Every year, a week after Easter, Ukrainians celebrate the Remembrance Days. They pay their respects at the graves of their loved ones, and reunite with friends and families at cemeteries all over this country of 46 million people.
In the far north, near the border of Belarus, these days are particularly poignant - thanks to a much more recent tradition. The Ukrainian government grants permission to the former inhabitants of the abandoned villages of Chernobyl's exclusion zone to revisit the graves of deceased relatives and friends. But they also take this opportunity to revisit the ruins they still call home, travelling as far as 250 miles to reunite with people who used to walk the same streets, browse the same stores - people they used to call neighbors.
I was guided through this wilderness of broken dreams. I visited the villages, the homes, the places where these people used to work, witnessing the fragments left over from the lives they used to lead, and listening to memories so vividly recalled that I could almost smell the fruit from the withered apple trees that once flourished. I walked with one family who returned to an overgrown scrap of land that was once a meticulously maintained garden. They came to rescue a small cherry tree they are going to plant at their father's grave in the village where they relocated.
A young couple walked to the river's edge and remembered the summer days when they swam in the river as children. And I will never forget the man who entered what remained of his home and instinctively began to lock the windows, even though the glass was long gone.
For the people from villages such as Ilovnitsa, Paryshiv, Korogod or city of Chernobyl, it's a heart-breaking ritual - a day to remember the place that used to be their home in a region that was said to be too beautiful to locate the power station that was the site of the world's worst nuclear disaster in April of 1986.