Chernobyl danger zone where locals risk their lives – and how they survive

Thousands of people were evacuated after the Chernobyl disaster to escape the deadly radiation – but some risked their lives to return to their true homes.

In 1986, one of the reactors at the power plant exploded and burned due to a flawed reactor design, triggering a crisis in the former Soviet Union and what is now Ukraine.

While the UN estimates that just 50 deaths can be attributed to the disaster, it later predicted that a further 4,000 may die from the after-effects.

Approximately 350,000 people were afterwards evacuated from the area – with the town of Pripyat abandoned.

Scientists believe the zone around the former plant will not be habitable for up to 20,000 years.

However, there were hundreds of residents who ignored safety warnings and returned to their villages after the meltdown.

The locals, known as samosely [self-retuerners] live in 162 villages dotted around the exclusion zone.

Ivan Shamyanok previously discussed his experiences in the Belarus village of Tulgovich.

Despite their proximity to the reactor, he and his wife said they never felt any effects from the radiation.

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Shamyanok, then 90, told Reuters in 2016: "My sister lived here with her husband.

“They decided to leave and soon enough they were in the ground … They died from anxiety.

“I’m not anxious. I sing a little, take a turn in the yard, take things slowly like this and I live.”

After the disaster, he and his family continued to eat vegetables and fruit grown in their garden.

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They kept cows, pigs and chickens for the meat, milk and eggs.

After his wife died and children moved away, Ivan and his nephew were the only people left in the village.

He added: “Will people move back? No, they won't come back. The ones who wanted to have died already."

Ivan Semenyuk moved back to Parishev, just eight miles from the power plant, two years after the disaster.

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The village once had a population of 600, but it had been reduced to three people by 2018.

Ivan told Adventure in 2018: “I always find something to do — cook food for the chickens, chop firewood.

“But it’s difficult and there’s no choice for me now.”

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Asked if he regretted moving back, Ivan responded: “It was still the right choice to come back. I didn’t like the noise in Kyiv.

“If I need fish, I go fishing, if I need mushrooms, I go foraging.”

Others were forced back to the area by the conflict in eastern Ukraine which unfolded in 2014.

Maryna Kovalenko fled with her two daughters to the village of Steshchyna, 18 miles from the exclusion zone.

The family told the BBC in 2018 that they grew their own food and kept livestock to survive, receiving just 5,135 Ukrainian hryvnia [£132] month in state benefits.

At least 10 other families made the same journey from Ukraine’s Donbass region to the abandoned villages.

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One woman simply Googled the “cheapest place to live in the Ukraine”.

Along with the evacuations, the meltdown also took a heavy toll on the surrounding wildlife, with animals suffering genetic mutations.

Biologist Timothy Mousseau, from the University of South Carolina, discovered mutant bugs, birds and mice in the contaminated areas – including some with missing eyes.

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