'Life finds a way'
28 Mayo 2018 13:08
The Chernobyl disaster was one of the most dangerous catastrophes involving nuclear energy since the world began harnessing its power. It took place in April 1986, in a water graphite reactor at the Chernobyl power plant, near the now-empty Pripyat, a town in the north of the then-Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, about a hundred kilometres north of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
Design flaws in the reactor, as well as certain procedures not being followed properly, led to uncontrolled reactor explosions, releasing radioactive material in the atmosphere, which spread in other parts of Europe and the west of the USSR.
Hundreds of servicemen were injured during the incident, with dozens of people dying immediately or a few years later from radiation-induced cancer. The Chernobyl incident is one of just two nuclear accidents in history that has been classified as a level 7 — the maximum — occurrence on the International Nuclear Event Scale. The other is the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe in 2011, in Japan.
Today, the area of exclusion around Chernobyl is still mostly a ghost town, due to the lingering fallout from the disaster's radiation. However, 'life finds a way'. Currently, a community of stray dogs has taught itself how to stay alive in the forest around the danger zone. These pups are mostly the descendants of the animals that were left there by their owners after the reactor disaster hit, when they were stopped from taking their pets with them to safety — presumably because the authorities assumed that most of these animals would be irradiated and dead before long.
The Chernobyl Prayer, which is a harrowing oral history of what happened during that time, says: 'Dogs howling, trying to get on the buses. The soldiers were kicking them. They ran after the buses for ages.' Families put up notes on their doors in a desperate attempt to protect their pets: 'Don’t kill our Zhulka. She’s a good dog.' However, troops still went out and shot the animals. The ones that managed to escape led to the community that exists today.
According to reports, there are around three hundred stray dogs that still live and flourish in the 2,600 km² area. These animals are not unaffected by the adverse conditions of the region. The harsh Ukrainian winters and the radiation that is still embedded within them reduces their life expectancy. The guards near the zone's checkpoints made little huts for the dogs as shelter, and some are even fearless enough to go near eating establishments, knowing that where there are people, there's probably food.
Clean Futures Fund, a US non-profit organisation, meets the dogs' health needs. They have set up three separate vet clinics in the area, one of which actually inside the Chernobyl plant. They help with medical emergencies and vaccinate the animals against diseases like hepatitis and rabies. They also neuter some of the animals because, even though they don't think they can ever remove the dog populations from the region completely, they aim to at least bring them to a manageable number so they can feed and care for them adequately.