After Chernobyl

Michael Forster Rothbart

2007 - 2012

I spent two years photographing and interviewing people who still live near Chernobyl a generation after the 1986 accident.

My commitment to this project began when I discovered how most photojournalists distort Chernobyl. They visit briefly, expecting danger and despair, and come away with photos of deformed children and abandoned buildings. This sensationalist approach obscures more complex stories about how displaced communities adapt and survive.

In contrast, I sought to create full portraits of these communities. There is suffering, but also joy and beauty. Endurance and hope. Living directly in the villages where I photographed gave me access to events and people with an insider’s perspective that would have been impossible from afar.

It’s important, I believe, to let people tell their stories in their own words. My project integrates my photos, first-person oral history interviews, in-depth captions (embedded in IPTC data) and old family photos I collected from the Chernobyl families.

For many of the 82 people I interviewed, losing their homes was as traumatic as the accident itself. I heard compelling stories about problems with alcoholism, mental illness, unemployment, medical care, birth defects and corruption. Some overcome these difficulties; others surrender to them.

Throughout my project, I often pondered: if I lived near Chernobyl, would I stay? I wanted to understand why the people I met made the difficult decision to remain in the contaminated zones. To the world, I came to understand, Chernobyl is a place of danger, but for locals, Chernobyl is simply a way of life.

See more photos from this project at www.afterchernobyl.com.

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  • In Slavutych, members of the Ne Zdavaites! pensioners’ group gather to observe Red Army Day, a holiday originally dedicated to veterans of the Russian and Soviet Armed Forces and now simply referred to as Men’s Day.

    Ne Zdavaites! means Don't Give Up! Most members are retirees from the Chernobyl power plant. Both men here are World War II veterans, but when local residents speak of “our war,” they mean Chernobyl.

    The club is a program of the community center in Slavutych—the Center for Psychological and Social Rehabilitation from the Consequences of the Chernobyl Disaster. This center, one of five created by the United Nations, runs support programs ranging from Alcoholics Anonymous to trainings for new mothers. The U.N. no longer supports these centers, so they collect funding from government agencies and international donors.

    Today in Ukraine, the holiday is officially called Defender of the Fatherland Day; colloquially it is simply Men’s Day.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 2/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 60662
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  • “When I was sick with cancer, we sold our car to pay for the surgery. We sold our TV, we sold our refrigerator, jewelry, everything we could. Now my wife Lydia has cancer and there's nothing left to sell.”
    — Viktor Gaidak, retired Chernobyl engineer

    Viktor Gaidak worked for 24 years as an engineer at the Chernobyl plant, including nine years after the 1986 accident. In 2004 he had surgery for colon cancer. Viktor lives with his wife Lydia, two grown children, Kolya and Alla, plus Alla’s husband and children.

    Nearly half the fifty thousand evacuees from Pripyat live in Troeshchina, a new neighborhood at the outskirts of Kyiv. They face health problems, unemployment, crowded apartments and little government support. One day Viktor enumerates a list of the Chernobyl evacuees who lived in his apartment building and what killed them: cancer, leukemia, heart attack, suicide.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 7/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 71535
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  • An old Chernobyl joke: the Americans send over a robot to help with cleanup. Put it on the roof of Reactor 3 to pick up radioactive debris. It breaks down in five minutes from the radiation. The Japanese send a robot—it lasts ten minutes. A Russian robot goes up, radiation everywhere, and it just works and works. One hour, two hours. Finally, a commander comes out of his lead-lined hut and yells up, “Ivanov! Time for lunch!”

    An estimated 95% of the radioactive materials released in the accident fell on the power plant grounds and adjacent forest. The Soviet government mobilized a massive army for decontamination. 850,000 liquidators, mostly soldiers and other conscripts, were sent to Chernobyl over a period of four years.

    The most dangerous jobs involved tunneling under the melted reactor and cleaning the adjacent rooftop. With nothing but shovels and wheelbarrows, thousands of men removed chunks of nuclear fuel and graphite exploded from the reactor core. Radiation was so extreme that shifts were limited to one to two minutes. Even so, many received dangerous doses and spent the rest of their lives disabled.

    The massive central square of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is filled with overhead pipes, unused equipment and unused buildings, as well as new radioactive waste treatment and storage facilities. Although the Central Square is inside a security fence and access is tightly restricted, it is far less contaminated than the adjacent “Local Zone” immediately west of the accident site.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 7/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 72782
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  • “The director told me that norms of radiation safety were inoperative. In a place of tremendous economic desperation, people competed for work in the Zone of Exclusion, where salaries were relatively high and steadily paid. Prospective workers engaged in a troubling cost-benefit assessment that went something like this: if I work in the Zone, I lose my health. But I can send my son to law school.”
    — Adriana Petryna, anthropologist, in Biological Citizenship

    Sergii Yudin and his wife Irina return home from work at the Chernobyl plant. Sergii is a superintendent in the Heat and Underground Communications shop, Irina is a communications engineer. Their older son Stas also works at Chernobyl.

    Daily life in Slavutych revolves around the power plant’s schedule. In winter, Chernobyl personnel walk to the Slavutych train station each morning before dawn and get back after dark. In the evenings, the stores and streets are full again as the workers arrive home. None of them know how long their jobs will continue or what the city will do once they are laid off.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 10/2008 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 50902
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  • Petro Konovalenko is head of the village council in Sukachi. This afternoon, he shed his suit to help neighbors load hay into their barn. Half the people of Sukachi are Chernobyl evacuees, relocated here from the village of Ladizhichi. The original Ladizhichi stood beside the Pripyat River, 17 miles southeast of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

    In the eleven days after the accident, everyone within 19 miles of the plant was evacuated. People in Sukachi remember bus convoys speeding by all night long, the first sign that something was amiss. The Soviet government did not admit to the accident until a week later, after reports appeared in international media.

    Initially, 91,000 Ukrainians and 24,000 Belarusians were displaced. Some stayed with relatives. Others lived with strangers for up to six months. The government erected the new settlement of Novo Ladizhichi in 1987. Houses were built without indoor plumbing; many of them still lack water today.

    Later, the Exclusion Zone was expanded to include other highly contaminated areas. By 2000, 163,000 Ukrainians had been permanently relocated, plus another 187,000 in Russia and Belarus. For many, the displacement and loss of community stability was as traumatic as the accident itself. It’s a problem Petro Konovalenko has spent his career working to address.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 7/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 69980
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  • “Summer is boring here. Next I want to go to university, but it depends on where the money will come from.” — Yulya, high school senior

    In Sukachi, cousins Yulya and Alina, both 18, graduate this week from high school. Tonight, the entire class celebrates at their prom. Unlike an American prom, here the students’ families and teachers are all invited to a grand banquet, followed by dancing into the night.

    In rural villages across the Chernobyl region, the younger generation is now as eager to leave as their parents were to stay. Unemployment is high, and young adults tend to leave in search of work. Senior citizens make up 43% of Ivankiv district’s population; in some nearby villages, this figure exceeds 80%.

    The girls stop at the liquor store where Nina Dubrovskaya is working late tonight. Then they continue up the road to use the outhouse behind their school. After tonight, only time can tell where they end up. Will they stay? Would you?
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 6/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 67942
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    Original caption:
    In Sukachi, Ukraine, students who are graduating from high school celebrate at their prom with friends and families. Unlike an American prom, here the students’ families and teachers are all invited to a grand banquet, followed by dancing into the night.

  • “I only went back once. I couldn’t stop crying.”
    — Galina Dondukova, former Pripyat kindergarten director

    Dolls lay scattered on a classroom floor of the Solntsye kindergarten in Pripyat, the abandoned city one mile from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. A closed Soviet city with population 49,360, Pripyat was built to house workers at Chernobyl.

    Today Pripyat is an eerie ghost town. Any valuables have long-since been stolen, but the toys remain. In the days following the Chernobyl accident, families were evacuated and told they could return in 3 days. Some have never returned, yet still mourn their paradise lost.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 4/2007 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 4139
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  • “The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.” — Book of Revelation 8:10

    Is Chernobyl a sign of the coming apocalypse? Some who believe in prophesies think so, citing Biblical references to wormwood. Both wormwood and the related species mugwort are common in the Chernobyl region. In fact, mugwort—chornobyl in Ukrainian—gave its name to the twelfth-century town Chernobyl.

    The sole church still operating in the Exclusion Zone, St. Ilinsky in Chernobyl town, has this mural painted inside. “The angel stares with a heartfelt gaze into our souls, warning humanity about the possibility of life disappearing from the face of the Earth.” says Anna Korolevska, director of the Chernobyl museum.

    A more certain effect of the accident and evacuations has been loss of cultural traditions in the region. Women in Ivankiv formed the Krynychanka (Water Spring) ensemble to preserve and perform local folk music.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 4/2007 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 2667
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  • “Our first priority was to save the people. As for the land and the animals, we contented ourselves with simple, drastic solutions. The gun for the dogs and cats, the shovel and the bulldozer for the land. These were our only weapons to fight radioactivity.” — Igor Kostin, photographer

    In Ukrainian villages, high fences surround most houses. Behind each fence is often chained a dog, trained to be submissive to its masters and vicious to everyone else.

    When villages were evacuated after the accident, people were ordered to leave behind their pets and livestock. One of the early jobs of liquidators was to come from town to town and shoot these dogs, cats and cattle. Their fur was radioactive.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 2/2009 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 9551
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  • “Is this only—a fear of radiation?
    Perhaps rather—a fear of wars?
    Perhaps—the dread of betrayal,
    cowardice, stupidity, lawlessness?
    The time has come to sort out
    what is radiophobia.
    It is—when those who've gone
    through the Chernobyl drama
    refuse to submit
    to the truth meted out by government ministers
    — Lyuba Sirota, poet and activist, excerpt from her poem Radiophobia

    A closed storefront is plastered with signs from people trying to rent out apartments or sell household possessions. Today, the economic effects of Chernobyl are as serious as the radiation. Poverty and high unemployment are especially acute in radiation-affected areas, which new businesses have avoided due to the stigma of Chernobyl.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 3/2007 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 1154
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    Original caption:
    Closed storefront, Kharkiv

    A teenager in Kharkiv, Ukraine, passes a closed storefront covered with signs, including many offering jobs. High unemployment is a problem in many Ukrainian communities; the problem is especially acute in radiation-affected areas, which new businesses have avoided due to the stigma of Chernobyl.
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  • “Ivan inherited his grandmother’s house in a village about 5 or 6 miles from Korosten, and it’s his dream to live there when he retires. He is an avid gardener, and he rides his bicycle to the village house every weekend, year-round, to tend the huge garden and work on the house and barn. He dreams of living there so he can tend his garden all day long and eat all the fresh fruits and vegetables he wants.” — Ann Merrill, former UN program officer

    Ivan Pashinsky's son-in-law Vova eats currant berries from Ivan’s garden in Korosten. The United Nations Chornobyl Recovery and Development Programme warns residents not to eat wild berries, mushrooms or game from contaminated areas. Most people ignore these warnings. As subsistence farmers and gatherers, many say they have no choice.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 11/2008 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 9515
    -------------------

  • Teenage boys jump off a plank into a small oxbow pond between the Teterev river and Kolentsovskoe village.

    The Chernobyl fire burnt for more than ten days, spreading radioactive particles into the atmosphere. These particles fell to earth when it rained. Today the radionuclides are in the soil and the groundwater. They accumulate in the sediment of small ponds such as this one, but that doesn’t stop anyone from swimming.

    For 25 years, elements like strontium, cesium and plutonium have moved through the ecosystem in a process called bioaccumulation. Plants—from reeds to wild berries to food crops—absorb the radioactive particles, which are eaten by herbivores, and then passed up the food chain. The amount of contamination varies widely, depending on the radioelements, the soil type, the plant species and the terrain.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 7/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 74277
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  • Chernobyl personnel check their contamination levels at the Semikhody radiation checkpoint as they exit the nuclear power plant. Although the plant stopped generating electricity in December 2000, some 3,800 employees continue to work here. They commute by train into the Exclusion Zone from the new city of Slavutych, population 24,300. As long as nuclear fuel remains on site their jobs will continue—so they have very little incentive to complete their work.

    Behind the radiation checkpoint, items on a bulletin board include two recent obituaries, details about a volleyball tournament, an ad for a taxi company and a lost hat.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 2/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 58058
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  • “If the accident happened today, I simply would not leave. I’d try to stay, to the extent possible, and use my strength to help.” — Sasha Sirota, evacuee and co-founder of Pripyat.com

    The central square of Pripyat is overgrown with trees but devoid of residents. The city was built to house Chernobyl workers. Until the accident one mile away, it had nearly 50,000 inhabitants. The entire city was evacuated one day later, while firemen tried fruitlessly to douse the fire in the reactor. Now, historic preservationist Sasha Sirota wants to save Pripyat from crumbling and turn it into a museum, before looters and weather destroy the buildings that remain.

    Pripyat gets two kinds of visitors. Chernobyl has become, surprisingly, one of Ukraine's hottest tourist destinations. Sightseers visit here every week on guided excursions into the Exclusion Zone, curious to explore the ruins, their shouts ringing across the plaza. When former Pripyat residents visit, they search quietly, struggling to match old memories with the scene before them. Other evacuees refuse to return, preferring to recall their old hometown as they knew it: a paradise lost, a community of intelligentsia nestled in a pristine land of rivers and forests.

    Sasha’s mother, poet Lyuba Sirota, writes that “the town Pripyat… after the explosion at the station, has simply ceased to exist, and together with it we—former inhabitants of Pripyat, also have ceased to exist.”
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 7/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 73320
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  • “Chernobyl remains a black hole of information, as the data concerning the spread and consequences of the catastrophe were initially falsified by the Soviet government. Neither the anti-nuclear association… or the nuclear lobby were ever able to establish the complete truth of what happened, or the number of victims, or the health, sanitary and ecological consequences. Nevertheless, you just need to visit any cemetery in the contaminated zone and to read on the graves the ages and dates of death to realize the scope of the catastrophe. These numbers were not manipulated.”
    — Galia Ackerman, journalist, in Chernobyl: Confessions of a Reporter

    On April 26th, the anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, Vasily Fedirko stands in the Pirogovichi village graveyard as he pays tribute to his wife’s parents. Every year at Easter time, Ukrainians return to their native villages to eat a ceremonial meal in the cemetery and remember those who have died. Especially in Chernobyl-affected areas, this tradition has become a reunion as former neighbors come together once more to feast and reminisce. Evacuees from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are allowed back in for one day to visit their abandoned homes and graves.

    Vasily and his wife Valentina moved back to Pirogovichi in 2003 when her parents died. This year their daughter Oksana came all the way from the Russian Far East for the holiday.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 4/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 61409
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  • Petro wants to show me his certificate. It reads:

    “The bearer of this identification has a right to receive benefits and compensations stipulated by the Law of Ukraine, ‘On the status and social protections of citizens who suffered as result of the Chernobyl catastrophe,’ for participants in the liquidation… who worked in the Zone in May and June of 1986, regardless of the number of the days worked, or from July 1 to December 31, 1986 for no less than 5 days, or in 1987 for no less than 14 working days.”

    Petro Meshchenko worked as a liquidator in the clean up after the Chernobyl accident. He is now unemployed and lives in Ivankiv. As a “category 2 invalid,” he gets free fares on busses and trains, plus a few dollars a month in government benefits.

    Evacuees, residents of contaminated areas, the disabled, liquidators and their children all receive government support. In terms of contribution to family incomes, individual stipends are often insignificant, but the large quantity of beneficiaries creates a major strain on the Ukrainian national budget.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 5/2007 File#: Canon 20D digital camera frame 4640
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  • Sukachi is a quiet village of 1,200. It has a school, 4 little shops to buy provisions, two liquor stores and two churches. There are two roads through Sukachi. One leads 12 miles north to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The other dead-ends at the Kyiv Sea. Half the people of Sukachi are Chernobyl evacuees, relocated here from the abandoned village Ladizhichi.

    After midnight, Nina Dubrovskaya and Lena Priyenko walk two miles home to Sukachi from the nearest town, Ivankiv. The women, both divorcees, went out in search of company, but found all four bars empty. “When the money gets short, people just get drunk at home,” says Nina.

    What is it like to live near Chernobyl? It depends who you ask. “Is it even safe?” they ask in Kyiv. “Why would you want to live up there, in the middle of nowhere?!”

    When people in Sukachi ask where I live, I tell them I rent a room from Nina. “Oh, how convenient,” they say. “That’s right in the middle of the village!”
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 1/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 53114
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  • “In the year 2000—the year the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s last energy-producing unit was prematurely shutdown—Slavutych lived through a tragedy. A social tragedy.”
    — Volodymyr Udovychenko, mayor of Slavutych

    The city of Slavutych celebrates its annual Day of the City with a parade and a concert on the central square. Slavutych has always been a company town, rising from the ashes of its predecessor, Pripyat, and dependent on the power plant for jobs.

    To hear Mayor Udovychenko tell it, the low point in his new city’s history came when international political pressure forced the Chernobyl plant to stop producing electricity. Until then the plant, though crippled, continued to generate revenue.

    The Chernobyl plant used to fund much of the city’s basic operating expenses, and donated generously for special events. Slavutych officials have responded to potential further job cuts at Chernobyl by proactively seeking to diversify the city's economic base beyond the plant.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 6/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 66336
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  • “For many veterans of Chernobyl, serving as a liquidator was the most important moment of our lives.”
    — Oleg Veklenko, liquidator and graphic designer

    The Energiya Plus gas station is at the edge of Ivankiv, the last city before the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Ivankiv is a quiet city. Population 11,900, it has schools, bars, a busy market. Two banks, two churches, one decent restaurant. Two blocks of tall Soviet apartment buildings, surrounded by small houses. It has local government offices, a small clinic, a park. There’s even a library, filled with retired women, and an Internet center, filled with teenage boys playing video games.

    There’s not much work in Ivankiv. Most industry shut down after the accident. People grow their own food and get by. Beyond Ivankiv is very little save for small farming villages, forests and marshes stretching to the border and beyond.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
    5 Draper St, Oneonta, NY 13820
    86 Three Mile Pond Rd, Vassalboro, ME 04989
    info@mfrphoto.com
    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 11/2008 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 52871
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  • “It's depressing. Soon my job will cease to exist. I can only do the job I was trained to do for another two years here... I don't rule out going to work abroad. People have gone from here to China and Iran. I would not go to Iran, but China is a possibility.” — Oleg Ryazanov, control room shift supervisor

    The job of a Control Room Shift Supervisor in the Chernobyl First Block: sit in an empty room watching inactive machinery and make sure nothing happens. As long as nuclear fuel remains in temporary storage in the reactor halls, Oleg Ryazanov and his peers will continue to sit in their seats all day and all night.

    A wall of lights in the control room once showed the status of each rod in the reactor core. Just down the hall is the burnt-out Fourth Block control room, where a combination of design flaws and human error triggered the accident during a late-night safety test.
    -------------------
    This photograph is part of Michael Forster Rothbart’s After Chernobyl documentary photography project.
    © Michael Forster Rothbart 2007-2011.
    www.afterchernobyl.com
    www.mfrphoto.com • 607-267-4893 • 607-432-5984
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    Photo by: Michael Forster Rothbart
    Date: 1/2009 File#: Canon 5D digital camera frame 51336
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    Original caption:
    A wall of dials in the Chernobyl First Block control room once marked the depth of each control rod in the reactor core. Just down the hall is the burnt-out Fourth Block control room, where a combination of design flaws and human error triggered the accident during a late-night safety test. Most estimates say ninety-five percent of the radioactive materials remained on the grounds of the power plant or spread to the adjacent forest. Both were decontaminated, using the labor of about 850,000 liquidators from across the Soviet Union.
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