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Monday, 18 March 2019

Pripyat (1999) Nikolaus Geyrhalter




Synopsis After the catastrophe in 1986, a 30-km restricted zone was erected around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and 116,000 persons were evacuated from this area. “Pripyat” is a portrait of the people who still live and work there, and of those who have moved back. What is life like for these people, a life with the invisible and incomprehensible danger of radioactivity? How do they deal with the aftereffects of an accident which is claimed to be statistically improbable? Four protagonists tell their stories in long interviews and provide a look at everyday life in “their” zone.

The town of Pripyat - located seven kilometers from the power plant - was the home of the plant workers. Immediately after the accident occurred, its 50,000 residents were evacuated and resettled in various regions around the Soviet Union. Since then, their houses have crumbled, and they need a special permit to enter them. Today, Pripyat is a carefully guarded ghost town.

Pripyat is also the name of the river which flows past the power plant and into the Dnieper. It is still the source of fish for Zone residents. The 30-km Zone is fenced in with barbed wire. Arbitrarily delineated with a compass, its area does not correspond to the actual contamination of the ground. Although living inside the Zone is still prohibited, homeless have taken advantage of its size, which makes effective patrols impossible. Militiamen stationed at the border check all those who wish to enter the Zone. Taking food or other materials out of the Zone is prohibited.

Approximately 15,000 people work in rotation in the Zone - at the power plant (Unit 3 is still in operation) or in laboratories where the effects of radioactivity on plants and animals are measured. Some are constructing a terminal storage depot and must solve the problems of the desolate sarcophagus under which Unit 4 is buried and that of the ultimate storage of the radioactive wastes. They earn double wages, which is however paid at irregular intervals. What would include a person to consciously risk contamination by working in the Zone?

Approximately 700 primarily elderly persons live in the Zone despite the prohibitions. Some returned because they were unable to bear their homesickness, and they are tolerated by the authorities. Others have been waiting for years to be resettled. They feed themselves with whatever they are able to grow in their fields.



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