Rooted: unique documentary shots for the 34th anniversary of the Chornobyl tragedy

This year, the echo of the Chornobyl disaster would probably not have become so relevant against the backdrop of the information flow about the coronavirus pandemic if there were no fires in the Chornobyl forests, the suffocation of which overtook many of us in Kyiv.

That is why on the eve of the anniversary of the Chornobyl tragedy, Ukrainian artist ZINAIDA presented her project “Rooted”, created to draw attention to the disappearing culture of Chornobyl Polesia. A few years ago, ZINAIDA initiated an artistic expedition to the area. Every spring since, together with volunteers and employees of the State Scientific Center for Cultural Heritage Protection from Technogenic Catastrophes, she visits the residents of the exclusion zone in order to preserve the memory of the life, daily routines, and culture of the affected area of Polesia.

The basis for the documentary project “Rooted” was the unique footage of the daily life of elderly residents of the Chornobyl area, shot by the expedition team. It includes the stories, confessions, and different moments of everyday life of those people. The heroes of the project are the people who stayed here after the tragedy, as well as the self-settlers who settled in this abandoned area later. For the project, Iryna Danyleiko and Anastasiia Poletnieva, ethnographers and professionals of authentic singing, performed an ancient Ukrainian song for recording.

With this initiative, its authors want to not only recall the traces left behind by the 34-year-old catastrophe but also to draw public attention to the consequences of the new tragedy caused by recent fires in the forests near Chornobyl. As a result of the fires, thousands of hectares of unique Polesia land were in flames, which included the homes of people who had once lived through the Chornobyl accident and the loss of loved ones. Scientists of the expedition point out that Chornobyl Polesia still remains a unique place, which is of exceptional importance for studying the history of all Slavic peoples and, most importantly, of Ukraine. On the territory of the present Chornobyl zone once lived people who gave the world unique examples of folk art, useful inventions, customs, and rituals.

“Unfortunately, the challenges of nature, looters, and difficult living conditions are and will be part of life in this area,” says artist ZINAIDA, the author of the project “Rooted”, after visiting the exclusion zone. “Unlike the inhabitants of the Chornobyl Polesia, for the sake of comfort, we live in another zone – a zone of temporarily created illusions. Such is human nature. When you ask people if they want to go to Chornobyl, the majority says “no”. We know that not far from us there are zones of exclusion and firearm risk; these are all territories of suffering, hopelessness, and death. But once you have been there and communicated with the locals, you will never forget that deep feeling of separation and sadness in their eyes. This stays in your mind forever. At the same time, the attitude towards the comfort that surrounds you in the city and the excesses in food and human relations are changing, because while visiting someone there, the food you are treated with, for example, is specific – it cannot be realized by your stomach, the awareness comes only through your heart. I advise people who are unaware that all disasters, wars, and suffering are the result of our unclean desires and search for material satisfaction, to go to the Chornobyl exclusion zone and visit natives and self-settlers living in those unusual and difficult conditions.”

An important part of the project “Rooted” was the work of photographers who documented different corners of the exclusion zone during the expedition. Unfortunately, most of the buildings depicted are altered forever from the April fires.

What we can do for others is a small part of our contribution to how the world should change for the better…

*ZINAIDA (1975, Kyiv, Ukraine) is a Ukrainian artist working with related forms and genres of contemporary art. She is founder and director of the ArtRehub volunteer initiative. She is a member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine (since 2014). She is included in the art community Con Artist Collective (New York, USA), and the international community Food of War. Zinaida participated as a facilitator in the project “Marina Abramović: In Residence” (Kaldor Public Art Project, Australia). She graduated from the National Academy of Fine Arts and Architecture (Bachelor of Arts in Art History). She is a member of the National Union of Artists of Ukraine.
The topics of ZINAIDA’s projects are the studies of mythologemas, national and archaic images. Due to the narrative of conveying relevant meanings, ZINAIDA invents a language in which she speaks to the world about the uniqueness of Ukraine.

**State Scientific Center for Cultural Heritage Protection from Technogenic Catastrophes

1991 – The historical and cultural expedition of the Ministry of Chornobyl Affairs of Ukraine was created (since 1996 – the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine).

2001 – State Scientific Industrial Enterprise “Center for Cultural Heritage Protection from Emergencies” of the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine.

2007 – State Scientific Center for Cultural Heritage Protection from Technogenic Catastrophes (SSCCHPTC) of the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine (since 2014 at the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management). In total, while working in the disaster area, a comprehensive historical and ethnographic exploration led by Rostyslav Omeliashko covered 600 authentic Polesia villages (159 of which in compulsory evacuation zones), as well as 97 settlements of resettles. Under the program of inventory of immovable historical and cultural monuments, about 500 settlements were examined, where more than 1,000 historical and cultural objects were inventoried. Fifty new archaeological sites have been discovered as a result of field reconnaissance, including the site of the chronicle town Chornobyl of the 10th-13th centuries.