Meet the Ukrainians who returned to live in Chornobyl

History, Ukraine

The catastrophic accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) near the city of Prypiat occurred overnight into 26 April 1986. By the evening of that day, two people had died in the city from effects of radiation exposure; 52 more were hospitalized.

24 hours after the blast, the authorities ordered residents to evacuate Prypiat and other settlements in the 10-kilometer zone. Residents were told to bring only what was necessary for approximately three days. Pets and most personal belongings were left behind. Ten days later, the evacuation area was expanded to 30 km. In total, about 200,000 people were evacuated from the 30 km zone. Among them, more than 50,000 residents of Prypiat and about 14,000 inhabitants of the city of Chornobyl located about 10 km from the NPP.

Later, some people returned to their homeland. They are now known as samosely or self-settlers. As of 2017, the city of Chornobyl has a population of 690.

On 26 April 1986, the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s fourth reactor exploded. The radioactivity affected the population, plants, animals, and land. Many people received fatal radiation doses. All were evacuated, but some people decided to come back.

No.4 reactor at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant shortly after the 26 April 1986 disaster.

No.4 reactor at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant shortly after the 26 April 1986 disaster.

Leonid is 88, and he has been living most of his life in the Chornobyl Zone.

Leonid, 88. One of samosely, illegal 'self-settlers' in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

Leonid, 88. One of samosely, illegal ‘self-settlers’ in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.

Leonid, a resident of Chornobyl:

“And it exploded just before Easter. I planned to visit the cemetery to tend to the grave. As I reached the cinema theater in the center, I wondered why there were so many people. Masked police and no further passage. And there is a bunch of overcrowded buses – it was already the evacuation. They shouted, “Put the respirator on!” Like somebody handed them out in the first place.”

People like Leonid are called “samosely,” “self-settlers.” Despite having lived their entire lives in Chornobyl, they are now considered illegal settlers. Apart from the samosely, the Zone houses workers and scientists employed at the nuclear power plant. Many tourists also visit the area.

Serhii Kupriianchuk is a safety expert and a guide to the Exclusion Zone. He guides tours to the Chornobyl 4th power unit, the sarcophagus, the Duga-1 over-the-horizon radar array and the ghost town of Prypyat.

Serhii Kupriianchuk, a guide to the Chornobyl NPP Zone of Alienation

Serhii Kupriianchuk, a guide to the Chornobyl NPP Zone of Alienation

Serhii Kupriianchuk, a guide to the Chornobyl NPP Zone of Alienation:

“The background radiation in Chornobyl is identical to Kyiv’s. Many people returned here after the disaster. Tourists ignore them. I think every part of the Exclusion Zone requires due attention and should be visited by tourists.”

The samosely live in private households. They cultivate vegetable and fruit gardens, fish on the Prypyat river, and gather mushrooms. They are mostly elderly. In 2007, the average age of the “samosely” reached 63.

Memorial of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Walk with the names of the depopulated villages in the Exclusion Zone. Photograph: novagazeta.kr.ua

Memorial of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster ‘Wormwood Star’. Walk with the names of the depopulated villages in the Exclusion Zone. Photograph: novagazeta.kr.ua

Leonid doesn’t want to leave the Zone because the house he was born in is here.

Leonid, a resident of Chornobyl:

“We’ve been given an apartment in Kyiv. It’s quieter, calmer there. But here’s what I’ll tell you… I don’t need that apartment, I’ll die here… if I live that long time.”


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This video was produced by our partners at the international project Romb.Tv and translated by Euromaidan Press.

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  • Микола Данчук

    This whole catastrophe was the making of the Soviet (the Kremlin, Moskva)!
    What contribution has the Kremlin made for the containment and restitution of the area?
    Or did they run like dogs with their tails between their legs?

    • Ihor Dawydiak

      Not only was the Kremlin slow to react to this catastrophe, but they also tried to cover up this incident while knowing full well that the lives of a countless number of people were in grave danger. However, this was not the first time or the last time where a major cover up operation was employed. Stalin did it when he sealed off Ukraine from prying eyes during the Holodomor of 1932-1933. Putin and his hyenas did the same following the sinking of the nuclear powered submarine Kursk on August 12/2000. At that time most of the crew could have been saved if Putin had accepted Western aid. However, Moscow’s Potemkin village did not end there. In the current context, the Kremlin has been adamant in not divulging the countless number of Russian soldiers that have been killed in Putin’s manufactured war in Ukraine’s Eastern Donbas. In addition, the Russian Government has not allowed the loved ones of the deceased soldiers to mourn their passing with a proper funeral. Instead, the corpses have been hidden in secret graves, tossed into abandoned mine shafts, thrown into rivers or unofficially cremated. And for all of this, Pinocchio Putin and his lying lapdog Lavrov continue to weave their fairy tales but for what end? Who do they think that they are fooling other than themselves?

      • Микола Данчук

        Fooling themselves may be their only hope for their sanity or peace of mind?

      • zorbatheturk

        The Krumlin and their KGB minions specialise in coverups, whitewashes, snowjobs, BS, lies, crapola, fake news, trolling, and disinformation.