To the world, Chernobyl is a place of danger, but for locals, Chernobyl is simply a way of life.
On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant changed history, sending radiation and political shockwaves across Europe. After the accident, nearby towns and villages were first evacuated, and then abandoned. A generation later, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has become terra incognita for mostóinaccessible, misunderstood, and terrifying.
Inside the Exclusion Zone, however, life goes on. More than 3,000 workers manage the Zone, living in Chernobyl town during 4 and 15-day shifts. Another 3,800 employees commute daily to work at the Chernobyl plant. Some 400 elderly villagers have illegally resettled their homes and farms inside the Zone.
Outside the Exclusion Zone are over two thousand villages where radiation fell but people continue to live. The accident and subsequent evacuations affected residents economically, socially, psychologically óand physically.
How much radiation is safe? No one knows. Thorough medical research has never been done to determine the health effects of long-term radiation exposure. In the absence of facts, people believe rumors, propaganda, and their own first-hand experiences.
Why do they stay? A lack of alternatives. A sense of duty. Deep ties to the land. Decent jobs. Because this is home.
The closer you are to Chernobyl, the less dangerous it seems. Instead of radiation, Chernobylites today have new fears. They worry about their future. Keeping their jobs. Opportunities for their children. Maintaining their hometowns.
If you lived here, would you stay?
Photo Shows: LESYA KOSTENKO leads a dance rehearsal at the Chernobyl Community Center in Borodyanka, Ukraine. Her students, Ira Dovstenka (in white), Olya Savechenko (singing) and Olya Shvitka (in black) are all 14-year-old girls from the village Nove Zalissya, 7 kilometers away. Borodyanka is a small town (population 16,000) 30 miles west of