Following the nuclear incident in Chernobyl that occurred on April 26 1986, the Soviet government created a 30km exclusion zone around the power plant and evacuated 116 thousand residents. The area thus became a dead zone. But today, in spite of the fact that it is one of the most contaminated locations on Earth, Chernobyl is brimming with life. The town of Chernobyl, located within the exclusion zone and 16 km from the exploded reactor, is the main centre of daily life in the area. Prior to the incident it was home to 16 thousand people, today four thousand reside there. Most of them work in the local area, all linked in some way to the power plant, but not all of them. In fact, the town of Chernobyl is still home to some samosely, so-called self-settlers who resisted evacuation from the area and remained or returned to live out their lives: people such as the painter Leonid, now famous as “the painter of Chernobyl”, or Mihail, the music teacher at the school in Chernobyl before the incident and now a pensioner.
The other inhabitants of this strange town are the staff of the administrative offices, workers involved in the disposal of radioactive material, the guards and military that control the area, firefighters and local police, but above all the personnel (around 2000 of them) who each day ensure the safety of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, at least until 2065, the year in which the decommissioning work on the reactors will begin. There are also scientists involved in research on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster and the monitoring of radioactivity in the area and at the plant. Around 100 scientists and employees work here. For all of these workers who live in Chernobyl – in shifts of 15 days – the town offers various services like any other Ukrainian town: four mini-markets, two canteens, a post office, a coach station that connects the exclusion zone with Ukraine’s main cities, a cultural centre, a gym for keeping fit, a church in which to celebrate mass, and nowadays even three hotels for tourists. But in the exclusion zone contamination will remain high for 200 thousand years, even though today everything appears normal in the dead zone, especially in the bustling town of Chernobyl.