A rural retirement in Chernobyl's radioactive shadow

Thu Apr 14, 2016 9:13am EDT
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By Vasily Fedosenko

TULGOVICH, Belarus (Reuters) - Ninety-year-old Ivan Shamyanok says the secret to a long life is not leaving your birthplace, even when it is a Belarusian village poisoned with radioactive fallout from a nuclear disaster.

On April 26, 1986, a botched test at a nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, sent clouds of smouldering nuclear material across swathes of Europe and forced more than 100,000 people to leave a permanently contaminated 'exclusion zone' stretching across the Ukraine-Belarus border.

Shamyanok's village of Tulgovich is on the edge of the zone, which at 2,600 square kilometers (1,000 square miles) is roughly the size of Luxembourg. But he and his wife turned down the offer to relocate and never felt any ill effects from the radiation.

"So far, so good. The doctors came yesterday, put me on the bed and checked and measured me. They said 'everything's fine with you, granddad,'" Shamyanok said.

"My sister lived here with her husband. They decided to leave and soon enough they were in the ground ... They died from anxiety. I'm not anxious. I sing a little, take a turn in the yard, take things slowly like this and I live," he said.

Images of Shamyanok can be seen at reut.rs/1VlhTbt

The forthcoming 30th anniversary of the disaster has shone a new light on the long-term human impact of the worst nuclear meltdown in history.

The official short-term death toll from the accident was 31 but many more people died of radiation-related illnesses such as cancer. The total death toll and long-term health effects remain a subject of intense debate.   Continued...

Ivan Shamyanok, 90, sits in front of his house in the village of Tulgovichi, near the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, Belarus April 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko