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Following the Chernobyl disaster on the 26th of April, 1986, the Soviet authorities introduced an arbitrary 30 kilometre exclusion zone around the reactor, placing the area under strict military control and evacuating all those that lived there. Pripyat was the largest town within the Exclusion Zone, with a population of around 49,000 at the time of the disaster, but there were tens of smaller villages and towns that were also evacuated, including the town of Chernobyl itself.

The marshy bog land of the region had seen intense fighting during the Second World War, and many of the elder residents – with memories of resisting the Nazis – saw no reason to leave. Indeed, many of them did not believe in the negative effects of radiation at all, and saw the evacuation as a Soviet conspiracy. Around 1,200 people refused to leave, and remained in the area illegally. The numbers have dwindled over the years, and today there are just 197 people living illegally within the Exclusion Zone.

In 1991, the borders of the Exclusion Zone were revised. Instead of the being based on an arbitrary radius from the reactor, the new zone borders were determined by levels of strontium-90, caesium-137 and plutonium in the soil, and on the recorded dose rate of radiation in the air. The Exclusion Zone now covers an area of 2,600 square kilometres, an area larger than Luxembourg.

Today, the Exclusion Zone’s purpose is to prevent the spread of contamination, hence the need for all those that enter it to have a Geiger counter inspection once leaving. Permanent residence within the Exclusion Zone is permitted, provided it is in one of the ‘Red Zones’, areas where radiation is less than 200 µSv·h. Currently, there are around 5,000 people living within the Red Zones of the exclusion zone, unperturbed by the high radiation levels.

Leliyov Village

Leliyov Village is a typical village found within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a village that was evacuated in 1986 and has remained abandoned ever since. Cars remain parked on drives; daily life paraphernalia litters the houses, from pairs of shoes to scattered sheets of scores of music. The villagers were uprooted from their culture and their roots and evacuated, leaving everything behind as they became the first nuclear refugees of peace time history.   

Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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