The Chernobyl residents who refused to leave despite government safety advice

For most people the word Chernobyl is synonymous with the worst nuclear disaster in history. For others, it is a hit HBO mini-series about the tragedy.

For a hardy few, it is home.

The 1986 catastrophe in northern Ukraine conjures up images up hazmat suits, deadly radioactive fires and crumbling derelict housing blocks. The fallout from the disaster could be measured some 1,500 miles away in Scotland just a few days later.

But some decided to defy all government and safety advice to move back to their family homes inside the exclusion zone – despite police efforts to move them on – while others never left at all.

The nuclear reactor in Chernobyl suffered its catastrophic meltdown after a experiment designed to test the safety of the power plant went horrendously wrong.

A toxic fire spewed radiation for 10 days creating clouds that carried radioactive particles across Europe.

The area immediately in and around the reactor will not be safe for another 20,000 years, give or take, but there is dispute about safety levels in the town.

The 100,000 people living closest to Chernobyl were taken outside the 20-mile exclusion zone imposed around the damaged reactor in the immediate aftermath. This was later expanded and over the next few months a quarter of a million people were displaced.

Even so, some 150 to 300 people simply locked their doors and waited for the fuss to die down.

The population inside the exclusion zone has even begun to grow, with families relocating to the quiet, overwhelmingly cheap neighbourhoods that surround the site.



Canadian photographer Robyn Von Swank has been documenting life inside the zone.

She expected to find a town full of ghosts but instead discovered dozens of people going about their daily lives even though it is illegal to live in the red zone.

It appears radiation was not the biggest immediate threat to her safety when she found she was being tracked by a pack of wolves.

Robyn said: ‘Thankfully, the predators have a bounty of prey to eat already, because the zone continues to grow as a biodiverse forest where animals don’t worry about being killed by humans anymore.’

‘The people were warm and welcoming and spoke openly about their histories. Some sobbed when speaking of the incident, having been affected so personally.’

One of the residents, Maria, is the only living person in her village and is miles away from anyone else. Having survived the Nazi invasion in World War 2, the nuclear accident and lived under Soviet rule, she says she will never leave her home.



Another resident, Baba Olga was an elderly woman who never had children and rarely took in visitors.

She told the snapper of her once vibrant social life and, when Robyn left her house, stuffed the Canadian’s pockets with treats before hugging and kissing her affectionately.

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