Food by VICE

Chernobyl Is Still Making Ukraine's Food Radioactive

While the area surrounding the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant is slowly being reborn into haven for tourists, parkour enthusiasts, and wild boar, the future isn’t looking any brighter for its human inhabitants.

by Nick Rose
Mar 10 2016, 4:00pm

While the area surrounding the defunct Chernobyl nuclear power plant is slowly being reborn into a haven for tourists and parkour enthusiastsnot to mention elk, deer, wild boar, and wolvesthe future isn't looking any brighter for its human inhabitants.

According to a recent Greenpeace report titled "Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima," radioactivity is present in pretty much every element of daily life in the area surrounding Pripyat, the Ukrainian city that was once home to the doomed Soviet nuclear power plant, especially where food is concerned.

"It is in what they eat and what they drink. It is in the wood they use for construction and burn to keep warm," the report states. "And just as this contamination will be with them for decades to come, so will the related impacts on their health. Thousands of children, even those born 30 years after Chernobyl, still have to drink radioactively contaminated milk."

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And while levels of some harmful isotopes like caesium-137 and strontium-90 have fallen, radioactivity remains dangerously high and even on the rise in certain areas. To make matters worse, Ukraine is already going through a rough time economically in the wake of a rash of pro-Russian insurgencies.

According to Greenpeace, Ukraine "no longer has sufficient funds to finance the programs needed to properly protect the public... this means the radiation exposure of people still living in the contaminated areas is likely increasing."

Surgeon Victor Khanayev told the authors of the study that these economic forces were weighing heavily on locals. "It is impossible for rural people and even the district town's residents to refuse local produce from the land and their garden, especially with the official monetary compensation being so small."

And Halina Chmulevych, a single mother of two living in a Russian village some 200 kilometers away from the defunct power plant, spoke of the day-to-day struggle of having to eat contaminated food.

"We grow potatoes, the cow grazes on the pastures," she said, adding,"We have milk and bake bread ourselvesthat yes, is with radiation. Everything here is with radiation. I myself was born here when it exploded at the station. But I'm alive. I eat, live and so they will eat what we have. Of course, it worries me but what can I do?"