“The exclusion zone is not a prison,” Valentyna Ivanivna, 75, says in the film, championing the wild around her. “In Kiev, I’d have died long ago, five times over. Every car releases the whole periodic table into the air, and you inhale that into your lungs.”
"Could it be that those ties to ancestral soil, the soft variables reflected in their aphorisms, actually affect longevity?" asks Morris in her TED talk. "The power of motherland so fundamental to that part of the world seems palliative. Home and community are forces that rival even radiation."
These babushkas (Russian for "grandmothers") — oddities to an outside world wary of Chernobyl's dangers — continue to farm the soil, raise farm animals and enjoy the occasional get-together over a shared bottle of homemade moonshine.
"Radiation doesn't scare me. Starvation does," says one grandmother in the film. You can see more about what it's like to live there in the video below:
As the three decades have shown following the disaster, there's still much to learn about how Chernobyl's fallout is impacting the surrounding environment. Whereas wildlife was once thought irrevocably doomed from the immense radiation, 400 times as much as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, scientists now rank the event as a net positive. A long-term census of Chernobyl animal populations published in 2015, discovered a dramatic uptick in elk, roe deer, wild boar and wolves.
“Radiation is a matter of increased potential risk," professor Nick Beresford, an expert at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Lancaster told The Telegraph. "But when humans are around, animals are simply shot or lose their habitat.”
While the wildlife is flourishing, the number of human residents are slowly losing their battle with time. Once the last person passes away, the authorities who manage the exclusion zone will not permit others to take their place.