Poor Belarusians returning to areas contaminated by Chernobyl

It’s been 18 years since the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in the Ukraine exploded and spewed forth a cloud of radiation that contaminated some 22 percent of neighboring Belarus. Now many poor Belarusian residents are returning to normal life there, foraging for mushrooms and planting crops in areas that critics say remain contaminated. Yuri Kuzmich, head of Belarus’ Chernobyl exclusion and monitoring zone, offers this benign explanation: “The passage of time and economic necessity take their toll. Human memory is short.” Critics, however, accuse the government of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko of deliberately encouraging repatriation of contaminated areas in order to boost agricultural production. They say he has struck many cities from the danger list prematurely, cut Chernobyl-related welfare funding, and censored alarming health statistics, all of which will lead to another generation burdened with the lingering health problems that are Chernobyl’s ugly legacy.