The Babushkas of Chernobyl
directed by Anne Bogart and Holly Morris
Chicken And Egg Pictures, Fork Films, and Hedgebrook
There’s no women like an ancient Russian ones, they can survive anything. Back in ’86 the Russians nuked themselves with a dirty bomb called Chernobyl; between Russian opacity and incompetence and culture, they released a huge cloud of radiation that poisoned the Ukraine and good parts of Europe and forgot to tell anyone about it. With a carbon-moderated reactor on fire and soaked with exotic isotopes, it was the worst nuclear disaster ever, Once the fire was out they evacuated people, never to return. But these women did; there was nothing for them in the evacuation zone so they walked over 100 km to crawl under the barbed wire and return home. Today the area is a fenced off “exclusion zone” protected by the state yet routinely penetrated by adventure seekers and others who do not fear thyroid cancer.
We meet a dozen or so of these women; they are all positive, friendly and happily fatalistic. They grow gardens, socialize with each other and the radiological survey teams. Their life exemplifies the essence of Old Russian in the stoicism, hard work and toleration of the misery of life. Wild boars eat their potatoes, their pension gets hijacked by the government, and they continue to grow apples, preserve berries, and pick wild mushrooms. After the Last Judgement I’m convinced these women would be in the Ukraine and doing just fine.
We see several elements of the disaster here: the abandoned cities are decaying time capsules now only visited by “Stalkers” who sneak in and try to avoid the police. Then there’s the reactor building and its sarcophagus; it looks like a medieval cathedral and the young female guide seems SHOCKED it might just collapse. We meet the women, elderly peasants full of cheer and vodka, and we meet the survey teams who can do nothing to clean up the areas, but can at least study the effects. Documentaries like this are why people still make them: they can show us places we can never really visit, and show lives we can never really live.