More than thirty years have passed since the horror of Chernobyl...
Now a colossal concrete sarcophagus entombs its deadly epicenter.
The dawn of April 26, 1986 marked a period in history with terrible consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people suffered the effects of the catastrophe. Some died from radiation, others suffered from a range of illnesses, respiratory, digestive, blood diseases, cancer, and congenital malformations. The Nobel-winning writer Svetlana Alexievich –who was a journalist at the time of the tragedy– wrote a chronicle in which she compiled the testimonies of people who live near the epicenter. Voices from Chernobyl is a tragic narration that deals with the consequences of a tragedy of such scale. It doesn't matter how many years have passed, the risk is still there for those who refused to leave behind their lives and start anew. They remained home, bent on building their lives from the ashes of tragedy.
Svetlana's work tells the story of a woman whose husband used to work at the nuclear plant. He was directly exposed to radiation, which left him basically unrecognizable even to his family. The woman, who was pregnant at the time, did the best she could to stay by his side and help him. She was warned that if she spent too much time with him, their baby could be born with a deformity or even die. However, she refused to leave her husband's side. Both the father and baby passed away.
This young woman is a clear example of why people won't leave Chernobyl; there's a sense of unity and solidarity that allows them to bear the brunt of the dangers they're exposed to.
Quintina Valero's photographs show the many faces of Chernobyl. The Spanish photographer depicts those fearless groups who would rather die in their homes among their families than leave everything behind. Those that stayed behind were left in the dark about the consequences of radiation and it is estimated that around a hundred thousand people were infected only in Nadirichi and Pokinske, towns located south of the plant.
People depicted in Valero's photographs are from Narodichi, where evacuations were mandatory, but still nine thousand out of the thirty thousand inhabitants who lived there refused to leave. Any kind of construction in the area remains forbidden, so it's just a matter of time before it becomes a ghost town.
It's likely that the remaining population will soon be evacuated, since commercial routes have dwindled, resulting in two possible situations: the lack of provisions will force them to migrate to other places, or they will be forced to consume locally farmed produce, which is forbidden due to the radiation levels on the ground. As their options decrease they will have to seek alternative solutions, and most of the population is impoverished and cannot afford basic services.
Five years after the catastrophe, the USSR was dissolved, and the town that once believed in its leaders was cast adrift. The crisis spurred the appearance of religious cults and the arrival of another political revolution left these impoverished communities completely unprotected. The fall of the Soviet Union only added fuel to Chernobyl's flames, but families didn't look for a savior; they only wanted to keep their land and hoped their properties wouldn't be taken from them. Some of them are aware of the dangers of living in affected zones, but they don't care because it's the only thing they possess.
The world looks at Chernobyl with pity and awe, and as time goes by, people grow indifferent to this event and its devastating consequences. But we cannot allow it to fade for even now there are people willing to forsake their lives as long as their lands remain theirs. That is pure love and devotion. A tragic, extraordinary, and an unforgettable love for your way of life.
“Voices from Chernobyl”, Svetlana Alexievich, 1997
Look at Quintina Valero's work on her official website.
Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards