Transferring to Chernobyl – Embracing Radiation to Escape Struggle | Highlights | DW

They chose to move their families to the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster, all to escape the war.

Living with the risk of radiation is better than staying in a war zone, that’s the firm conviction of both men. Since the fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine, more than 1.5 million people have fled the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, moving to various parts of the country. Some have ended up in the one place that most people would do everything to avoid: Chernobyl. Vadim Minsyuk and Yuri Andreyev are among those seeking to build a new life at the heart of the radioactive cloud that descended after the reactor explosion on April 26th, 1986. Fields, forests and roads were all contaminated with dangerous levels of strontium and cesium.

Near the exclusion zone around Chernobyl, Vadim Minsyuk is now building up his new company. He turns slag, a byproduct of smelting ore, into metal, and earns a modest living. Before the war, he and his wife ran a successful business with revenues running into the millions. Yuri Andreyev ran a successful farm. He spent over 200 days in captivity, held by the separatists. Now he’s once again earning a living from farming, growing sunflowers and food crops. But his farm is also next to Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. He insists his produce is not contaminated, saying he had all his fields inspected.

closeup |  Better irradiated than at war?  - New start in Chernobyl

Because of the relatively short half-lives of cesium and strontium, radiation has indeed decreased over time, says Valery Kashparov, Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology. But he says soil contamination could still pose a health risk in some areas. Nevertheless, Kashparov is convinced that the area is ready for a new start. Those affected by the war could be the very catalyst that’s needed.

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