32 years after Chernobyl disaster: Is there normal life in the area affected by radiation?

If you traveled to Novozybkov in Bryansk Oblast (near Russia’s border with Ukraine and Belarus), you will most probably see a typical provincial town, which in Russia has many – poor roads, half – empty villages, floodlit fields and old Soviet buses. No signs or signatures will tell you that in the last 30 years this city is in the evacuation zone and that the southwestern part of the Brjansk region is the area most affected by the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl power station, which is about 200 kilometers by air.

Drop iodine

When, at the end of April 1986, radioactive rain fell on Novozibkov, none of the 40,000 inhabitants could imagine what awaits them. It was warm and sunny, and the city was preparing for the May holidays.

The first sign of radiation were discovered by Sergei Sizov – the teacher of the initial military training of the local Pedagogical School. That day he studied with his student the dosimetry of radiation. On April 28, when Central Television reported on Thursday that Chernobyl had lower radiation releases, Sergey decided to check it out.

“At eight in the morning on April 29, there were 11 microsieverts per hour in this corner, and under the drain pipe – 65 (Russia allowed a radiation dose of 0.15 microsieverts ),” Sergey recalls in the school yard. He tried to raise the alarm in the city, but local authorities decided to wait for a Moscow directive. Directive arrived after more than a week. All this time, Sergey gave his children and students drops of iodine, forcing them to change their clothes, which saved them from thyroid cancer.

In the evacuation zone

By the end of the 1980s, several hundred settlements southwest of the Brjansk area were included in the evacuation zone, although the population was not force to leave a region. Only those who had the opportunity to move left the region

Why was that so? If we explain the explanation to a few points, the main reasons will be little. First, before the Chernobyl disaster, there was no experience with consequences of radiation, no surveillance system, no methodology for assessing radiation damage in vast areas. Not only the population but the authorities did not know the true extent of the catastrophe.

Secondly, since accidents and disaster relief have occurred in the last years of the Soviet Union and the 1990s, for the decontamination of the area and the relocation of people simply was not any funds. Local legend says that in the 1990s in Novozybkov came Boris Jeljcin who decided not to move people, but to remove contaminated soil. The ground was removed only in the city itself.

And the third point is important. Most of these people did not want to move. Most, even knowing the danger, remained. The part went away, but many of them came back. There are no precision statistics.

Not far from Novozibkov is located the old village of Svjatsk. Instead of an advanced settlement with two churches and a hundred houses, as it was 30 years ago, here is just a young forest there. Residents have left. In the woods lies what is left of their homes. Radiation is on average 0.6 microseconds per hour. Such landscapes are usually depicted in apocalypse films.

The oldest graveyard on the edge of the village is still there, where people are still buried, mostly old people.


In 1986, Galina Sviridenko’s was 16 year old, like her son Denis today. The boy literally has no ears, has a twisted spine and bone and is lagging behind. He suffered eight operations. Galina took three years to prove the connection between radiation and anomalies in the development of the baby.

In addition to Denis, in 2000, seven children with Down syndrome were born in Novozibkov. According to statistics reported by Ljudmila Komogorceva, former Vicar Governor of the Brjanska oblast, and nowadays known ecologist, after Chernobyl, the share of chronic diseases has increased from 8 to 80%, and the population of the area is 2.5 times more common with cancer than the Russian average.

The surgeon at Novozepkov district hospital Viktor Hanajev says that the greatest danger is not present radiation, but the deposited small doses of radiation that fall into the organism mainly through foods grown in this area. Over the years, radiation can cause cancer, not only in people whose body is contaminated, but also in its descendants.

Wonders are happening. Recently, a man was brought to the Novozibkovskaya hospital, for whome can be said to be a “living nuclear reactor”. His house is located on land that radiates 500 micro siverts per hour. Over all these years, from the catastrophe to this day, more than 25 million becquerel s have sunk in his body. It’s a few dozen times more than a deadly dose, but he is still alive.

True, such cases are rare. In just the last two months many cases of thyroid cancer have been discovered in Novozibkov. “It’s a lot for our city,” Hanaev says. “Before 1986, cancer was rare here.”

Radiation is everywhere

The people here are so accustomed to radiation that everyone works and does not talk much about it, although radioactive isotopes are contaminated with everything that is growing and growing in these parts. Earth, water, and wood, and wild animals, and mushrooms, and all other fruits are polluted. However, wages are small, so forest and garden are the main source of food products.

“Thirty years we are eating produce from land that has led to birth defects and infant mortality. and we are not afraid,” the locals say. But it’s terrible. A co-worker of the radiation control laboratory here says that the country is somewhat cleaner than it was, but what grows from the earth is contaminated the same as it was 30 years ago. Dried mushrooms, which were brought to the test, showed a radiation level of 100,000 beecles per kilogram, and the standard was 2500.

Nevertheless, in 2016, the number of settlements in the Brian area that was envisaged for emigration was reduced to 26, and there were once 226. Novozibkov was also officially declared a safe place for life. Together with this list, subsidies have also been reduced – from 2000 to 1000 rubles a month.

The inhabitants filed a lawsuit, but they lost in court because they did not have enough evidence. The respondent party is the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and it refers to field measurement data, which since 1986 was conducted by the Tajfun Scientific Center in the city of Objinsk in the Kaluga region. According to Ljudmila Komogorceva, the measurements were not regular, they were done by different methods, and none of the inhabitants and ecologists saw the results of these measurements.

Facilitation and economics

The state and the local government could really invest more in the rehabilitation of this region. Paradox is, however, that residents do not really want to move, but they want to get back the reliefs that depend on the status of the settlement. Benefits in the amount of 2 to 6 thousand rubles are welcome in the region where there are few jobs, and where the salary of 10 thousand rubles is treated as a good salary.

“It does not matter to us what is called the zone. It needs compensations,” says surgeon Hanaev. According to him, “it is possible to live here, but with respect to the rules of radioactive safety. It is necessary to clean the forest, to supply clean food and special fertilizer. This should be supported by the state, but it does not help.”

Oksana Inasevska, president of the Novozibkov’s Mother Council, says that they are ready to overcome difficulties, but they do not see any economic prospects. “The economic development of these districts has been stopped together with Chernobyl”.


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