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Babushkas of Chernobyl

2015
Distributed by The Video Project, 145 - 9th St., Suite 102, San Francisco, CA 94103; 800-475-2638
Produced by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart
Directed by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart
DVD , color, 52 and 72 min.
High School - General Adult
Aging, Nuclear Accidents, Women’s Health, Soviet History, Documentaries


Reviewed by Susan J. Martin, Acquisitions Librarian, Texas Woman’s University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 7/15/2016

At first glance, Babushkas of Chernobyl seems to be a documentary about the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Instead directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart have captured something much more - a story about independence and love of country and home.

We spend time with several elderly women of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the only permanent residents who are allowed by the Ukrainian government. Their pensions are delivered to them, weather permitting, and a bus takes them to church at Easter. These women are primarily self-sufficient, growing and raising their own food in well-tended backyard gardens, and picking wild mushrooms and berries from the lush, deep forests that have reclaimed the abandoned land. They are relatively healthy octogenarians and happy. The radiation does not bother them.

Morris and Bogart allow the women to tell their stories beginning with how they came back to their homes near Pripyat after the 1986 disaster and forced evacuation. These women have survived much – abusive husbands, deaths of their children, separation from loved ones, even thyroid cancer caused by high radiation levels from working at the power plant during the night of the disaster. Each woman clearly and repeatedly expresses her love for her home; this is where they belong and where they love – radiation and all.

Our visits with the babushkas are contrasted with footage with academic and government experts who measure the Exclusion Zone’s radiation levels and take samples of drinking water and food to analyze. These experts explain why the babushkas are foolish for living where and how they do. These experts “know.” However, they cannot explain the babushkas. These women defy the odds. They have, in many cases, outlived their fellow Chernobyl survivors who did not return, but remained in Kiev and other cities after evacuation. We meet a second group of elderly Chernobyl survivors, ones that did not return. They are profoundly sad and lament their loss of home. By including this group, Morris and Bogart provide a brilliant and stark foil to our laughing, dancing, joking babushkas.

This film comes highly recommended and is appropriate for high school through general adult audiences. It would be a fine complement for Russian studies, women’s studies, general science, sociology, and health studies courses. The DVD has two cuts of the film, 52 and 72 minutes. Both versions are worth viewing, as is Holly Morris’s TED Talk available at the official website.