Born in 1985, Alina Rudya and her mother were evacuated after the April 26, 1986, explosion at the nearby Chornobyl nuclear power plant’s reactor No. 4.
Her father kept working at the plant for 18 months afterwards and made frequent visits there for many years as part of scientific research missions. He died in 2006 at age 47 of radiation-related cancer and the book is dedicated to him.
Alina Rudya raised $12,000 on Kickstarter to pursue her dream of publishing a photo-essay book on her hometown that went from 50,000 residents to ghost town overnight.
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U.S. author and documentary maker Holly Morris’s documentary, entitled “Babushkas of Chornobyl,” tells the story of three of these woman in particular -- Hanna Zavorotnya, Maria Shovkuta and Valentyna Sachenok – who live in the villages of Kupovate, Opachichi, and Teremtsi in the exclusion zone.
Surviving on pensions brought to them by social workers, and some supplies from plant workers or scientists who study the effects of the radiation, the women also grow vegetables and collect mushrooms and berries.
Even so, the women who came back to their abandoned homes tend to live longer than the villagers who moved away.
Holly Morris puts the babushkas’ longevity down to psychological factors, including avoiding the stress that comes from resettlement. In interviews with people who fled the Chornobyl zone, Morris found out they often face higher levels of anxiety, depression, alcoholism, unemployment and stress from the disruption of their social networks.
"Those who left are worse off now. They’re dying of sadness".
Meanwhile, the babushkas of Chornobyl live out their remaining years in a poisoned paradise – the evacuation of the bulk of the human population has unleashed nature in the zone, with animals, birds and vegetation rebounding in the absence of people. Only the disconcerting bleeps of Geiger counters, and fenced and guarded areas indicate the invisible radioactivity in the zone.