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The Babushkas of Chernobyl: These Tough Old Ladies Will Only Be Carried Out Feet First

If you ever wondered how Hitler got his ass kicked in WW2, i.e. the Great Patriotic War, by the Russians, all you have to do is watch “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” which I recently enjoyed seeing at the 2015 Woodstock Film Festival. Flowers or no flowers, these are serious grandmothers, i.e. babushkas, you wouldn't want to mess with, war or no war. The “Babushkas of Chernobyl” is the tale of a dwindling group of elderly woman who snuck back into the "exclusion zone" around the highly radioactive Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. You may recall the Soviet era melt down in 1986, one of the worst nuclear disasters in history. One of the feisty babushkas literally dug under a barbed wire fence to return to her dacha so she could be back “home.” Babushka Hanna Zavorotnya dismisses warnings from authorities to leave: "Shoot us and dig the grave...otherwise we're staying."

The tenacity of the women makes you chuckle, yet sad at the same time. The film depicts the hard lives of these sturdy women. One is amazed at how they grow their own vegetables, pickle and can food, and fish. They live off the grid just as their ancestors had to do before there was electricity, much less a defunct nuclear power plant. Scenes of drinking home made moonshine, singing, dancing, and eating radioactive food with gusto are simply surreal. Not surprisingly, the babushkas are dying. Many of the two hundred or so women who returned, illegally, to live in the exclusion zone after the mandatory mass evacuation have passed on, officially from "old age." Most, however, have been found to have suffered with thyroid cancer caused by the insidious radiation.

Recent reports show the area around the gigantic, melted, radioactive reactor entombed in a partially sealed sarcophagus returning to a wild state and wildlife haven. Except for some official personnel, security and nuclear staff operating under strict rules, the entire region is uninhabited by man save for the few remaining babushkas. The radiation levels are so high official staff limit time spent in the exclusion zone of approximately 1,000 square miles.

The long term effect on the genetics of people, plants, wildlife, animals and water creatures in the radioactive countryside might not be known for many years to come. Exposure to high levels of radiation for extended time surely has a negative effect. Case in point, Kazakhstan, a former Soviet Republic, where atoms bombs were tested. In parts of Kazakhstan, birth defects and abnormalities in newborns are common. Genetic damage in local populations has been shown to be passed on generation to generation.

The United States has approximately one hundred aging nuclear reactors with tons and tons and tons of radioactive waste for which there is no permanent safe storage solution. And, some of these nuclear plants are on earthquake faults and in potential flood zones. The possibility of a disaster in America on the scale of Fukushima or Chernobyl is not too much of a stretch of the imagination. I am not sure if any American babushkas would sneak back to homes covered in radioactive dust. But, then again, we're a tough group of survivors when we want to be.

I hope we don't have to find out how tough. Text Copyright 2015 Paul E McGinniss. All Images Copyright Fork Films

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