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The “dead zone” of Chernobyl: fragments of memory

Author: S. Plytkevich
Photo: by author

02.06.2021

Thirty-five years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster happened, but there is still a very ambiguous attitude towards the affected territory. Some people are afraid even to approach it, others are attracted by it. And only once a year – on Radunitza  (the Belarussian memorial day of the dead, when people put in order the graves of their relatives) – former residents of the resettled villages can visit their native places.

This year I specially adjusted my business trip for this holiday, hoping to make emotional pictures of the inhabitants of the former villages.

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In the Polessky State Radiation and Ecological Reserve (or PSRER), the most interesting cemetery is in Orevichi, a village located around a huge sandy mountain.

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The graves go down the side of the mountain, located between the oaks. Judging by the appearance, it is not very good for oaks to grow on sand dunes, but they create a beautiful background.

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Since some people looked reluctant about me taking their photos, I made a couple of shots from a distance and decided that in the future it is better to do that kind of photography having previously agreed it with someone. After all, a cemetery is not a place where one is ready to share emotions with outsiders. But if there are those who want to participate in the creation of a photo story about their native village, I would be happy, of course.

I have long been thinking of a book dedicated to the territories abandoned by people, as well as of a specialized Internet resource that could preserve the memory of the dead villages and the worthy people who lived there. But the plans are still plans; I keep working on this project. Over the years, a lot of photos have been accumulated; a special place among them belongs to artifacts that are related to specific owners. These are typical household items, toys, and photos. According to some of them, you can judge how nature returns into power and absorbs what people have created.

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Here is a specific example: the village of Pogonnoe, May 11, 2021.

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The remains of the doll lie near the gate.

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And on September 28, 2012, the doll was still waiting for the owners…

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A house in the village of Pogonnoe. April 26, 2005.

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The same building five years later – on April 29, 2011.

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12, 2021. Surprisingly, the house stood without a roof for another ten years!

During my last business trip to the village of Pogonnoe, I tried to find a unique diary of a girl who shared not only her daily impressions, but also wrote erotic stories.

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In the summer of 2012, the Pogonyansky Canal was closed, and the water level rose up.

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The houses looked very exotic.

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It wasn't safe to go inside, as the boards might have rotted long ago, but the temptation to do it was to strong.

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In one of the houses I found a common notebook with diary entries, poems and stories. I was struck by their literacy and talent of the author. It was obvious that the girl had been suffering from unrequited love. I read some unsent letters addressed to the guy who had left her, and decided to hide it all on the stove.

Nine years later, this year the water level could be high again, I tried to find the diary.

But all my attempts to find the coveted stove with the hidden treasury were not successful…

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Once again, I was convinced that any history of specific places and people should be written in time: time is merciless…

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May 12, 2021, in one of the houses in the village of Radin. I wonder what happened to these students of the local school?

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And these are already grown-up guys, most likely, university students working as a construction team on summer holidays in the Soviet Union. How are they doing today?

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Photo of a child in the same house.

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And the solemn registration of marriage, most likely, in the Radin’s Village Council.

Looking at these pictures, I can imagine how happy the parents were, how they were worrying that their children's wedding should be no worse than those of their neighbors…

But now all these artifacts are lying on the floor of an abandoned house and will never become family heirlooms…

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The Chernobyl disaster severely affected the lives of the inhabitants of these areas and scattered them all over the world.

And many graves remained unkempt even on Radunitza, …

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Knowing about the tragedy that happened, you perceive appeals to your loved ones and the words of scientists about the conquest of nature in a completely different way.

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On the school board some boy wrote the words of love to a girl named Lena. On the poster there are words of a famous Soviet agricultural scientist: “We can’t stay waiting for the favors from the Nature – we have to take them from the Nature ourselves.”

And in abandoned schools there are still claims to the Soviet schoolchildren to do their best in studies…

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Village of Vygrebnaya Sloboda, Braginsky district, May 22, 2020.

At the end of the report, I will publish a few more symbolic shots from ten years ago.

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A doll in Orevichi. April 26, 2011.

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A soccer ball that has lain in the school stadium for 25 years. Orevichi, April 2011.

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A birch tree that grew on the porch of a house in the village of Tulgovichi.

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The Pripyat River, the fallen oak. May 22, 2020.

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The Golden Horn tract, which is famous not only for its unusual oaks, but also for its lily-of-the-valley plantation. I wanted to combine both sights in one shot, and the circumstances were favorable.

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I would like this spot of Belarus to be recollected more for its beauty…

Translated by M.Shaturin


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