Parishiv, or Паришевis, had a population of 678 prior to 1986, today it is home to just 16. Located within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and heavily contaminated following the disaster Parishiv is where Maria Urupa, now aged 81, continues to live.
Maria was one of the hundred thousand people resettled in the weeks after the explosion with tens of thousands more forced to move in the subsequent months and years. When the soldiers first arrived to evacuate Maria her thoughts were of how to protect her livestock. She, along with fellow residents, were relocated to hastily constructed housing on the outskirts of Kiev.Her new home was built on land where many people had died during the Holodomor. An “Extermination by hunger” instigated by Stalin between 1932 and 1933 that killed 4 million Ukrainians.
Allowed to return briefly three months later she found that all her animals had been slaughtered.
Maria returned to Parishiv to live in 1990 despite objections from the government “because we have always lived here, it is impossible for us to live far from here”. Maria explained via our guide ”We wanted to return although we know that this radiation will kill us sooner or later, but this is our home and our life”. There is an electricity supply to the houses and most of the villages have at least one phone but nobody has running water.
On her return Maria became a Samosely, an illegal “self-settler”.
Approximately 1,200 re-settlers returned to the Zone, the majority over the age of 50 with almost half settling in Chernobyl. Today just over 200 remain. About 80% of those are women, now in their 70’s and 80’s.
Maria greeted us warmly as we arrived and beckoned us in to her yard. Small in stature but full of power it was impossible not to feel admiration for her. Her husband, Mykhaylo, sadly was not in such good health and after painfully shuffling out of the house to shake our hands he slowly inched his way back inside. As he turned to depart it was possible to see the pale skin of his legs through a hole worn through the three pairs of trousers he was wearing. Life was unmistakably hard here.
But for those who returned life in Parishiv is still preferable to the distress of being displaced. According to reports by the United Nations many of those who were relocated after the accident suffer from depression and anxiety. Health conditions as real as those caused by exposure to radiation with one study by Alexander Anisimov stating that women returning to their homes in the Zone living almost 10 years longer than those who remained in their provided accommodation. In 2012, the local administration unofficially granted permission to the elderly samosely to live in the area, but ordered the younger inhabitants to move away.
Waving goodbye to Maria I follow old tracks through fields of knee length grass. The teetering remains of fences stretch between the empty houses that dot the landscape. The majority of the houses are in an advanced state of collapse so it’s obvious which are inhabited. With the sun overhead the autumn colours are vibrant and the temperature warm. A dog barks in the far distance but there was no man made noise, no cars, no planes. It is very different atmosphere to the decaying city close by. The ramshackled wooden framed houses with their overgrown hedges seem in tune with nature and almost compliment it. As a brief visitor it is a truly beautiful place for the remaining residents it is home.
Paryshiv is situated on the left bank of the Pripyat River approximately 20 km from Yanov Railway Station. During the summer a team of firefighters is stationed their due to regular forest fires.
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