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

Photogallery US Storm Falls Short of Severe Predictions, Yet Affects Millions

NYC mayor says, 'This is nothing like we feared it would be,' yet blizzard warnings, travel bans remain for several East Coast states More

Millions of Displaced Nigerians Struggle with Daily Existence

Government acknowledges over a million people were displaced in 2014 due to fight against Boko Haram insurgency More

Facebook: Internal Error to Blame for Outages

Temporary outage appeared to spill over and temporarily slow or block traffic to other major Internet sites 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.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid