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

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    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.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora