The first part of the installation presents the photos depicting sentimental and blessed people with a strong core — it was this core that gave these people the strength to make the decision to return to their native land. This was a very bold step, because the buildings of deserted settlements are falling to pieces more every year, the territory is overgrown with thickets and becomes a shelter for wild animals. But residents of the Chornobyl region believe that they are at home and this is want counts.
The second part of Shchaslyvi (Blessed) Installation consists of materials that were found in abandoned dwellings of Chornobyl area during expeditions organized by employees of the SSCPCHTD — these are postcards and photo archives of residents of the exclusion zone. The collected photos show happy people of different ages, their friends, families, special family events and peaceful life before Chornobyl accident.
Perhaps viewers, who visit the online exhibition, will recognize their loved ones in these photos.
Viewing the photos presented in the installation, you can hear fragments of recordings of conversations with people from Chornobyl zone: of Lubianka, Kupuvate, Otashiv, Opachychi villages and Chornobyl. Unfortunately, many of them are no longer with us.
Fragments of recordings:
"Radiation, what radiation? We were born here, my children grew up on this land. If it weren't for this land, we would have all died in that city long ago."
"It hurts the residents of Chornobyl very deeply that they call our native land the exclusion zone. I, native resident of Chornobyl, perceive this land the same as it was 50 years ago. This is my city, this is my land, this is my temple, this is Ukraine. This is where our grandfathers and great-grandfathers lived."
"Hey, I kept a cow till I was seventy-five, and a big pig too. Here they lived. See how many barns I have, as many as one can wish. So I had a pig and a cow and milk from that cow… and I saw no radiation."
"I said: I'm not going anywhere. You have no right to touch me! [...] Here our parents are buried, their graves, our ancestors, their graves, and we will live here until the end of our lives."
"Oh! Yes, homeland! Leave own homeland?! Who wants to leave their homeland? Well, I came to my house and lived in my house. [...] and now I live in my house, − that is what I need. I'm my own person here. I walk around the town, I keep on walking. I don't want to go to the apartment blocks. I don't want to... I don't want to see the apartment blocks."
"And I choose the homeland, because homeland is not a replaceable person, can you replace my mother? − No you can't. And I don't replace my homeland. I wouldn't go anywhere, even if they would have shot me here — and I wouldn't have gone, that's all. Even if they would come shoot me — and I would say, I would kill someone and go to prison, because I have not yet been in prison. I was in no prison, that's all, my darlings."
"No. I think it's lots of people here. I'll come out and sit here — it's quiet now, but in the spring they chirp a lot, yes the nightingales and other birds…And I sit here, asking: Oh, dear Lord, Lord, why did they make us move? It's so nice here. Yes. And that is what I think, that is my opinion. I have it here…I always plant flowers... And I'm already so sick, so restless already... It's already eight-six years, my dear... To think about it...[...] it so nice to walk on earth barefoot
... so nice. There, I planted some potatoes for myself here. I don't (regret it), my daughter, I'm very weak, that's how I live, sometimes I have headaches and here my lower back hurts and my legs hurt so much, but little by little I move."
"I really want it for the land to restore, for it to be all right here. It is my wish, as I am a native resident, my great-grandfather, grandfather father lived here and I been here for two eights. Homeland is homeland."
"Well, I know that I can't leave it all, I can't forget it, it's all dear to heart. Every path, every one of them... Where you lived, where you went, where you worked — it's all very, very dear to heart, and it's all very, very painful today."
"Well, that how it goes, it's like this picture, as storks flew, and here it exploded — they burned their wings and fell. And then this picture, they are already — there the sun rises, and so many years have passed, thirty years, and they are already wings... they came alive. So the things are, as I gather it, the things are that you can live here, the life is slowly returning to these lands. The life comes back to the zone. This is how I imagine that storks came alive and are flying back, returning to Chornobyl, returning life to this land. I think so. And I know that it will be so."
"I, myself, am from Siberia, and he lives in Kyiv. He came here, he lives, and his family is here, It's nice... [...] I say: "What is this homeland?" − "What is it about homeland?". I say: "Yes, but do not lie to me, do not lie to yourself. How long have you lived here? You have lived here for twenty years – your childhood." – "Yes I lived here, and twenty years have passed since I moved out." – "And now answer me: if you dream, what do you dream about?" and he fell silent. "No – say I – You tell me the truth." And he says: "I dream about homeland". So you dream about where you lived in childhood – your homeland. So am I, wherever I am or whatever, I dream about Atashev (now Chornobyl Exclusion Zone – N. L.). This whole area. And this is important, this is very important. Here, what is it in the human body?"
(residents of Chornobyl Zone)
"Most of them are elderly people, who no longer travel far from their homes. Their narratives are quite life-affirming, vividly marked by a complete disregard for radiation and a strong attachment to the place of residence, unwillingness to leave the places they have been living for long time in. Local residents are dismissive of radiation and the fear of it by newcomers, therefore, there can be no refusal of a hospitable offer to share a meal with the hosts. All products are of local origin: meat, vegetables, fish, mushrooms, berries. In this situation, everyone can act at their own discretion, but recording of materials requires trust between the recorder and the informant. It should be remembered that the refusal of meal in a Ukrainian village is a reason for the host to be offended; that is an evidence of the archaic custom of treating the guest. "Squatters", or, more precisely, "returnees"– which, perhaps, does not sound so offensive to people, who have returned to their own home – often faced with fear and disgust, which is an unpleasant situation for them. Their choice of work and their contacts in public places were restricted as they were considered "infected" and "Chornobyl victims". More than once, these situations are confrontational, therefore, to distance yourself from the offer of a joint meal and even with local moonshine is a risk for full communication between the recorder and the informant. The Small Homeland, and this is how we understand the terms "home" and "homeland" used by the residents of Polissia, is one of the important factors that reflect self-identity, along with language, traditions, ideas, folklore and other social practices."
Natalka Leshchenko, Researcher of narratives about Chornobyl disaster