Gateway to sky

Twenty years have passed since the Chernobyl… The shock of all aspects of the country's life has been measured in monetary terms. But the scale of the human tragedy cannot be estimated even centuries later. The catastrophe made thousands of people leave their native land, taught to lose loved ones and put up with post-Chernobyl illnesses. The Belarusians were able to find strength to accept it and live with a hope for the future, without losing spirit and belief
The village has been wiped out from the map of Chechersk District, Gomel Region. Young people, who grew up here after the Chernobyl accident, will not show you the way here. Only old-timers may remember the way to the solid house of old Klyuchinski family, who are the only remaining residents and caretakers of the resettled village of Rudnya-Dudichskaya. You think they live their last years in mourning? Not at all. They take care of the village, restore the church, get filmed and dream of rising to the sky.

An unpaved road, which leaves a busy highway to stop at a police roadblock, after which the radiation level hits 15-40 curies, and continue to the village of Rudnya-Dudichskaya. After the catastrophe just like tens of others the village was marked as radiation contamination zone, with unauthorised entry prohibited. Not so long ago the village, which history starts back in the 17th century, was cheerful and crowded. Before the Chernobyl Rudnya-Dudichskaya had about one hundred households. The solid house of Nikolai and Sofia Klyuchinski was the last to appear. It is the last to remain. A carved porch, a neat fence, an electric water heater. Also the house is marked with bird uproar. 70-year-old Nikolai Konstantinovich Klyuchinski feeds sparrows, tomtits, and starlings, which disappeared after the accident to re-appeare now. Every spring up to 70 bird families fly to the Klyuchinski garden, which is covered with birdhouses. "Life goes on", the grandfather`s eyes smile.

… Life in the village began dwindling in the mid-1990s when even those, who delayed the step as long as possible, left for "clean places". The Klyuchinskis stayed, though like other resettlers they could have received free housing and other amenities from the government. They say they could not find strength to leave the native village, where they had been born, had grown up and had aged. "If you are at harmony with yourself and people, the evil will pass your home, radiation will not get you", grandfather Nikolai has been hanging at the thought for 20 years already. In the village he is a kind of a person in charge and keeper of the ancestors` memory: he takes care of the local graveyard, calls the authorities if strangers attempt to lay their hands on what riches are left. In turn the authorities take care of the old Klyuchinskis. Though they are the only residents of the now non-existent village, the electricity, phone, regular mail delivery are available as well as a visiting mobile shop… External loneliness does not look like reclusion at all. Pensioners are not left alone to tackle their problems. Grandfather Nikolai is laughing, "Do you believe, sometimes I don’t have time to get bored. Household chores or guests keep me busy".

In the late 1990s Japanese documentary film group turned Rudnya-Dudichskaya into a film set of a kind. The Klyuchinskis were tailed, with every step filmed: potato planting, oven kindling, cattle shepherding, accordion playing, and song singing. Grandfather Nikolai does the latter especially well. A documentary "Nadia`s Village" won a prize at an international movie festival. Rudnya-Dudichskaya has watched the film in the garage where the Japanese installed a film projector and a special screen. Last spring the Japanese visited the village once again to shoot a sequel timed to the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Once again grandfather Klyuchinski was their guide and film character.

Grandfather Nikolai also has two other kinds of pastime: trying to restore a 19th century church, which is burnt to the ground, and an aircraft, which should raise him to the sky. Actually he refused the comfortable city life and stayed in the village for the sake of the church. He had a dream: his uncle asked him not to leave Rudnya-Dudichskaya and take care of the church. Then grandfather Nikolai made his decision. But several years ago during a dry summer the wooden church caught fire. The Klyuchinskis had a hard blow. Only belief in restoring the church gives Nikolai strength to live on. And dream of the sky.

The sporting airplane appeared in grandfather Nikolai`s garage not so long ago when an aeroclub discarded an outmoded sporting craft. But it turned out the engine needs replacement and it is hard to buy a new one. However, the grandfather does not lose his hopes and dedicates every spare moment to his dream: "I understand I won`t make it. But while looking at the sky, my soul is overwhelmed", admits the grandfather with sadness.

…Funny old people, like they were born on another planet. Or on the contrary, they are very earthly, they preserved surprising wisdom and purity. I was sitting on a solid bench near the usual rural home, feeling somewhere in this uninhabited wilderness a gateway to the sky is open. And the Klyuchinskis help travellers to see it.

by Violetta Dralyuk
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