Volume 75, Number 44 | March 22 -28 2006

A sign marking the Evacuation Zone that still exists around Chernobyl in Ukraine

Living in the dead zone: 20 years after Chernobyl

By Chad Smith

The Ukrainian Museum is commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown with an exhibit drawing fresh attention to the history of the disaster, and surveying how Ukrainians residing in the afflicted areas today are managing to survive.

“Chernobyl + 20: This Is Our Land — We Still Live Here,” which opened on March 12, includes 175 color photographs of the disaster, as well as short films, text panels, maps and charts. The exhibit chronicles the area’s population shifts over the last 20 years and explains what effects the high levels of radiation had on a once fertile land and its people.

On April 26, 1986, an experiment at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station just outside the city of Prypyat in Ukraine went dreadfully awry. The botched experiment resulted in a partial meltdown of the reactor’s core, spewing radioactive material into the air for days. Over the next decade, more than 160 villages were evacuated, about 160,000 residents were permanently resettled and thousands of other families, many with young children, voluntarily left the irradiated regions. Since the ’86 disaster, thousands of cases of thyroid cancer have been reported in children from the area, though most of the cases have been treated successfully.

Despite the risk of disease, however, many elderly people continue to live in contaminated areas of Ukraine, says Professor Myron Stachiw, co-curator of “Chernobyl + 20.”

“They have returned to their homes to live out their remaining days in familiar surroundings,” Stachiw said, “sometimes alone in their villages, often under conditions closer to the 18th century, largely forsaken by the 21st.”

Interactive audiovisual clips at the museum chronicle the lives of the people presently making their homes within the “dead,” or forcibly evacuated, villages within the 19-mile Exclusion Zone, as well as those who still reside in the villages a bit farther out that authorities deem “safe” enough to inhabit.

“Chernobyl + 20: This Is Our Land — We Still Live Here” is sponsored by New York Self Reliance Federal Credit Union. The exhibit will run at the museum, at 222 E. Sixth St., through May 28.

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