The documentary follows an unlikely group of rebels as they continue to go about their daily lives in the toxic and lonely environment. These women defiantly cling to their ancestral homeland in Chernobyl’s radioactive Exclusion Zone while most of their neighbours have long since fled and their husbands have gradually died off.
The film depicts the zone’s scattered ghost villages, now silent, eerie and contaminated. Many villages have eight or 12 babushkas, or babas – the Russian and Ukrainian words for “grandmother” – still living in them.
Why do they insist on living on farms that the Ukrainian government and radiation scientists have deemed uninhabitable? How do they manage to get by, isolated, in an abandoned landscape guarded by soldiers and rife with wild animals? How has the radiation affected them these past 29 years?
“Starvation is what scares me, not radiation,” says resident Hanna Zavorotyna. That stark choice reveals the incredible journey that the women have traveled: from Stalin’s enforced famines in the 1930s, through Nazi occupation, to nuclear disaster.
Like the wolves, moose, wild boar and other wildlife not seen for decades that have come back to the abandoned forests around Chernobyl, the women of the Exclusion Zone have an extraordinary story of survival, and offer a dark yet strangely affirming portrait of post-apocalyptic life.
Directed and produced by: Anne Bogart + Holly Morris
The film is screening this weekend at the Frontline Club in Paddington, London as part of the Green Caravan Film Festival, a nomadic film festival focussing on environmentally and socially conscious films.