Revisiting Chernobyl: The Bitter and the Sweet - Part 2

Published Date: 31 March 2006

The new and modern city of Slavutich,  some 50 km from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was built after the accident in a nationwide  showcase  effort to demonstrate that the accident was being dealt with successfully. Alexej and Tatjana Rjabushkin with their daughters Nastja and Masha, pose in front of Tatnjana's parents house in Slavutich. Masha, the youngest was born in Slavutich. Alexej, a manager at the Chernobyl power plant is hopeful of his future and thinks there is enough to do for another 10 to 15 years. Like children everywhere, the children of Slavutich cannot resist cooling off on a hot Sunday in a fountain in the centre of the town. Little lives thrive in the town of Narodichi, which is some 80 kilometers from the Chernobyl plant. At the time of the Chernobyl accident, Narodichi stood in the path of the prevailing winds blowing to the west and was contaminated. Today, more than 100 children are enrolled in this Narodichi kindergarten. The people of the Narodichi were advised to leave because of contamination --- some moved away, some stayed, others moved back. Criteria for re-location have been changed more than once, causing confusion. Today, there is a waiting list of about 40 children for a place in this kindergarten. Like Narodichi, the village of Jelno, some 300 km away from Chernobyl, was affected by contamination due to weather conditions at the time of the accident. However, unlike the newer settlement of Slavutich, Jelno is a town where time has stood still. Jelno resident Nadjezda Koljaditsch is a mother of six. The village has some 270 households and three Christian denominations. Irina Koljaditsch, the eldest of the six Koljadisch family, is spending school holidays on a playground in front of their house. There is nowhere else to go except to the forests and nearby pond. Jelno farmers have gone back to the land after IAEA supported remedial measures rendered their fields safe for cultivating. Social upheaval, however, has left farmers with only primitive tools of the trade.
			A Jelno dweller, in a horse-driven carriage, makes his way home from the fields – which are located quite a distance outside the village.  In spite of vagaries of fate, the locals manage to maintain good humor. Efforts continue to revitalize the land around Chernobyl. Water drainage trenches like this one removes excess water from the peaty soil as a first step. The next step is to diminish the content of radionuclides in the soil by ploughing and introducing mineral fertilizers. Caesium and potassium are chemical twins. Hungry for minerals, a plant will pull out caesium from the contaminated soil but if potassium is in good supply the plant prefers mineral fertilizer. Blueberries grow in the peaty soils around Jelno and collecting blueberries is one of the few occupations that still provide some cash. Here a local woman explains that her blueberries will be sold to a middleman at about two dollars per kilo and will be sold again at higher prices in Eastern and Western Europe for pharmaceutical purposes. In the era of collective farming, Jelno’s Mayor, Danilo  Vezhitschanin (pictured here with his daughter Vita), was a successful leader of two teams of some 300 workers and had harvester machines and tractors. Now, one of Danilo’s   wishes is  that the IAEA will help clean another field closer to the village. This nearly saintly babushka from the Ukrainian countryside patiently waited on the side of the road for any transport to take her to the nearest bus stop. She said she was returning from her husband’s funeral adding that she had already lost her two sons. The causes of death were unknown but the standard of living does not lead to long life. The so called 'samosjoly', or 'self-settlers' is the  generic  name for people  who, in spite of the official ban,  returned to their  homes inside the 30 km  exclusion zone around the Chernobyl plant. Baba Nastja and Ded Nikolaj are just two of about 500 'samosjoly', who decided to return and stay. When Baba Nastja and Ded Nikolaj sit down to eat, they have on their dinner table mostly what they have grown on their plot of land near their  house. In August 2005 Baba Nastja and Ded Nikolaj celebrated 60 years of marriage. According to Nastja, the secret of their happy union is that she managed to keep Nikolaj away from drinking vodka. Thousands of abandoned houses in the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus provide a backdrop to the greatest nuclear disaster in history. Yet, despite this ominous setting, life goes on. © IAEA