“If people think she is a mutant, or has two heads, they are quite wrong. She is a lovely child who is absolutely healthy as far as we can see.”
That’s not the kind of comment one would expect about the only child ever conceived, born and raised within the Chernobyl nuclear accident exclusion zone … a child who swam in a river in the zone, ate the fish her father caught from it and drank the milk of cows grazing in the shadows of the buildings that were supposed to have been abandoned after the worst nuclear reactor meltdown in history. If she truly has survived, lived a normal life and is now a health 19-year-old woman, is there hope for the rest of us surviving the almost-certain-to-come next atomic catastrophe or nuclear winter?
“People here believe that Mariyka is a symbol of Chernobyl’s renaissance, a sign from God which they interpret as a blessing to live here, and that life is coming back to this blighted place.”
These comments are from Mariyaka’s mother Lydia Sovenko, whose husband Mikhail was employed by the plant, lived near reactor 4 and on the night of April 26, 1986, was called in as a firefighter to battle the fires caused by the explosion. Once the initial disaster had abated, the Sovenkos chose to ignore the mandatory evacuation of the 19 mile (30 km) radius of the exclusion zone because they were amazingly not offered shelter by what was then the soon-to-fall government of the Soviet Union. At that time, about 91,000 people left while about 1,200 remained. Most of them were older citizens, so the possibility of anyone being conceived or born in the exclusion zone was quite low. but not impossible.
In 1999, Lydia Sovenko, then in her mid-40s, did not know she was pregnant when she shockingly gave birth at home with the aid of Mikhail, who washed the newborn and tied her umbilical cord. The government and their few neighbors tried to shame and humiliate them into moving out instead of raising a child in such an irradiated and heavily polluted area, but they kept her there until age seven, when Mariyaka was forced to leave – not for health reasons but because there were only ruins of schools in the exclusion zone. However, she returned home when school was out, despite the fact that she was the only child living there.
“I am doing well, I am working. I’m providing for myself. This is it.”
The Soviet and later the Ukrainian government tried to keep her existence a secret, but the recent HBO television special on Chernobyl, which showed the destruction and death caused by the explosion and radiation, drove the Sunday Express to find Mariyaka and check on her health. While she no longer lives in the exclusion zone, she says she still visits her mother and both are in good health, at least in their own views. Ironically, despite the fact that she is the only child ever born in the exclusion zone, Mariyaka must obtain a special permit to enter it.
“She really doesn’t care about being unique through being born in Chernobyl. In fact, knowing that she is the only child who was born here after the explosion, and who grew up in Chernobyl, is rather painful for her. She sees it as a stigma.”
A friend who knows Mariyaka’s past told the Express that the only pain she feels is psychological, not physical. While the interview does not include a checkup by a medical doctor, perhaps there’s no need for one, as Mariyaka’s natural glow (see photos here) and the growing reports of plants and animals thriving in the exclusion zone may be proof enough that the aftereffects of radiation exposure are not the death sentence experts once believed them to be.
Then again, given the choice … would you live in the ground zero known as the Chernobyl exclusion zone? Would you conceive, give birth and raise a child there? Are Mariyaka’s parents heroes, villains or a creepy experiment?
Do you believe your own eyes, a documentary or a Godzilla movie?