Life after Chernobyl: Who Still Lives in the Areas Contaminated after the Nuclear Accident
Spanish photographer Quintina Valero visited the exclusion zone and captured people who continue to live on the contaminated territory despite the danger.
Documentary photographer and photojournalist from Spain. After a career in finance she moved to London in 2001 where she studied Photojournalism at the London College of Communication. Published her work in The Guardian, Sunday Times, Thomson Reuter Foundation, El País, and The Internationale.
— Could you tell us why you decided to take on this project?
— I was interested in Chernobyl for a long time. In 2015, I traveled to Ukraine for the first time to find out the long-lasting implications of the accident for both the environment and the people 30 years after the disaster.
— What is the aim of your project?
— The Chernobyl accident seems to have been forgotten by society. I wanted to give voice to the lives of those carrying on with the poisonous legacy of Chernobyl. With my collective, Food of War, I also created a European exhibition collaborating with artists who were reflecting on the consumption of food produced in countries where the radiation traveled after the accident.
— The world has already seen a lot of projects from Chernobyl. What is special about yours?
— For my project I did lots of research interviewing doctors, liquidators, and NGOs working with the victims of Chernobyl. I became very interested in remote villages, where people have limited access to hospitals and doctors. Life after Chernobyl is a very personal project that portrays life in the Narodichi region, 50 kilometers southwest of the nuclear plant. This turned out to be one of the worst-hit areas by radiation but only detected five years later.
— You must have seen a lot of awful things there. What was the most shocking?
— I was shocked by the poverty and isolation of these areas highly affected by radiation alongside with the collapse of collective farming due to the fall of the Soviet Union. The authorities are not ensuring a safe environment. There are no nuclear warning signs and people are still farming, fishing, and eating produce from their land that has led to birth defects and infant mortality.
— How long have you been with all those people?
— I traveled to Ukraine four times between 2015 and 2016. I spent four months documenting the situation of Chernobyl, with a total of three weeks with the families from the Narodichi district.
— Did you make friends with any of them?
— I became a very good friend with Nicholas Levkousky who was in charge of the evacuation of three cities in the 1986. He introduced me to the area and its people and from him I learned a lot about Chernobyl. Also, I became friends with Natalia Lukanina, a school teacher who introduced me to many of the families I worked with.
— Which story is the most difficult?
— The harder story I hear was from Emir Natsik and his family. He fled the conflict in Abkhazia (Georgia) when he was eleven, three years after the Chernobyl accident. He moved to live with his grandmother in Khristinovka, 60 km from the nuclear plant. She believed the town was not affected by radiation. Today, Khristinovka is considered one of the towns most affected by radiation. Emir lives with his wife Nastia and three daughters. Lia, two years old suffers from a brain tumor. Emir decided to stay because they don’t have any other place to go to.
— Could they be happy?
— Not really. The parents know they are exposing their children to radiation but they don’t have any other place to go and they complain the government is not helping them. Newborn children do not receive any help as victims of Chernobyl even though it is clear that their illnesses are from the effect of radiation.