The stray dogs of Chernobyl
At the beginning of March there is still deep winter in the Ukraine and the snow is meter high. Endless white plains and snowy forests stretch along the road through the exclusion zone. The landscape is so breathtakingly beautiful that it is hard to believe that you are surrounded by an invisible danger. But in spite of the silence, which is not disturbed by any human sound, street noise or industry; despite the apparent harmony of landscape and nature: the contamination remains - for millennia!
As a journalist and photographer, I travel a lot in the world. In March 2018, I was in Chernobyl to do a reportage on the impact of the reactor disaster of 1986. Depending on the species, animals and plants seem to cope well with radioactivity. In the trees it is the birch, which has little load. In the animals, rats and mice seem to have best adapted to the circumstances. Birds, on the other hand, also show tumors externally and can also fly poorly or not at all because of unnaturally long feathers.
As a big dog lover, I noticed the many dogs that are running around and now live as descendants of the dogs after the evacuation of the humans. The dogs can not be seen if they have been damaged by the radiation. They look well-fed and healthy like dogs in other parts of the world, too. However, studies confirm again and again that they also carry significant genetic changes due to the radiation, which they pass on to their offspring. In Chernobyl, nature shows anomalies like nowhere else in the world.
According to estimates by animal protection organizations, around 900 dogs today are said to live in Chernobyl. Although independent of humans, they are conspicuously friendly. Already on the border to the restricted zone, they welcome the visitors. Just like the strays in southern holiday countries, the dogs hope to get something to eat here as well. Their persistence pays off. Although it is warned to stroke the dogs because their entire body surface may be contaminated with radioactive particles, I did not succeed in withstanding the proverbial dog's eye. Immediately I fetched a sandwich from my bag and cuddled extensively a small tricolor bitch, which does not give way to me from the side. Subsequent examination of my hands with the Geiger counter did not indicate increased radiation.
I was fascinated by how they manage to master their hard, deprived, yet apparently contented life without the care of human beings. Some of them escorted me through the grounds all day, and I got thousands of impressive pictures of them. Here is one of them ...