Chernobyl, 30 Years Later: Some Ukrainians Risk Radiation to Avoid Russian Invasion

“At least nobody is shooting here, and I can freely speak the Ukrainian language,” Doctor Oleksandr Sklyarov tells the Kiev Post. Thirty years later, the radioactive outskirts of Chernobyl are seeing a small increase in population as Ukrainians flee Russian invasion and seek cheap rents and natural beauty.

The Post visited the village of Bazar, Ukraine as part of its coverage of the thirtieth anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, a product of Soviet arrogance – the plant’s deputy chief engineer, upon seeing the reactor begin to overheat, ordered staff to increase power levels rather than let it cool down – and disregard for the lives of those living in the affected zone (it took 36 hours for Soviet authorities to decide to make people evacuate due to a “minor accident“). At least one eyewitness, the author Svetlana Alexievich, recalls Soviet troops “running around” the area shouting “What do I shoot?” in response to the disaster. “You can’t shoot physics, or at radiation,” she notes.

CHACHERSK, BELARUS - APRIL 04: Elderly women sit next to a traditional house in the village of Pokats on April 4, 2016 near Chachersk, Belarus. Chachersk and Pokats, both located in south-eastern Belarus, are in a zone designated as still contaminated to varying degrees with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, especially caesium-137. Numerous areas nearby are off-limits to visitors and signs on the edges of forests warn of radiation and urge people not to pick berries and mushrooms. While the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Radiation (UNSCEAR) claims that Chernobyl radiation in the region no longer poses a significant health risk, local physicians and researchers say the ongoing threat is still very real and that a dramatically high rate of children are born with weak immune systems and heart rhythm disorders. According to the Belarus government it currently spends 5% of its annual budget dealing with the consequences of Chernobyl and 20% of arable land in Belarus remains too contaminated for use. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Elderly women sit next to a traditional house in the village of Pokats on April 4, 2016 near Chachersk, Belarus. Chachersk and Pokats, both located in south-eastern Belarus, are in a zone designated as still contaminated to varying degrees with radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, especially caesium-137. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

BARTOLOMEYEVKA, BELARUS - APRIL 06: Lyuba Galushka, 70, walks past chopped firewood to the shed behind her house on April 6, 2016 in Bartolomeyevka, Belarus. Lyuba is one of four residents still living in Bartolomeyevka, a former village located in southeastern Belarus that in 1986, following the nuclear meltdown of reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant located approximately 170km to the south, was contaminated with radioactive fallout. Authorities concentrated their initial evacuation efforts on communities closer to Chernobyl, but by the early 1990s determined Bartolomeyevka and other nearby villages were not safe, evacuated the residents, raized nearly all the structures and buried the ruins. Today the site remains an exclusion zone and off-limits to visitors, though Lyuba and the few others were eventually permitted to stay. Hundreds of villages in Belarus met a similar fate in the decades after Chernobyl and today approximately 20% of the country remains contaminated to varying degree with fallout including radioactive caesium, strontium and plutonium. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Lyuba Galushka, 70, walks past chopped firewood to the shed behind her house on April 6, 2016 in Bartolomeyevka, Belarus. Lyuba is one of four residents still living in Bartolomeyevka, a former village located in southeastern Belarus that in 1986, following the nuclear meltdown of reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Maria Urupa sits on a bed in her house in Paroshev village, Chernobyl region on April 8, 2016. Maria Urupa, who is in her early 80s, also calls the exclusion zone home but is less enthusiastic about her living environment. Like most of the "samosely", or self-returners as inhabitants of the exclusion zone are known, she lives in a dilapidated wooden house in spartan conditions. / AFP / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

Maria Urupa sits on a bed in her house in Paroshev village, Chernobyl region on April 8, 2016.
(Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Bazar is a rarity in the Chernobyl area: a village whose population appears to be growing. Mayor Oleksandr Budko tells the newspaper that Bazar’s population has doubled over the past decade, largely due to the cheap rents and beauty of the forest. Rent for a home in Bazar is about $0.50 a month. And, as Sklyarov notes, the area is so remote, the ongoing military occupation in eastern Ukraine has no effect on life in Bazar.

Mayor Bodko cites “poverty and alcoholism” as the major threats to life in Bazar. “I don’t think Chornobyl hurts people as much anymore,” he argues. “Now the war is the No. 1 problem.”

TOPSHOT - Dogs are pictured near a sign of radioactivity set near a crucifix in ghost city of Prypyat near Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 8, 2016. Ukraine is preparing to mark 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear accident whose death toll remains a mystery and which continues to jeopardise the local population's health. More than 200 tonnes of uranium remain inside the reactor that exploded three decades ago at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, raising fears there could be more radioactive leaks if the ageing concrete structure covering the stricken reactor collapses. / AFP / Sergei SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

(Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

A man walks through the "ghost town" of Pripyat near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 22, 2016. April 26, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. / AFP / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

(Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

Employees stand in front of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat on April 22, 2016. April 26, 2016 will mark the 30th anniversary of one of the world' worst nuclear catastrophies. / AFP / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

(Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

ZALISSYA, UKRAINE - APRIL 09: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was created as an Equirectangular Panorama. Import image into a panoramic player to create an interactive 360 degree view.) A car stands among abandoned houses on April 9, 2016 in Zalissya, Ukraine. Zalissya, once a village of several hundred households, stands inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the 1986 meltdown of reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the world's worst civilian nuclear accident that spewed radiaoactive fallout across the globe. Approximately 90 villages inside the zone were evacuated and abandoned due to the accident. The world will soon commemorate the 30th anniversary of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

PRIPYAT, UKRAINE - APRIL 09: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was created as an Equirectangular Panorama. Import image into a panoramic player to create an interactive 360 degree view.) Books lie strewn across the floor in a former classroom in elementary school number three on April 9, 2016 in Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat, built in the 1970s as a model Soviet city to house the workers and families of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, now stands abandoned inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a restricted zone contaminated by radiation from the 1986 meltdown of reactor number four at the nearby Chernobyl plant in the world's worst civilian nuclear accident that spewed radiaoactive fallout across the globe. Authorities evacuated approximately 43,000 people from Pripyat in the days following the disaster and the city, with its high-rise apartment buildings, hospital, shops, schools, restaurants, cultural center and sports facilities, has remained a ghost-town ever since. The world will soon commemorate the 30th anniversary of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl disaster. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Animosity towards Russia, particularly in light of the occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, is growing. Speaking to USA Today, Fedor Alexandrovich, the subject of the award-winning documentary Russian Woodpecker, argues that the Soviet Union issued an order to cause the nuclear meltdown. “If I went to Moscow with my Ukrainian passport and started asking questions about Chernobyl, I’d probably get 20 years in prison,” he suggests, calling the Chernobyl meltdown a “criminal act.” “They could kill me, and that would be OK. Killed is OK. Killed is normal. But 20 years conversing with prison people, that is not for me,” he adds.

“It’s with an everlasting pain in our hearts that we remember those who lost their lives to fight nuclear death,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a speech Tuesday commemorating the anniversary. Survivors left candles and prayed at the national memorial to those affected. Participants in the commemoration sounded sirens during the early morning hours of April 26, when the first explosion occurred in 1986. Poroshenko said his government had no money to keep the Chernobyl site safe, because troops were still needed to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces at bay.

“At a time when we still need immense resources to tackle the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster, when we need funding for social support to fire-fighters and victims, we have to spend almost one-fifth of our budget expenses on defence and security,” he lamented.

A woman mourns at the Chernobyl victims' memorial in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev on April 26, 2016. Ukraine marks 30 years since the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl killed thousands and forced a global rethink about the wisdom of relying on atomic fuel. / AFP / Anatolii Stepanov (Photo credit should read ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP/Getty Images)

(Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images)

People hold candles in front of the monument to Chernobyl victims in Slavutich, some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the accident site, and where many of the power station's personnel used to live, during a memorial ceremony early on April 26, 2016. Ukraine on April 26 marked the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst nuclear accident. / AFP / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

(Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The number of people affected by the disaster is still hotly disputed today. Reuters notes that 31 first-responders died of radiation sickness in the immediate aftermath of the meltdown. About 100,000 were evacuated. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 9,000 people have died of cancer in the years following the disaster, most in Ukraine and neighboring Belarus. The worst estimates put that number at around one million.

“We are constantly trying to show the authorities that in reality this problem is not going anywhere,” Liudmyla Zakrevska, president of Children of Chernobyl, tells USA Today. In Ukraine and Belarus, she says, there are “thousands upon thousands of Chernobyl children who have severely compromised immune systems.”

According to the local publication Ukraina Moloda, authorities believe that radiation in the immediate exclusion zone has dropped by 10,000 times since 1986. They estimate the population of the exclusion zone to be about 158 people, averaging 78 years of age. While it is illegal to live within the exclusion zone, the government has not enforced the rule for older people who would rather face the risk of radiation-triggered cancer than the stress of exile. For others, however, experts have estimated it will take another 3,000 years for the exclusion zone to be deemed fully say. The government has put that figure at 24,000 years, based on the half-lives of the radioactive elements found by the plant.

Those who work in the exclusion zone insist, however, that the natural beauty spawning in the absence of human development makes it a sight to see. “You see, no one is living here anymore but the birds are still singing for us. This area is not dead,” Alexander Bondar, who works in an affected reserve in Belarus, tells USA Today.

A picture taken on April 22, 2106 shows a Soviet Union emblem set up on a street of the "ghost town" of Pripyat near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant on April 22, 2016. April 26, 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. / AFP / GENYA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

 


Comment count on this article reflects comments made on Breitbart.com and Facebook. Visit Breitbart's Facebook Page.