In the middle of the previous century, when space shuttles reached the orbit the prestige of the technological progress was undoubted. Within the period of mass construction of atomic energy plants the main debate issue was the difference between life forms on Mars and our ones.
It’s been 18 years already since the humanity learnt that not every scientific achievement could serve it peacefully. This year the accident, which laid a fundament for our technical decadence, is becoming mature.
We travelled to the south Belarus & north Ukraine to find an answer to the most pressing question of today: is there life… in Chernobyl?
Gomel is the second city in Belarus with half million people living there. It is considered to be quite “clean”. The village Bartolomeevka is in just 15 minutes car ride from the Gomel International airport. And you need a special permission to get there. In fact, a queue to get a permission gathers only once a year. Enthusiastic visitors are journalists, trying to make just another piece of reporting.
When a certain part of substances had already fell out, the wind changed. The radioactive cloud started to move towards Moscow. Kremlin gave a secret order: to bombard the cloud above Chechersk and Vetka communes of Belarus.
Today the number of people living here is ZERO – the last woman in Bartolomeevka died about 5 years ago. They say, from stomach cancer.
After obligatoty de-settlement some of former dwellers went back to their native village to become hostages of radiation. When a state with all its pluses like stores with clean food is situated in 10 km, natural household is the only way to get through. Whilst external irradiation isn’t that dangerous, consuming foodstuffs, grown on the soil with 15-40 Kuri contamination level can become fatal.
The level of irradiation is dosens times higher, than the Belarusian standard is. We put on protective masks – “just in case”. They are supposed to detain the radioactive dust.
Suddenly the experienced journalists are slightly shocked – along a birch-alley there are brand new sacks fastened to the trees; fresh incisions made on the latters.
Since no press was expected that day, there also was no reason to hide the signs of the crime. But now we know, that birch juice “made in Belarus” is not the best option.
Unlike Vetka, the most popular route among Belarusian journalists, the most contaminated Bragin region is somehow missed by them. But without getting there it’s hard to estimate the real scale of the phenomenon: 150 km are crossed in a glance of an eye.
The head of Bragin commune Alexander Yatchanka seems to be the youngest within Belarus. Tells…
SYNCHRON: (Mr Yatchanka tells about his hard life in Bragin…)
Bragin is the most affected commune center of Belarus. Right after the blast even plutonium fell out here; today’s level of contamination is about 20 Ku/km2. According to the existing criteria, this is the area of consistent desettlement; but 40% of the pre-accident population still live in the town.
Strange as it may seem, since the explosion plenty of young families got here. Some of them came from Kazakhstan and Kirgyzia – and obtained a residential permit that way. Their Belarusian counterparts aimed at priviliges and cheap real estate, left by former dwellers.
However, most people living in the contaminated areas do not consider the danger of irradiated foodstuffs, especcially vegetables and milk, prefering the irradiated – but ‘home-made’ products.
(Yatchanka: speaking on mentality and his desire to change it…)
Young head of the most affected commune is not an occasion: the average age of the town-dwellers is 26. No wonder this is one of those few regions of the country where the birth rate exceeds the death rate, if consider today’s demographical catastrophe.
Here it is, the Chernobyl happiness of Belarus.
No word can be found to express the feeling one has when visiting an evacuated village. Sonechny is not a village but a town, with its unbelievable history. To the peaceful ex-settelement that is not marked on the most detailed map we get with the help of Deputy Head of Bragin executive committee.
Soviet extravaganza of 1980s, that came after scary architectural sadomazachism, brings us back to 1986. Luxurious for that time 4-storeyed buildings contained … first two-level flats in the USSR.
A huge trade center & tremendous cinema hall were built here just in a couple of years (a real magic, considering soviet timing). A sport stadium as large as 2000 places was about to open in the beginning of 1987…
Red band was never cut off. Due to understandable reasons it was decided not to put the dead town on the map. But this didn’t help out – the program of consructing class-A towns soon collapsed, as did the Soviet Union.
Now Sonechny is situated within the radioecological reserve Polessky. Admission to paradise – with permissions only.
Journalistic troop, escorted by deputy chair of the commune is entering the empty pocket-city. An abandoned ex-populated area from afar isn’t that scary, you begin to feel thrown off balance when seeing former streets of cities and towns: they have been covered by grass & moss.
We take a glance of flats… Signs of terminal obligatory evacuation are everywhere. Tossed clothes, toys, pages from books… All valuable things were collected by looters long ago. They’ve cleaned the zone better, than any sanitars.
Chernobyl proves its worldwide significance very convincingly. The state border is marked by single “The Ukraine” sign, that is situated by the road. The signs of radioactive danger are the same on both sides of the frontier.
This is the only point where one may cross the Belarusian-Ukrainian boundary without customs control – and absolutely legally. Well, this is allowed exceptionally for those working in Prypiat’ and Chernobyl.
To check the rumours, we hadn’t obtained any official permission to enter the Area. And one more stereotype gets broken: no bribes are taken here. “A 300 $-salary job is a rare animal in the Ukraine” – told us a 23-year-old, who is granting his health for the sake of the state.
Most of the people, working here, do not live in the area. They come once in three days from Kiev or Chernigov.
A curious observation: here, 13 km from the center of explosion, the level of radiation is 17 micro-Roentgen per hour – the same, as in Gomel.
Why is it so? The radioactive cloud raised to the stratosphere, & due to the wind the substances fell out a few km to the north. That’s why Belarus was subjected to the 2/3 of the total fallout.
Chernobyl-town is often associated with the reactor, which is a mistake. It has become kinda mystic place, about which people tell stories. On the map it is marked as a desettled region, though we clearly see curtains and open windows.
Unlike on Belarusian territory, people not only live, but also work here, & work legally. They sign a 1- or 2-year contract and use multiple privileges afterwards.
Contemporary Chernobyl reminds Sweden of the middle of the previous century: there’s work for everyone here. “Decontamination” is still in progress: people clean & wash all the dirt & dust, that holds dangerous isotopes.
An agreement was signed this year to build a second shelter above the reactor. The project worth $700 mln is financed by the ukrainian government & the European Parliament, with the support of the European Commission.
By the way, one of the main points of the agreement is participation of certain european constructing companies. Still, it’s very doubtful that many europeans will willingly risk their lives in this highly unsafe business. More likely, the job of reactor fortification will be done by the ukrainian workers, chaired by European specialists.
The word ‘Chernobyl’ itself is scary for hundreds of millions of people around the world. In fact, the Geiger’s counter shows here the same level of radiation as in fairly clear areas.
The radioactive cloud turned to be both a voyager and a settler. A voyager and a settler with one distant goal: to demonstrate the humanity one more time who is a real master on this planet.