Displaced from The villagers of Novi Ladyzhychi shall never forget April 26th of 1986, when their live’s stories twinned forever with the Reactor number 4 of the Nuclear Plant in Chernobyl. Seventy kilometers from the busy capital of Ukraine, Kiev, there is a small village called Novi Ladyzhychi. Novi stands for new, as it is only 23 years old— exactly the same age as the Chernobyl disaster. This village in the North of Ukraine was built in a record time of two months following the incident, and it has since become an asylum and a new home for those who had to escape the lethal radioactive emissions and leave their homes in the old Ladyzhychi. On April 26, 1986 at 01:23 the reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant in Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic exploded. The explosion was followed by several others, resulting into a fire. Although there was no official information from the government, the very next day people who knew something was not right. Some of the Novi Ladyzhychi people worked on the plant informed their fellow villagers about the explosion. However, no one was aware of the real danger that the incident constituted. In the next few days, life went at its normal pace, but while working in the field people started seeing huge mushroom shaped plumes rising from the reactor. It became very clear that the situation was out of control. To avoid the spread of the information that could raise serious concerns of the Soviet nuclear power industry, risking lives of thousands of people, the USSR government decided to cut off the Chernobyl area from all types of communication. “Radio, television, telephone—nothing worked. The government had shut off everything to prevent people from receiving and sharing the information,”—recalls Valya, now 66, whose native village Ladyzhychi was situated just 15 kilometers away from the town of Chernobyl. People of Chernobyl did have very much foreign media attention in the past. Although the disaster undoubtedly is something the world should know about, it is not uncommon for the journalists to be sensationalizing the gloom when they report about life in developing countries. Everyone wants sensations. This, combined with government’s neglecting attitude and poor quality of social care, has made the people of Chernobyl somewhat defensive. “We’ve got nothing to tell. You’ll make us all look drunks in your newspapers.” It does take some effort to become trusted— but once you start scratching and get under the surface you’ll have a chance to hear some of the most amazing tragic stories.
Right: A villager passes a cross near Novi Ladyzhychi church while walking across one of the town’s narrow trails.
m Chernobyl Pictures by Bernat Camps Parera text by Natalia Fedorova and Bernat Camps Parera
Top: Valya in her living room. Left: Fedya, Valyaâ€™s grandson and his future wife Lena. Right: A portrait of Nadia when she was young. 42
Valya’s story is one of them. It begins even before she was born. In 1940 both of her future parents were captured by German Nazis and sent to Schwandorf, Germany. Hitler’s “new order of ethnographical relations” included the ethnic cleansings of Slavic people, who were viewed as Untermenschen. Valya’s mother was put in a concentration camp, while her future father became a Fremdarbeiter (a Nazi expression used to describe foreign slave labour) working for a local family. Valya was born in 1943 in the concentration camp’s birthing home. There was just one way out from there—into a cremation grid, but Valya and her mother were very lucky to escape. Valya’s father digged a hole under the camp’s fence, rescuing his wife and a newly born daughter. After the escape, the family lived with the father’s masters for whom Valya’s mother also started working. After the end of the Third Reich in 1945 the family returned to their native village Ladyzhychi in Ukraine. The World War II had exhausted the available resources to the extent where it was not possible for them to build a normal house, and the family lived in a dugout for several years. By 1959, although still far from being rich, they managed to build a house. Unfortunately, this was the time when the government started the construction of the hydroelectric dam in Ladyzhychi, which meant creating a water reservoir in the lowland where the house stood. The family had to move to a new location. And it was not the last time. The fourth reactor of Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant exploded on April 26th, 1986. It was the worst nuclear disaster Europe has known. When evacuation started on May 4 (it was Easter day) the government insisted it was only temporary. People were only allowed to take the most necessary belongings. The domestic animals were taken away and slaughtered to avoid the consumption of contaminated meat. The people of Novi Ladyzhychi were evacuated to Blystavytsia, a village close by but out of the radioactive contamination zone.
People of Blystavytsia were asked by the authorities to give temporary shelter to the Ladyzhychi villagers. Government also arranged sending them to a resort in the Carpathian mountains and kept saying the evacuation was temporary. It was just taking longer, they said. By September it became clear the evacuation was no temporary measure. When the government offered a choice of locations for a new village, the Ladyzhychi people chose the location closest to the exclusion zone. Despite a higher risk, they wanted to live closer to their old village, as hopes of coming back were still not gone. Novi Ladyzhychi, a new village of 180 houses, was built in only two months. The speed of the construction can be explained by the quality of the houses. The interior of the walls was built of plywood instead of concrete and in very poor quality. Valya says, that during cold winters the snow comes inside of the house through cut outs and because of plywood the houses are apt to take fire. After the Chernobyl explosion, Valya was working as a technician in the road construction. The roads to Chernobyl needed renovation as they were used-up by the numerous fire fighting vehicles and concrete-mixing machines that built the tomb-chest for the reactor. This was when she got asthma. From dust and from radiation, she says. Nastya, one of Valya’s friends, also complains that her legs have become weak—the disease many of the villagers have. They believe it’s the result of radiation. “What is radiation? You can’t see it. But you’ll feel it with your legs after a dozen years.” The old village Ladyzhychi is now a part of exclusion zone, as it was only 15 kilometers away from the plant and has a high level of radioactive contamination. However, those villagers, who wished to come back, were allowed to do so three years after the disaster says Halyna, the neighbor of Valya’s. Mostly older people returned. Those, who had previously lived in the zone, were issued passes to visit their relatives and take care of their ancestors’ graves. Valya
recalls, that they went there very often. Every weekend, sometimes once a month. Valya’s future daughter-in-law, Lena, who is now 25, remembers her summer “vacations” to the zone when she was a child: “We often went to see our grandparents and spent the summer swimming in rivers and picking berries and mushrooms in the forests.” The richness of the Chernobyl area is noted by all people who lived there. They used to go to the exclusion zone to pick up berries and mushrooms, hunting and fishing. When asked, if it was dangerous, they just shrug their shoulders and say it might well be cleaner there than in most modern cities. Although this is forbidden, they sometimes smuggle the fruit, fish and berries they get in the zone to sell them in Kiev unregulated markets. One of the villagers, Nadya, speaks nostalgically about old days in Ladyzhychi: “We didn’t buy anything—she says,— we had all we needed. We had fish, mushrooms, berries. We’d only buy sugar and we had everything else in plenty from the forest and from our field.” Traditionally, the week after Easter is the commemoration week in Ukraine, when many Orthodox Christians visit the graves of their ancestors. On these days the people of Novi Ladyzhychi go to the exclusion zone by transportation that is specially organized by local authorities. “There used to be eleven buses going into the zone—Valya says,-- This year it was only two buses.” A lot of old people have died by now, she says, and the young ones move out, to the towns and cities where they have better chances of finding a job. The Ukrainian law about the status and protection of those affected by Chernobyl explosion defines them as “The participants of the liquidation of the Chernobyl catastrophe effects and those
who suffered because of Chernobyl catastrophe—citizens, including children that suffered from the influence of radiation exposure as a result of the Chernobyl catastrophe”. Valya belongs to both categories and the compensation she receives from the government amounts to 444 UAH (around 44 Euros) per month. Together with the retirement pension, she receives the total of 1200 UAH (120 Euros) from the government monthly. Valya says this is barely enough to get through, as only her asthma inhaler costs 51 Euros and needs to be purchased every month. Ivan, Valya’s neighbour, also receives a pension from the government, as he is disabled and can’t work. He says he helps his mother around the house and in the garden. Ivan likes to watch television —especially thrillers, soap operas and TV shows. At the moment Valya lives alone in her house in Novi Ladyzhychi. Her husband has died 9 years ago. She still doesn’t feel like home in the new village and constantly thinks of the Ladyzhychi, which is still the only real motherland for her. Now that she is retired, Valya spends her time embroidering. “My soul rests when I embroider,”—she says.
Top: Nastya, sitting on the bench in the garden. Right: Ivan standing in front of the mirror in his kitchen. Bottom: A villager leaving Novy Ladyzhychi. 44