Radioactive Moonshine

Selected by Holly Morris

On April 16th 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant’s reactor number 4 blew up after a cooling capability test. The resulting nuclear fire lasted ten days, spewing 400 times more radiation than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. To date, it’s the world’s worst nuclear accident.

But nearly 28 years after the disaster—amidst a quagmire of politics and science around nuclear energy —the human parable of Chernobyl is often lost.

This is best embodied in approximately 130 ‘selfsettlers’ who live inside the Chernobyl ‘Exclusion Zone’. Almost all of them are women. We first encountered this community while filming in the exclusion zone, just a few miles from a mass of radioactive lava that even now simmers beneath a crumbling reactor. We saw a bizarre sight—a small cottage straight out of an ancient folk tale, surrounded by lush vegetable gardens and farmyard animals. Then we saw Hanna, a striking woman in a colourful print skirt, headscarf and rubber boots, making her rounds.

At her cottage, Hanna offered us homemade moonshine and thick slices of raw pig fat. “Starvation is what scares me, not radiation”, Hanna said. Their moonshine is to drink and share but also to barter with. Like the wolves, moose, wild boar and other wildlife not seen for decades that have come back to the abandoned forests around Chernobyl, the women of the exclusion zone tell an extraordinary story of survival. They offer a dark yet strangely affirming portrait of life post-apocalypse.


About Holly Morris

Holly Morris is an award-winning author, director, producer and writer. She was Editorial Director of Seal Press, and is an alumni and board member of the Hedgebrook Writers in Residence program. Her book, Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine, was listed in both Editors Choice and Notable Book of the Year by The New York Times. Holly is also a documentary producer and correspondent. She is the executive producer /writer / director of the award-winning prime-time PBS documentary series, Adventure Divas, and host of the series Globe Trekkers (PBS), Treks in a Wild World (PBS), and Outdoor Investigations (OLN). She has travelled and filmed in dozens of countries including Zambia, Malawi, Niger, India, Paraguay, Gabon, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Norway, Azerbaijan, Borneo, and Georgia. Her current project, The Babushkas of Chernobyl, is a documentary about the women living in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone.