History of Chоrnobyl

The cultural heritage of Chornobyl

The cultural heritage of Chornobyl

Ukrainian Polissya, which was associated with the formation of the ancestral homeland of the Slavs, belongs to the most unique historical and ethnographic regions of the Slavic world. Due to the natural conditions of this region (hard-to-reach forests, swamps) in the traditional culture of its inhabitants - in the living vernacular, rites and customs, in oral stories and song folklore, in the construction of residential and farm buildings, in towel ornaments - ancient artefacts have been preserved—past eras. Almost until the last years before the accident, the people of Chernobyl Polissya believed in the arrival of mermaids (ancestral souls) for the mermaid week after the Trinity, in the magical power of healers and witches and ritual actions and orders.

As a result of an unprecedented human-made catastrophe, a radioactive dead zone absorbed the entire continent of Ukrainian spiritual life. More than 170 Polissya villages and towns with their unique cultural and historical face, monuments of antiquity, and talented works of contemporaries, have turned into landfills of radioactive waste, doomed to gradual self-destruction and looting by looters. And the natives of this region were scattered around the world, losing the most precious thing - the connection with the native spiritual environment in which they grew up and from which they organically adopted their parents' language and deep cultural traditions. Practically this part of Ukraine, with a total area of ​​4125 square kilometres, ceased to exist as a whole ethnocultural and linguistic area.

Thanks to many scientists' obsessive work in the affected areas and places of compact residence of migrants, a unique museum-archival fund was collected, which now includes 175 thousand photographs, 7500 hours of audio and video recordings, about 50 thousand material monuments, and 21 thousand archival documents. , which together virtually reproduce the main features of the lost cultural and historical environment and, in the future, will serve as a knowledge base about the folk culture of Chernobyl Polissya.

Only a tiny part of the saved cultural treasures formed the basis of the permanent exposition "Memory of the Fatherland" in Chernobyl (51 Radyanska Street). But this composition creates a holistic historical image of Chernobyl Polissya. In contrast to the ruins of abandoned villages and towns, visitors to the exclusion zone will have an unexpected meeting with former residents of the Polissya region, who have always lived on this land, loved it, and created their own unique ethnocultural space. The exposition presents archaeological materials from the excavations of medieval Chernobyl, typical for the Chernobyl region objects of traditional economic crafts and handicrafts, products of local potters, samples of folk costumes, and traditional interior items, archival documents, and photographs return the viewer to the pre-emergency life of this region historical continuity for present and future generations.

Specialists of the State Scientific Center for the Protection of Cultural Heritage from Man-Made Disasters (SSCZSTK) worked with the Center for Organizational, Technical, and Information Support of Exclusion Zone Management (COTIZ). 

Chernobyl as inspiration

The Chernobyl tragedy has inspired many contemporary Ukrainian and foreign artists with thousands of works of art, animation, theatre and cinema. It is also quite possible to investigate the tragedy through such alternative resources.

Craig Mazin previously even posted on Twitter a list of books he used to research for one of the most famous works about Chernobyl - the HBO series "Chernobyl". Among them are, for example, the book by Nobel laureate Svetlana Aleksievich "The Chernobyl Prayer" and "Chernobyl: A History of Tragedy" by Sergei Plohiy.

"Chernobyl: A History of Tragedy", Sergei Plokhiy
Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy, Allen Lane, 2018

In this fascinating book, the author argues that the famous turbine engine test was not just a random error but also caused by a design defect. The book presents not only a gruesome picture of events in the hardware room but also the fall of the Soviet system.

Serhiy Plohiy is one of the researchers of Ukrainian history and leading specialists in Eastern Europe, a professor of Ukrainian history and director of the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University in the USA.

In November 2018, this book, published by the English publisher Allen Lane, received the Baillie Gifford Prize - the most prestigious British literary award in non-fiction.

"Chernobyl 01:23:40", Andrew Leatherbarrow
Chernobyl 01:23:40, Andrew Leatherbarrow, 2016

The book, which is based on careful research, is a bright and horrible canvas of events on the day of the catastrophe. It sheds light on people's efforts to prevent tragedy and how they sacrificed their lives. The second storyline is the author's journey to the abandoned Ukrainian city of Pripyat and the Chernobyl zone.

"In Flames: A Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl," Pierce Paul 
Reed Ablaze: The Story of the Heroes and Victims of Chernobyl, Random House ;, 1993

The screenwriter included this book on his list as a reliable source. "In Flames" is an excellent documentary about the unfolding of events, the consistent description of disturbing, but remains necessary. It is also interesting because it is based on materials that the author collected to communicate with the participants of the events when he traveled to Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in 1991.

"Chernobyl Prayer", Svetlana Aleksievich
Translated by Oksana Zabuzhko, Komora Publishing House, 2018.

The fiction-documentary novel by Belarusian writer Svetlana Aleksievich, a 2015 Nobel laureate, speaks in the voices of "little people" about a catastrophe that destroyed millions of lives, overturned the worldview of an entire generation, and at the same time, rejected the Iron Curtain and undermined the seemingly inviolable state.

The novel is based on lengthy interviews with eyewitnesses and victims of the Chernobyl tragedy: liquidators and their relatives, IDPs from radiation-affected regions, and "zone" settlements, officials whose decisions depended on the fate of tens of thousands of people, and children who knew born already doomed.

In 2016, the film premiere of Paul Cracten's "Voices of Chernobyl" based on this book took place at the Trieste Film Festival. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

"Midnight in Chernobyl", Adam Higginbotham
Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Nuclear Disaster, Simon & Schuster ;, 2019

This book offers a deeper exploration of the tragedy and how the true story has been hidden behind a veil of mystery and myth for years. The author tried to create an entire multi-level panorama of those events, considering it in different social and even political and ideological dimensions. At one time, the book was included in the authoritative list of bestsellers of the New-York Times.

Chernobyl has undoubtedly taken a piece of great history with it into the past, and at the same time has become a catalyst for many new ones.