30 years after the disaster at Chernobyl, thousands of people are still living under a threatening cloud. Radiation has been detected in previously non-affected areas, with devastating implications for both the people and the environment. The radiation continues to be their invisible and seemingly omnipresent enemy.
I traveled several times to Ukraine between April 2015 and March 2016 to find out more about the long-lasting implications of the Chernobyl disaster.
These photographs portray life in the Narodichi Region, 50 kilometers southwest of the infamous nuclear plant. This turned out to be one of the worst-hit areas by radiation—but it was only detected five years after the explosion. Almost 100,000 people were affected, 20,000 of whom were children.
Between 1992-1995, two new areas were evacuated: Narodichi and Polinske. Narodichi once housed around 30,000 people. Nowadays, 9,000 people live in the city. Building new homes is forbidden, as the city has been declared “Zone 4.” Although evacuation was enforced in 1991, many families continue living in Narodichi and the nearby villages. After all, the evacuation process was poorly organized—in some cases, it never took place. In the years after, thousands of people returned to their previously evacuated villages in order to flee poverty and war in the surrounding region. These people believed in their land and refused to accept that the invisible radiation could be stronger than their long-held sense of belonging.
But tragically, what was previously a prosperous area has become one of the poorest regions in Ukraine today. The effects of radiation—alongside the collapse of collective farming due to the fall of the Soviet Union—has had tragic consequences for the local people and their land.
People have long been advised not to eat produce from their land, but poverty has left them with no other option. Families are even raising young children in the areas where radiation remains. This has lead to birth defects, cardiovascular diseases, weak immunological systems and an increase in various types of cancer and infant mortality.
Local people complain that the authorities are not doing enough to ensure a safe environment. This is especially true in remote villages, where people have limited access to hospitals and doctors. Many of these families rely on international aid for the most basic medical treatments.
These photographs are a testimony to the lives of those carrying on with the poisonous legacy of Chernobyl.
Editors’ Note: Valero has a few exhibitions coming up next year with her collective ”Food of War.” The touring exhibition is called “Clouded Lands—Chernobyl 30 Years” and will travel to Burgos, Spain on the 3rd of March 2017 and will finish in London in April 2017.
It was also selected as a finalist at the Festival della fotografia Etica, World Report Award 2016: Documenting Humanity Master Award Category. Valero was also the winner of the Albarracín Photography and Journalism 2016 (Spain) scholarship.
If you’re interested in seeing more work like this, you might enjoy one of these previous features: The White Angel looks at the children of Chernobyl and how they are redefining the area’s future; Prypyat Mon Amour, Alina Rudya’s emotional series, features the people who were evacuated after the disaster; and Pierpaolo Mittica’s remarkable Fukushima ‘No Go’ Zone is comprised of dystopian images from the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan.