Fifty-six districts in Belarus were affected by the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Almost half of them were classified as the worst hit. Amogn them was Chechersk District in Gomel Oblast. After the accident, its population was reduced by half and the future of the entire district hang in the balance. However, despite the gloomy forecasts, people did not abandon their hometown. Today the living standards here are no worse than in other places. In the new episode of BelTA's Youtube project "After The Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions" we will focus on Chechersk, on how its residents learned about the Chernobyl accident and why they decided to stay or return to their town.
‘I like how our district is developing'
When the Chernobyl accident happened, Svetlana Chernova was eleven years old. Now she works as a methodologist in the Chechersk district education and methodology office.
“You take everything easier somehow when you are young. We, teenagers and children, were immediately taken to sanatoriums and camps for the whole summer. There was some kind of anxiety over the unknown. But at the same time, the evacuation proceeded in a calm efficient manner. But the anxiety was, of course, palpable,” she recalled.
Almost four decades on, Svetlana said she was not going to leave the hometown. “As you can see, our town is living and developing. It is beautiful, well-groomed. With regards to the thoughts of leaving… No I had no such thoughts back then, or when I grew up. Life is good here. At least to me. I like this quiet, cozy, calm place, its good-natured and friendly people. I know almost everyone. I like how our region is developing, how it lives now," Svetlana said.
Indeed, Chechersk makes a good impression. It is quiet and cozy. A new neighborhood is growing at the entrance to the city from Gomel.
“We survived this. Of course, not without the help of the state. Colossal investments, colossal care. Back in the days and now, we feel it, both in terms of medical examination, rehabilitation and also social support,” the resident of Chechersk said. “There are a lot of young women with baby prams. This means children are born and life goes on. Life goes on. The head of state said that he has always supported and will support our district. We feel it.”
‘A lot has been done in our town. A lot'
Anna Maloletnikova, deputy director of the Chechersk Central District Library, is also from Chechersk District. After school, she went to study in Minsk and returned to her hometown to work as a coach in the sports school. Anna will probably never forget 26 April 1986.
"Life was going as usual. It was spring and the day was very warm, people were planting their vegetable gardens. We, the staff of the sports school, were preparing for the 1 May festive events. And then we noticed that there was a lot of pollen in the streets, at least that's what everyone said. The festive events were held as scheduled. Only at the beginning of May we learned of the accident and that it was very dangerous,” the woman recalled.
Anna together with teachers and tenth-graders were sent to Krasnodar Territory. Then children began to manifest skin diseases. “When I remember that day, you know, it's like watching movies about the outbreak of the war. The children were crying, the parents were crying. Literally everyone was evacuated,” she shared her memories.
Several years later, Anna married a military man and left the town. But a few years later the family returned to Chechersk. Gradually, life began to improve. People who live here permanently feel the support of the state, the resident of the town said.
“After all, a lot of money has been spent to ensure that the people who decided to stay here have everything they need. It was the support for both agriculture and healthcare. Today we have a wonderful clinic, a nice school with great teachers. It is heartening that our children have already begun to return to the district to work here. Life goes on. You have been to the town and seen how well-maintained, clean and beautiful it is. All this is thanks to those people who stayed and who came. Being someone who was born in Chechersk District and who has lived here for many years, I see the positive changes that have taken place here. A lot has been done. A lot,” Anna Maloletnikova said.
Life must go on no matter what
In Belarus, there are almost 115,000 people who were engaged in the mitigation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. Among them was Valentina Kovaleva, the former chairwoman of the Lenin rural council of Chechersk District. After the accident she was in change of the resettlement of the most affected villages.
“I remember that day clearly. It was very hot, windy. On that day we sorted potatoes on the farm. Later on I got a call from the district administration about the Chernobyl accident. I was instructed to oversee the resettlement effort. My heart still hurts when I recall it,” Valentina Kovaleva said.
Some of the farms were most advanced in the district, known for magnificent gardens, strawberry plantations, aqua farming, she said. “And I had to do the resettlement. The young people did not anguish as badly as elder people. There were a lot of tears,” Valentina Kovaleva said.
Aleksandr Lukashenko has been paying attention to the Chernobyl-affected areas since the very beginning of his presidency. His working trips to these settlements immediately became a tradition. The head of state and the government control the implementation of the Chernobyl legislation and the state program to overcome the consequences of the accident.
“He puts forward his demands, and this is right. There are many slackers who want to have something, but do not give anything in return: they do not work, do not give back. In this regard, I am in favor of even more stringent policies. I was a demanding person too. We organized people and did a lot, and we were always first. Those who work have good salaries. Both mechanics and milkmaids. we made village life work again,” Valentina Kovaleva said.
Galina Dorofeyeva, head of the Verbitsa folk song ensemble, worked as a director of the kindergarten in Chechersk in the 1980s. At the time of the accident she already had two children: her youngest son was two years old and the oldest one was four and a half.
“On that day we were returning home from the countryside. The day was super windy. The wind was blowing so hard that when we came home our clothes were all covered in sand. We didn't know what had happened yet.
We were preparing for 1 May celebrations at the kindergarten. We were rehearsing on the town square all day long. We learned of the accident on 1 May. At that time they said that all the clouds that were gathering over Chernobyl were coming our way,” the woman said.
Galina and her family went to live with her sister in Ukraine. “We stayed there for eight months, and then returned home. You cannot imagine how anxious I was to go back home. We were optimists. We knew that life must go on no matter what,” she stressed.
Indeed. Just imagine: if people had left, if the state provided no support, what would be there with the country? In that case we would have a huge part of the country in desolation and depression today, Aleksandr Lukashenko said once. Today these areas not just come back to normal life and also become an example for other regions of the country.