News / Europe

Coming Home to Chernobyl’s Desolation Zone

A view of the abandoned village of Redkovka, April 2011
A view of the abandoned village of Redkovka, April 2011

Ira Khvostyk is home.

In the small Ukrainian village of Redkovka, her 92-year-old grandfather lives alone in his wooden farmhouse that was once home to three generations. For Khvostyk, the village, a three-hour bumpy drive from the capital, Kyiv, was a safe place where the world drifted by harmlessly until the Chernobyl nuclear accident happened.

"This was considered one of the central villages," she says pointing to a stretch of now abandoned homes. "It was home for me.  Now I don’t even recognize it."

Khvostyk was 14 years old when the then world’s worst nuclear power plant explosion happened on April 26, 1986, in Chernobyl, just 35 kilometers from Redkovka. She remembers girls at school being asked to cover their heads and to stay at home.  The school is closed now, just like most of the village.



At the time, Khvostyk, who is now 38 and works as a waitress in Kyiv, did not understand what was happening, or how much her life would change. 

"I can't say I was scared, but my parents were.  They understood what had happened," she says.

The explosion contaminated tens of thousands of square miles in northern Ukraine, southern Belarus and Russia’s Bryansk region.  No one can be sure of the ultimate impact, but the damage done 25 years ago continues to take its toll.

Redkovka clearly suffered from high radiation levels, but villagers say it took dozens of complains to the local government and five years before an official measurement of the radiation dose was recorded.

"This only happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union," says Anatoli Kovalenko.  He grew up in Redkovka and now maintains what is left of the village. "Of course, the government knew the village was contaminated, but they wanted to underplay the entire event.  So they just ignored it."

For years, Soviet authorities withheld much information about Chernobyl - both from their own people and from the rest of the world.  The Ukrainian government eventually classified Redkovka as a zone too dangerous for anyone to live in.  Over the next two years, most of the villagers - about 1,000 people - abandoned their homes and resettled in a new town about an hour away. 

Not far from Khvostyk’s former home, Lida and Mikhail Masanovitz, now both in their 70s, live with eight cats, 10 geese, a cow and two pigs in a rambling wooden house.  They were both born in Redkovka, and never considered moving out after Chernobyl.

"We had just finished spring harvest that day.  Then I heard about the accident," Lida Masanovitz says as she wipes tears off her deeply wrinkled face.  

"I understood what had happened," she says. "I understood what Chernobyl would mean for us."

Despite the radiation risk, the Masanovitz family stayed.  Lida maintains the local church - a piece of the village that has been restored since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Mikhail spends most of his day getting drunk on cheap vodka.  It used to be a pastime with friends, but he’s now alone.  The rest of the village is abandoned -- Redkovka is no longer on the map.

Ukrainian authorities say the 12 remaining villagers are here illegally.

"They had a choice, but they didn't want to leave," says Vladimir Udovichenko, mayor of Slavutich, a town built in the 1980s to house workers displaced by the accident at Chernobyl, about 20 minutes away.  "It is misery in this village, but they want to finish their life in there."

Redkovka is one of scores of contaminated villages in Ukraine.  Some are being revived 25 years after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor explosion.  Some people say the radiation threat is overblown, and others feel that people claiming radiation-related diseases are seeking a government handout.

In all, more than 2.32 million people, including 452,000 children, have been hospitalized in Ukraine for illnesses blamed on the Chernobyl, according to the Health Ministry in Kyiv, which adds that those figures are only accurate through 2004.

Although some villages are getting new residents, Mayor Udovichenko says the end is in sight for Slavutich, due to its proximity to the Chernobyl reactor site.  "When the villagers die," he says, "the village will no longer exist."

Watch a related video report by Zulima Palacio

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnelsi
X
July 24, 2014 4:42 AM
The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video Israel Targets Gaza Supply Tunnels

The Israeli military has launched a ground operation in Gaza to destroy the myriad tunnels that may have been used to smuggle weapons to Hamas. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports that could mean more hardship for the people of Gaza, who obtain some of their essential supplies through these underground passages
Video

Video MH17's 'Black Boxes' Could Reveal Crash Details

The government of Malaysia now has custody of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was hit by a missile over Ukraine before crashing last week. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports, the so-called black boxes may hold information about the final minutes of the flight.
Video

Video Living in the Shadows Panel Discussion

Following a screening of the new VOA documentary, "AIDS - Living in the Shadows," at the World AIDS conference in Melbourne, a panel discussed the film and how to combat the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.

AppleAndroid