“My husband saw a bright flash as he worked on a tower crane. He didn”t pay much attention as there were often flashes like that, but later, he felt ticklish in his throat, and his mouth was dry. He told his friends: I don’t feel well. And they said: you have to drink vodka but you don’t. And in the morning, doctors came with a Geiger metre and measured the radiation in his thyroid gland, and his level was very high.”
82-year-old Valentina Kukharenko decided not to leave her home in what became the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone after the worst nuclear disaster in human history on April 26, 1986.
On that day, a fire broke out in the fourth reactor of the power plant, causing radiation to spread throughout the region and across Europe.
Those who lived near the plant were evacuated and a 30-km exclusion zone was established.
At least 31 people lost their lives, while thousands more have died over the years from radiation exposure and cancer.
It also left hundreds of square metres of contaminated land and polluted waters.
Yet some people returned and have been there for decades.
Today, living inside the zone is prohibited by Ukrainian law.
Despite that, up to 180 mainly older people are settled there, but experts say the land is still dangerously contaminated.
“Currently, people are severely exposed to the radiation even outside of the exclusion zone,” explained Professor Sergey Zibtsev from the National University of Life and Environmental Science of Ukraine. “Because it’s all still dangerous for the environment even 30 years after the explosion. The government needs to make huge investments to protect the people, hundreds of thousands of people who live outside of the exclusion zone.”
Despite the effect on human life, many scientists believe the ecosystem is recovering and some people have been prepared to take the risk.
Evgeny Markevich is 82. He missed his home after leaving and decided to return.
“The human body adjusts to everything, it gets used to things and everything becomes normal. Soon it will have been 34 years, in a month it will have been 34 years…. time heals.”