Editor, The World Today
Who can judge the risk of living in a radioactive zone? You cannot see, smell or hear radiation - unless you have a Geiger counter to hand. And what if you left your ticking Geiger counter behind and chose to live your life in defiance of radiation? This is exactly what some 1,200 people did when they sneaked back to live illegally in the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

As filmmaker Holly Morris writes, 30 years after Reactor No 4 blew up and spewed radiation over central and western Europe, there are still some 100 women ‘self-settlers’ living in villages in the Chernobyl dead zone,  among the mutating pine trees  with wild boars and wolves for neighbours. 

What is most extraordinary is that those who returned the exclusion zone have lived longer than those who were resettled in apartment blocks in a far off city. The evacuees die from the anguish of dislocation from their homeland, succumbing to depression and alcoholism.

Holly Morris, whose documentary ‘The Babushkas of Chernobyl’   is now on release, believes that home and community are forces strong enough to stave off the effects of radiation. This is not so true for young people, who are more susceptible to the deadly effects of caesium and strontium. But the survival of the self-settlers in their 70s and 80s provides an unexpected lesson from a nuclear tragedy about the power of the human spirit.