Ivan Semenyuk lives alone in a village that previously had more than 600 inhabitants. After forced relocation in connection with the nuclear accident, he returned here with his wife despite the ban of the authorities. This is how Ivan lives today, 25 km from the irrigated reactor.
Illegal returnees in Chernobyl
In the closed zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, approximately 150 people live (some say 300). Most are old and common to them is that they live there illegally. The authorities know this, but choose to ignore it. Anyone who treats the closed zone may know the risks.
Ivan sign up as a volunteer
When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, Ivan contributed as a truck driver in the area. In addition to transport, he also worked to flush roads and other asphalt free from radiation. Despite the risks, Ivan volunteered, but basically, he was a leader in a collective farm. He had been too kind to the workers and did not follow the party’s directive. The party demanded that he “disappeared”.
Being a volunteer was the only way out.
As a hero of the Chernobyl accident, he was still noted by the Communist Party. He received ten medals for his efforts. He still looks at the medals on April 26 each year.
Back in a world where all disappeared
In the village that Ivan lived in from 1959-1986, more than 600 people lived. After the disaster, in 1988, there was only Ivan and his wife. The neighbors’ house, the store and everything else was spooky abandoned. The community service had ceased to exist and is not available either now. Throughout the time they have managed to harvest what nature provides.
How does Ivan live today?
Ivans wife died two years earlier. Ivan himself is 82 years old and starts to get bad eyesight. In addition, he is in pain after an accident with boiling water. The water damaged the nerves in the knee.
By the way, rural life outside Chernobyl is going on a steady course. Cats, chickens and even a wild boar live in Ivan’s farm. He used to have an artificial pond in which he cultivated fish, but it dried out a few years ago.
Ivan says that his trick to succeeding is to barely drink any alcohol at all. Alcohol only makes you passive and stagnant. In order to manage, you need to keep up and running. Ivan also refers to his agricultural background, making him know what to do and not to do and how healthy plants look like.
Ivan likes to get a visit. He son lives in Kiev and usually comes once a month. In addition to that, he often talks with groups visiting the Chernobyl zone.
Ivan is relatively used to attention when several TV shows and newspapers are greeted to interview him. But best of all, he likes watching the face of the people who visit him. It stimulates the brain and keeps him clear in his head, he points out.
Ivan has a car that he likes to show. It does not work anymore, but he points out that it was a real sports car in 1993, when he bought it. Today it stands still in the garage that looks like a museum of a mechanical workshop. But he is still proud of his car.
A final question to Ivan …
How did you decide to return to the village and Chernobyl? Didn’t you worry?
The authorities had said that we would only be evacuated for three days. Then we would return home again. When it had been a year, he and his wife could not wait any longer. They went back. The authorities declared the behavior illegal, but after two years they gave up and restore the electric power again for the couple.
Many families who wanted to come back were stopped by the authorities so we were lucky. In addition, we got really cheap milk …
Our village was considered safe. No major radioactive deposition had occurred here, so I thought the authorities’ decision was terrible. I was not worried.
For a while, I had to work in Belarus, which had the largest part of the radioactive field. They were not as cowardly as the Ukrainian authorities, but we used the ground just as before. At the same time, I learned what to use and what was dangerous to use in nature.
Here I will stay until I die …