They live on the border of the zone, in the same houses they lived in a quarter century ago before the disaster – too far from the reactor to join the tens of thousands who were designated victims and granted replacement housing and symbolic gestures of disability compensation. Still, they were too close to avoid the tragedy.
They cross illegally into the Exclusion Zone through holes in a barbed-wire fence, searching for scrap metal and scavenging the undisturbed forests for mushrooms. Once a year, with government consent, they visit graves of the deceased. Few live in the Exclusion Zone: in total only several dozen people – one or two per village. They should not be there, but remain of their own volition.
On the outskirts of Chernobyl most women are widows. In their home hang portraits of lost husbands decorated with artificial flowers. Those worst afflicted by the radiation left this world long ago. The rest die of complications stemming from alcoholism – locals believe home-brewed vodka is the best cure for radiation.
Their empty, drunken eyes hide the truth about the victims of Chernobyl.
Young people flee to cities or enlist in the army. They’ll never return. They’re all certain change will never come to this place and better lives lie elsewhere. There is nothing to count on in the present, no dream to chase for the future, and a total lack of commerce, industry, agriculture or entertainment.
What’s left? Fondly recalling memories of more than 25 years ago before Chernobyl took their loved ones, dreams and the rest of the world.