While covering the 25th anniversary of the accident in 2010, the extraordinary reality that there was a community of women living inside the Zone emerged: How could these women survive under such extraordinary and toxic conditions? Holly Morris returned to the Zone 2 months after that first visit to report and write “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” (syndicated in The London Daily Telegraph, the Independent, The Week, CNN.com, and MORE as Ukraine: A Country of Women).
In her TED Talk, she explained: “Chernobyl's soil, water and air, are among the most highly contaminated on Earth, and the reactor sits at the center of a tightly regulated Exclusion Zone, or Dead Zone; it's a nuclear police state, complete with border guards. The point being, no human being should be living anywhere near the Dead Zone. But they are. Why would they return to such deadly soil? I mean, were they unaware of the risks or crazy enough to ignore them, or both? The thing is, they see their lives and the risks they run decidedly differently.”
The documentary expands the reach of this global story - puts a human face on pressing contemporary issues, including nuclear power, relocation trauma, the health consequences of environmental disaster, and mind-body effects on longevity.
“It’s not that the women haven’t suffered enormously,” Morris says, “or that nuclear contamination isn’t bad (they have and it is) - but the babushkas’ unlikely survival raises fascinating questions about the palliative powers of home, and even the tonic of living a self-determined life.”
“We worked in teams so no one crewmember would have too much exposure time in the Zone; we carried dosimeters; we did our best to avoid the mushrooms and moonshine. In the end I hope and believe we captured a singular story of some unlikely heroines – now whisper away from gone,” says Morris.
Watch the TED Talk
Listen to director Holly Morris discuss filming in Chernobyl on BBC World Service
And speaking about the Babushkas on CNN
In 1986, Chornobyl became the site of the greatest nuclear accident in history. An area the size of Luxemburg was contaminated and closed off, but in the years following, some of the residents returned to the exclusion zone and made it their home. At the end of February, Chornobyl again made headlines around the world when it was invaded by a Russian occupying force. The Russians are no longer there but now, at the 36th anniversary of the accident, it is time to look back at the tragic history of Chornobyl.
The programme is as follows:
19.00 Gunnar Þorri Pétursson, one of Iceland’s leading translators, will discuss and read from his translation of The Chernobyl Prayer by Nobel Prize winning author Svetlana Alexeivich.
19.15. Writer and historian Valur Gunnarsson will discuss developments in the exclusion zone after the accident and read from his best-selling book Bjarmalönd, written in Ukraine in 2020.
19.30 Screening of The Babushkas of Chornobyl.
In the radioactive Dead Zone surrounding Chernobyl’s Reactor No. 4, a defiant community of women scratches out an existence on some of the most toxic land on Earth. They share this hauntingly beautiful but lethal landscape with an assortment of interlopers—scientists, soldiers, and even ‘stalkers’—young thrill-seekers who sneak in to pursue post-apocalyptic video game-inspired fantasies. Why the film’s central characters, Hanna Zavorotyna, Maria Shovkuta, and Valentyna Ivanivna, chose to return after the disaster, defying the authorities and endangering their health, is a remarkable tale about the pull of home, the healing power of shaping one’s destiny and the subjective nature of risk.