Can’t see it, can’t smell it, can’t taste it, can’t talk about it. The Chernobyl exclusion zone – initially set at 20 miles in radius, but expanding over time with the spread of radioactivity by wind and water – splits towns and villages in half: half hospitable and living, half lethal and uninhabitable, as if the radioactive contamination stops at some arbitrary line. What is life like in those settlements on the edge of one of the most radioactive areas in the world?
“As other tragedies are vying for the world’s attention, Chernobyl has been relegated to history. The images of Chernobyl are different than the deeply disturbing images of war where the immediacy of bombs and bullets are all too apparent. The war that has been waged by Chernobyl is a silent and invisible war, but nonetheless, deadly.” Adi Roche, Founder and CEO of Ireland-based Chernobyl Children’s Project International.
World dictionaries define Chernobyl as the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of humanity. But what does the ‘worst environmental catastrophe’ actually mean in the everyday lives of the people of Ukraine and Belarus, cannot be explained by any dictionary.
The complexity of living with Chernobyl can only be understood empirically though breathing Chernobyl, eating Chernobyl, sleeping with Chernobyl, and most of all, through denying Chernobyl.
An excruciating war waged by Chernobyl’s ‘atoms for peace gone wrong’ has been emitting its long lasting poisonous legacy for almost 25 years, but will continue to do so for centuries into the future. According to the UN, 7 to 9 million people were affected. 4.5 million children and adults live on contaminated land. Over 800,000 children are at risk of cancer. 400,000 people became environmental refugees.