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The Babushkas of Chernobyl

The Back Story

While covering the 25th anniversary of the accident in 2010, the extraordinary reality that there was a community of women living inside the Zone emerged: How could these women survive under such extraordinary and toxic conditions? Holly Morris returned to the Zone 2 months after that first visit to report and write “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” (syndicated in The London Daily Telegraph, the Independent, The Week,, and MORE as Ukraine: A Country of Women).

In her TED Talk, she explained: “Chernobyl's soil, water and air, are among the most highly contaminated on Earth, and the reactor sits at the center of a tightly regulated Exclusion Zone, or Dead Zone; it's a nuclear police state, complete with border guards. The point being, no human being should be living anywhere near the Dead Zone. But they are. Why would they return to such deadly soil? I mean, were they unaware of the risks or crazy enough to ignore them, or both? The thing is, they see their lives and the risks they run decidedly differently.”

The documentary expands the reach of this global story - puts a human face on pressing contemporary issues, including nuclear power, relocation trauma, the health consequences of environmental disaster, and mind-body effects on longevity.

“It’s not that the women haven’t suffered enormously,” Morris says, “or that nuclear contamination isn’t bad (they have and it is) - but the babushkas’ unlikely survival raises fascinating questions about the palliative powers of home, and even the tonic of living a self-determined life.”

“We worked in teams so no one crewmember would have too much exposure time in the Zone; we carried dosimeters; we did our best to avoid the mushrooms and moonshine. In the end I hope and believe we captured a singular story of some unlikely heroines – now whisper away from gone,” says Morris.

Read the original essay, The Babushkas of Chernobyl

Watch the TED Talk

Listen to director Holly Morris discuss filming in Chernobyl on BBC World Service

And speaking about the Babushkas on CNN