Cold morning, the fog lies still above the meadows. In between the trees wooden houses can be seen; derelict and overgrown by bushes and grass. Some of them already collapsed, for thirty years now nobody is living there. Once a village with 1500 inhabitants is Parishev, now almost an empty place. And when the last four people die, the only thing that will keep the village road from being lost in the vegetation is the fire station and forestry.
Ivan Ivanevich who lives in the village (his wife Maria died in May 2016) is an optimist by nature. Despite being almost 75 years old he is always happy to see visitors coming to his house, he is cheery, joking, and sometimes he even offers his homemade vodka to the foreigners that ask him about his life in Chernobyl exclusion zone.
Ivan Ivanevich – Optimist by Nature
With his wife he was evacuated in the beginning of May 1986, loaded onto a truck and taken away to a family south of Kiev. The family did not want to have them there, but they were given a simple choice: either they will live with you or you will have to go to work in Chernobyl. After a few weeks Ivan and his wife got a flat in another close city not far from Kiev. Not bad, however for a man who grew up and lived his whole life in a detached house with a big garden it was not ideal. Ivan decided to return to the already officially closed Chernobyl exclusion zone – with around 700 other people, who nowadays are known as ‘self-settlers’. After 1987 it was strictly forbidden to return to Chernobyl zone, and on top of that more villages were evacuated up until 1992.
Today there are only around 150 of them left living in Parishev, Opachichi, Zalissyia or the city of Chernobyl. Most of the people who returned to live in the zone came there to die in the place they love most on this planet. They are happy. They share the same destiny. One can feel it especially when they are talking about the evacuation – most of the women who remember it don’t like to talk about it, many times I can see tears going to their eyes.
So how is life in Chernobyl? Dangerous? No. People living here are not afraid of radiation. The dosimeters in their houses and gardens show even less radioactivity than in London or New York. There are dosimetrists coming to measure the level of radionuclides in their wells where they get drinking water. Every 3 months. The grocery store is far away, so there is a van with groceries that comes every week to the village. And also tourists with good consciences’ bring over products. If you ask what makes a Chernobyl senior citizen afraid, he or she clearly says: ‘snakes and wolves’. And they complain about the low pension that they get. A month with around 70 € is very tough, and the extra for living in a dangerous zone without proper public facilities is so small that the pensioners just laugh about it.
A point where the Chernobyl inhabitants meet is usually at Sunday mass in the Church of Saint Elias in Chernobyl, which is called the cleanest place in the whole Chernobyl zone.
When you come to Chernobyl, you do not need to bring anything extra for Chernobyl self-settlers, they are just happy to see you, you are the highlight of their day and they are happy to answer all your questions, sometimes even offering their own vodka or food. They are sad when you leave after a short visit. I clearly remember two situations that really tugged my heart and I had to struggle with tears in my eyes. One when we had a Canadian family with some Ukrainian roots visiting and they had such a great conversation (via the guide interpreting everything) that both they and also the old woman were crying. And last time I remember our hero Ivan crying, when we gave him a bunch of money as we were leaving that we had collected in the bus, so he could fulfill his dream of buying a tractor for his garden.
Now it is time to fulfill your dream about coming to Chernobyl. It has never been so easy and safe!