85-year-old living in Chernobyl exclusion zone
Amid rows of long-abandoned houses and radiation warning signs, 85-year-old Yevgeny Markevich makes the best of life as one of the few permanent residents of the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
The pensioner lived and worked in the area as a teacher before being evacuated along with thousands of others following the 1986 nuclear disaster.
But the tug of the place he’s called home since 1945 kept pulling him back, despite the nuclear fallout.
“I made my way (back) here using such guerilla tactics three times,” Markevich says – first by using fake documents to get aboard a ship with scientists, another time while posing as a police officer in uniform and a third while sneaking through the forest.
Just a few months after the disaster, he says, he convinced the director of the radiation monitoring service of the powerplant to hire him to make small repairs of equipment.
He’s stayed in the area ever since, eventually becoming a clinical technologist in the field of radiotherapy.
“When you want something, there’s nothing that can stop you,” he explains.
Like many other Ukrainian pensioners living in rural areas, Markevich chops wood for the cold winter, grows vegetables with his wife in the summer, and drives around the woods in his old Lada car.
Unlike most of his peers, however, he has to take additional safety measures to live with the high levels of radiation that continue to plague the Chernobyl area.
“These radiation safety rules are ever-present; you just need to diligently follow them,” he says.
“Of course, you can’t do it perfectly and of course at some point you’ll receive an excess (of radiation) by making a mistake, but you can still largely keep yourself safe,” he adds.
Experts estimate that the area will not be safe for human habitation for hundreds or even thousands of years, but that hasn’t stopped Markevich who says that neither he nor his wife have had any health complications related to the radiation in the area.
The couple grow potatoes and cucumbers in their garden that they regularly consume after doing safety tests of the vegetables and soil at a local laboratory.
“Everything is within the norm,” he says.
One thing Markevich hasn’t been able to contend with, however, is the sense of isolation of living in a once-thriving town that is now abandoned.
“It’s a great joy to be living in your home, but it’s also sad that it’s not like it was before, as we were used to,” he says.
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