Slavutich was born from the radioactive hell of the Chernobyl disaster. The town was designed to house power plant personnel and their families, including evacuees from the stricken city of Pripyat.
Construction was rushed in less than a year, in the heart of a forest 50 km away from the site of the catastrophe. Eight republics of the former Soviet Union – Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – took part, giving every block of the town the traditional architecture of the republic that built it.
Slavutich’s new citizens were young, well-educated, ambitious engineers, specialists in atomic energy gathered from the best Russian universities. Work at the power plant offered a chance of a comfortable life, good salary, extensive social benefits for the whole family and an early retirement.
The motto of those of who designed Slavutich was: “From the ashes of the old, we will build a new world.” June 2, 2012 marks the 25th anniversary of the town’s founding. But a quarter of a century later, Slavutich’s future is far from certain.
Until 2001, some 6,000 people (half the adult population of Slavutich) worked at the stricken plant. That year saw the final shutdown of Chernobyl, and the workforce dwindled by half, leaving most of those 3,000 on maintenance and monitoring work.
Now, the children of those engineers who arrived to build new lives in Slavutich are in their 20s and have their own families to support with little reason for optimism. Despite the town being designated a Special Economic Zone, and government retraining programs for the unemployed, around 2,000 people have left Slavutich and more are following. In 2015, the new sarcophagus over the infamous reactor No. 4 will be finished, further slashing jobs in the exclusion zone. Is Slavutich set to be the final victim of Chernobyl?