Twenty-five years after the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the same misconceptions and rumors about the contaminated site and the evacuees linger on.
A videogame that was released a few years ago was promoted in Japan as "a survival horror game in which you pursue mysteries and monsters running rampant in the area contaminated by the Chernobyl accident."
It became a worldwide success and spawned its own series. A science fiction film released this year in the United States tells the story of how an attempt to utilize strange alien technology at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant went awry and caused the accident.
"There are people who actually believe that like the game, there are monsters around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and that the government has restricted access to keep them from escaping," says Zoia Trafimchick, 45, the head of the Belarusian government's Chernobyl problem publicity center.
In addition to sharing information on the Internet, the center, which strives to spread accurate information about the accident and contamination, began making and distributing a picture book this year.
In short, the story is about how the main character, who is influenced by preconceived notions and rumors encouraging a belief that life in the contaminated area must surely be harsh, finds out upon visiting a town there that living conditions are normal and that people are living quite regular lives.
Some people point out that these kinds of misunderstandings have been caused by the former Soviet Union's initial attempts to hide the facts after the accident occurred in 1986, as well as insufficient information provided to residents after the truth came out.
Sergey Mirny, a 52-year-old writer who lives in Kiev and worked with the cleanup operation in the contaminated area, used his personal experience as a nuclear accident victim and knowledge of radiation to put together and publish the book.
"People who aren't experts spread rumors, and then people who don't trust what the government says believe them," Mirny said. "I think it's important to stay objective and provide these people with accurate knowledge and info and to tell them about my experience."
In all, the nuclear accident forced more than 336,000 people to evacuate or move out of the disaster area around the Chernobyl plant.
According to bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), on top of losing the towns they called home, these people also suffered psychological harm caused by tense relations with the local residents of their new communities.
At the time, Yana Butenko, 47, and her husband Nikolai, 49, were living right next to where the accident occurred in the city of Pripyat with their two daughters, one 2 years old, the other only 10 months. Yana was pregnant with their son.
Their time as evacuees began the day after the accident. The family moved to a town about 300 kilometers west of Kiev, Ukraine's capital, where Yana's relatives live.
"All Pripyat people out first," they were told when their bus arrived. The evacuees stripped down inside a military tent, where they received a thorough full-body check with dosimeters. Officials confiscated their clothing and shoes, providing them with ill-fitting replacements to change into.
Yana was strongly urged to drink alcohol despite being pregnant. At the time it was believed that drinking alcoholic beverages such as red wine would flush radioactive substances out of the body.
The family was given a room in an apartment. Another family was placed in each of the other two rooms, making for 11 people squeezed into one dwelling. The locals spoke in hushed tones behind the evacuees' backs when they went shopping. Scornful people they met who were unaware of their situation said things like, "That apartment was supposed to go to us."
Nikolai's father began to suffer from depression, and his behavior became eccentric. After a meal he would suddenly throw his plate in the trash. Sometimes he had long bouts of loud sobbing.
Their lives as evacuees ended two years later when the family was given housing in Slavutych, a new city built about 50 kilometers east of the abandoned city of Pripyat.
"Even if the radiation levels are high, we wanted to come back as close as we could to where we belong," asserts Nikolai, who also says that his father passed away soon afterward.
Some evacuee children were also on the receiving end of discrimination in their new communities.
Liudmyla Shevchenko, 64, is the principal of a special school for deaf and blind children. A teacher at the time of the accident, he had the students evacuated to southern Ukraine.
"The most shocking thing was that when the evacuated children wanted to go swimming at the beach, the locals told them to make a wall there to quarantine them and keep them from spreading their radiation to others."
- « Prev
- Next »