On April 26, 1986 at 1:24 a.m. a disastrous event occurred, the worst technological catastrophe of the modern age, which blighted the lives of millions of people. That night reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded. The explosion unleashed tons of radioactive dust into the air, where, transported by winds it contaminated both hemispheres of our planet, settling wherever it rained. Almost the whole of Europe was fouled: 65 million people were contaminated. Belarus was the worst hit, with 30% of its territory rendered useless and it will take millennia to recover. It is estimated that the most contaminated areas stretching over 260.000 square kilometers of land, (almost as large as Italy) will return to normal radioactive levels in about one hundred thousand years time. Almost 35 years have gone by, so we have another ninety – nine thousand, nine hundred and sixty-five to go …


After the Chernobyl nuclear accident an exclusion zone was created around the nuclear power plant, 30 kilometers radius. All the inhabitants of the area were evacuated. But the area that was supposed to be an exclusion zone has never been. There is life in the zone and today more than 8000 people are part of the community of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

4,000 people live in Chernobyl City. They are security officers of the zone and of the reactors still not decommissioned. They do shift working of 15 days in the area and then 15 days of “decontamination” in their homes out of the exclusion zone. But they are not the only ones. Chernobyl looks like a normal town with the main services such as shops, cafes, 3 hotels for tourists, some canteens and a church with a Pope to celebrate the Mass.

To these 4,000 workers and inhabitants of Chernobyl, other 2,000 have been added in recent years, they are the workers involved in the construction of the new sarcophagus that was completed in November 2017. The new safe confinement is 110 meters high, 164 meters large and 257 meters long and it cost 1,5 billion euro. Its duration is expected for a hundred years.

Other 2,000 workers arrive each day from the nearby town of Slavutich, a service city of the exclusion zone, built after the Chernobyl accident.

The reactors 1-2-3 continued to work till 2000 when they were shut down and 2,000 workers are involved in the safety of those reactors, until they can be dismantled. This will only be in 2065 when the levels of radioactivity in the core will be decreased and it will be possible to start the decommissioning works.

Today, after 35 years the condition of working are still very hard, because the levels of radiation, outside the reactors and also inside the buildings, are very high and pose serious health risks for the workers.


But other people are still living inside the zone, and from the beginning. At the time of the explosion, the inhabitants of the area were evacuated and transferred to the outskirts of Kiev. But some of them, about 1,200 people, decided that city life was not for them, too difficult to live in a big city with a meager pension and without the products of the land. And it was too strong the bond with their land.

After few months they returned to live in their homes, defying the ban of the Soviet government. They resisted and the government had to recognize them as residents of the exclusion zone. They had become what we now call the resettlers. For 35 years they have resisted the government and radiation, because before they had weathered the second world war and hunger. They have decided to live in their homes, their land, to not forget their origins. They are the latest example of a peaceful resilience.

The last survivors are now octogenarians. Today there are only a few dozen, time and radiation took them away. With the last of them will end a culture: the culture of survival to Chernobyl. The few inhabited villages of the exclusion zone will disappear definitively and their homes and personal belongings that accompanied them throughout life will be swallowed up by vegetation and destroyed by time.


But the resettlers are not the only "illegal" ones. In fact there's a brand new trendy activity going on among Ukrainian youngsters: some of them have recently started to illegally enter the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion to play survival games. These post-atomic travelers are referred to as "Stalkers" a name coming directly from Andrei Tarkovski's film "Stalker", a Soviet cult movie dated back in 1979.

Chernobyl' Stalkers have lately developed a proper veneration for this specific area, which they consider it as a post-atomic private home. They seem to be organized in paramilitary groups with names, symbols and rituals, while enjoying a dangerous trip to reach their final destination: the ghost town of Pripyat. They say they want to experience a different adventure, to test themselves and feel like they are the last survivors on the planet, just as they were in a real videogame; they want to break free from their routines and normal lives, while having fun and being isolated in a limbo with no rules for a while. They are a sort of post-romantic travelers, in love with these places which they consider almost sacred permeated with a tragic story not to be forgotten.


But Chernobyl's link with history is much deeper and more ancient, going far beyond the Soviet era. In fact here in Chernobyl in the eighteenth century the Hassidic movement has developed, one of the most important currents of the Jewish religion. In Chernobyl City there is the tomb of the founder of Hassidism, Rabbi Menachem Nochum Twersky, and this is why every year the Hassidic Jews make a pilgrimage to honor the memory of their founder and remember their historical and religious roots.

And finally there is nature that has regenerated, in a changed way but in a lush form. Nature that can not be defined as uncontaminated, but here the plants, after 35 years of abandonment, have enveloped the city of Pripyat and the abandoned villages, and here you can meet wild animals such as wolves, foxes, bears, wild boars and elks. The Chernobyl exclusion zone has become a nature reserve, but a totally unnatural reserve. Today the Chernobyl dead zone is not so dead, is full of life, a mutated and unnatural life, forever.


But the consequences of Chernobyl are terrible. At the present time nine million people in Belarus, the Ukraine and western Russia continue living in areas with very high levels of radioactivity, consuming contaminated food and water. Eighty percent of the population of Belarus, Western Russia and North Ukraine suffers from various pathologies. After the Chernobyl disaster, in the contaminated areas there has been an increase of 100 times of the incidence in tumours of the thyroid and 50 times in other radiation-related tumours, such as leukaemia, bone and brain tumours. The incidence of malformations due to genetic mutations, of pathologies of the senses, cardio – vascular, skeletal and muscular systems and the connective tissues, as well as diseases of the nervous system and psychic disorders have increased by 30 times. The incidence of premature births has increased by 20 times.

And there will be still more effects to come from the women who at the time of the disaster were under the age of six and are now starting to have children. Only now will we begin to understand the effects of genetic mutation on future generations.


Chernobyl, after 35 years, is only at the beginning of its story.