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

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More