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Nuclear Borders: Informally Negotiating the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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Abstract

Borders have been a part of Viktor’s life for most of his adulthood. Until the ‘anthropological shock’ (Beck, 1987) of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, Viktor was doing national service as a border guard on the western edge of the Soviet Union. He showed me photographs of his former self: uniformed, proud and young. They were stuck carefully into a velvet-clad scrap book of a previous life. He patrolled the barbed wire fence that separated the USSR from the Socialist Republic of Romania, miles away from his home near a power station in northern Ukraine, where we now sat: ‘After Chernobyl it all changed’ he said. He shows me a pile of ‘liquidator’ passes which he held until 2008, each one signed and stamped with a nuclear warning symbol next to a photograph of his face. A different, more serious man stared back, his face the embodiment of life on the margins. These passes let him enter the 30 km ‘Zone of Alienation’ which surrounds the exploded reactor, and contains some of the highest levels of nuclear contamination on earth. A contamination that is a constant threat, but remains completely invisible.

Keywords

  • Informal Economy
  • Informal Activity
  • Scrap Metal
  • Informal Payment
  • Exclusion Zone

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

… so I was at the checkpoint where they check the cars for everything that is prohibited from leaving the Zone, and I was caught by one of the guards. He said ‘What is that in your bag?’ And I said ‘Mushrooms’, and the guard said ‘You know that mushrooms are especially prohibited from leaving the zone?’ And I said ‘Yes I know, but they are not for me!’ [laughter] And the militia asked ‘Well who are they for?’ and I said ‘They are for my mother in law’ [laughter] And the militia said ‘OK, have a nice trip!’

Viktor, late forties, former Chernobyl liquidator

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Davies, T. (2015). Nuclear Borders: Informally Negotiating the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. In: Morris, J., Polese, A. (eds) Informal Economies in Post-Socialist Spaces. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137483072_11

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