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
Published on Nov 24, 2009