Kratochvil from VII, who held his workshops there.
Antonin was my mentor. He let me go with him and help. He understood this place. He was there earlier as a reporter. I went there having mostly seen photographs without people in them – with images of deserted blocks of flats and a funfair.
Some people still associate Chernobyl with such things only.
My fellow photographers, who participated in the so-called press tours took very similar photos of schools, benches, gas masks, rubble. I didn’t believe I would see and take photos of anything new. The first series of photographs was purely impressionistic – I was coming to grips with fear, reconciling with it. I had a formal concept for that series. It was in fact the presence of other people that helped me tackle my sense of fear, more than spending the time in the zone. I was surprised that I had not come across a reportage about those who live close to the zone’s border and I understood that I didn’t need a conceptual filter to address this topic.
And then you’d come back only for the people, right?
First of all, I liked the fact that I can come back and no one would ban me from doing it. My mother did not panic, did not try to persuade me against it. I could feel that I’m fully independent about my own decision-making process, as well as the photographs I take.
The inhabitants of the villages you visited were keen to talk to you from the very beginning?
Initially, they were rather distrustful, careful. It’s typical for this part of Europe. We also have it, but perhaps not to such a degree. It sometimes happened that we would enter a village on a dead-end road so it was difficult to pretend we were only passing by and a policeman turned up instantly to take stock of our intentions.
You did, however, take photos of their everyday lives, the christenings, weddings, funerals. How did you know who to go to?
There is one photo in which you can see a woman with a telephone against her ear and the legs of a dead person. How I came across this situation was an important lesson for me. Every morning I would go to a village called Stracholesie to have a cup of coffee. In front of the local shop there would always be several men standing, drinking alcohol. One of them saw my camera and asked me why I wasn’t taking any photos. I told him I came there to have a cup of coffee. He came closer and told me about the tourists who jump off the buses, with cameras in their hands, to take photos and leave without a word. He told me that in such instances they feel like animals in a zoo, or inhabitants of a conservation park who should have gone extinct long ago. He introduced himself as Aleksey, an undertaker. He invited me to a funeral on the following day. And so I walked though the village with the funeral procession. During the reception Aleksey picked up the phone and found out that Ulyana Prokopovna died. It was sad news because I wanted to meet her – she was the oldest inhabitant of that village. I asked if we would go to her house. He didn’t feel like going because they just brought vodka to the table but I managed to persuade him. As we entered the cottage, a simple coffin, nailed together from raw planks, was being brought into the cottage. The deceased was laid on the floor and her daughter-in-law, Nyna, was informing the family about the funeral. I would never have planned this. It taught me to be alert, but also open, and accept what life brings.
When you took me on our honeymoon trip to Chernobyl zone, I met some good people there, with huge hearts. They moved me with how they accepted us, how they shared whatever they had with us, and they had little. One of the widows gave me an embroidered table runner. She had two. One on the table, the other one to change.
You know, every time I come back to them they ask about you. They remember your name.
And do they remember the time when during their daughter Alinka’s christening reception I lost consciousness, drinking to her health?
They remember that you only collapsed from drinking after one of the locals did before you.
A peculiar party. Women danced in pairs in the street. It was completely natural for them, as if they did it for years. How old is Alinka today?
They say she is. And do you remember the family with the mandolin? They sat against a tapestry with a tiger. They put everything they had on the table. We were accompanied by her daughter, who had microcephaly, a birth defect that causes a baby’s head to be smaller than expected. A year later, when I wanted to pay them a visit, I found out that all of them were dead. I don’t know how they passed. I found the cottage empty, with a padlock hanging on the door. On another occasion, as I was paying a visit to Lidia Blazhko, an elderly woman I had met earlier, living inside the zone, it turned out she was just about to move out. She was sitting in a dark chamber with her bags packed. She had a dead look in hear eyes – she was almost crying. As if she was bidding her farewells to this world. Earlier, her husband passed away. Her son simply said he was taking her away from there. I saw huge despair in her.
She had no one there. Not even a dog or a cat.
But she had space and silence. The kind of silence I myself sometimes miss. I heard it when I moved around the zone without the group.
There is quite a lot of Slavic nostalgia to it, the longing for something non-material. People in the exclusion zone were left on a piece of land, with one tree on it, and they said it was a beautiful place for them. When I was there, I felt most astounded by those who lived in solitude, even though they knew that at the other end of the village there was someone else living.
Just like the inhabitant of a village called Illintsy, Fedir Fedorovicz, and his deaf neighbor. They pass by each other without contact, as though in anger. In another village, there are three women who don’t like one another. One keeps complaining about the other, as if they had reasons to compete. They could have been the closest of people towards one another. The only visits they ever get are occasionally from humanitarian aid or a travelling shop.
They stayed behind because to them this life was much better than any other.
They miss the old times but they are still in their own place. I heard that the displaced persons from the countryside hanged themselves in their apartments in Kiev. They got some money to start with, the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars. They were given priority status for purchasing all furnishings, full benefits, but they were unable to build happiness on such foundations. They missed their cottages, hens and a piece of land. Without entrepreneurship or a profession, which creates job opportunities for you in a city, what are you supposed to do with yourself? You lose a sense of life and you begin to drink.
Do the displaced people often visit their homes?
It was only after several trips that I found out there is a day in a year, mostly after their Easter time, when the original inhabitants get a permit to cross the border of the zone and visit the graves of their close ones. People from many -- often very distant -- places meet in an agreed venue, get on a bus or car, go to a cemetery, tidy up their graves, pray, and then visit their old houses. These people are not like the ones who stayed back in the zone. They speak differently, look differently, have different jobs, are more “contemporary.” They showed me around the ruins they keep calling their home. They described the local thickets as their gardens. They pictured those gardens in such vivid terms that I almost smelled the scent of apples in their orchards. I saw one man dig out a bush from the ground belonging to his family, in order to plant it on his father’s grave. The other one showed me a school, where he was a director. He entered a classroom and took off his hat. I saw how his energy left him, how helpless he felt. This was the most moving trip form me.
You know what surprises me most? Even in songs about the breakdown in Chernobyl that I heard in the countryside, no one gets blamed about what happened. You will not hear about the human error. They sing about the red glow, about the fire, about the dead river. As if the catastrophe was something bestowed by providence, as part of an inevitable course of nature. It came, it destroyed, it took, it left.
In one of her works, entitled Chernobyl Prayer, Svetlána Alexiévich observed that what those people had gone through can be described with the same words one uses to describe war: explosion, fire, evacuation, the military, damage, casualties, monuments. If we look into the consequences on a psychological level, we can refer to the same post-traumatic stress that was experienced during the post-war trauma.
When I picture the helpless, scared people who are supposed to leave their households and villages behind in a matter of a few hours – people who can’t take much with them, whose livestock is taken to a slaughterhouse in Kiev – it strikes me how much pain and despair must have been part of it. I’m not surprised when I hear them say it was back then that they lost their lives.
At the same time, they still feel threatened. They are close to radiation. They know it’s somehow harmful for them. And they are feeling helpless in all that. It doesn’t really matter if they are aware of what really happened. We meet in a state of longing for what they have lost, irrevocably. Their home.
What about you? Why do you keep coming back?
Because it is a beautiful place.
* On 26 April 1986, following a breakdown, an explosion took place in the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant. Immediately after the catastrophe, Ukrainian authorities designated a two-level exclusion zone, from which over 100 000 people were evacuated. The first zone, with the 30km radius, occupies the northern areas of the Kiev and Zhytomyr oblasts, all the way to the Belarus border. Only a few of the relocated inhabitants decided to return later. Inside this first zone, another “higher-risk zone” was established, with a 10km radius, where no one is allowed to settle.