Gravity of life
SOME SMALL TOWNS, YOU CAN JUDGE AT A GLANCE. YOU SOON REALISE THAT THEY HAVE AN INNER SPIRIT WHICH ENABLES THEM TO RESURRECT EVEN AFTER THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE MOMENTS IN HISTORY. TODAY, THE PROVINCIAL TOWN OF DOBRUSH IN THE GOMEL REGION SEEMS TO REMEMBER NOTHING OF THE CHERNOBYL TRAGEDY. IT POSITIVELY RADIATES A THIRST FOR LIFE
Venice of craftsmen. …From the moment I arrived, I enjoyed wandering about the town; the best comparison I could find was that it was like a small Venice, with the noisy River Iputs, obstinate in spring, inlets, lakes, bridges and fishermen with angling rods. The town breathes with a modern rhythm, full of provincial peace. I dropped into the regional museum — reconstructed several years ago, which boasts an art gallery.
“Dobrush was first mentioned in 1560, as part of Gomel Castle’s inventory, at a time when our land was part of the Great Duchy of Lithuania,” explains the young female guide showing me round. She’s clearly proud of her native town’s age. “Since those times, the town has been famous for its crafts. Long ago, sails and ropes were made here, as seen on the emblem of Dobrush — three knots on a green shield. In the late 18th century, various manufactures became established: a linen textile factory; an ironworks; a copper plant; a mill; and a sugar factory.
A plaque outside the museum honours enlightened Russian Prince Fedor Paskevich, who turned Dobrush — with its rivers — into an industrial town. Thanks to him, a paper factory was established in 1870 (one of the biggest in Europe and the first in Russia to have an eight hour working day). Soon, there appeared a college, a factory school with handicraft classes, a hospital, a club, a free bath-house, a railroad station, the first power plant in Belarus, a telegraph and a telephone… the attributes of any megalopolis of the time.
Some original buildings have survived in the central street, standing alongside new offices and apartments. They are also scattered around the outskirts of the town. They look stately, with moldings, columns and pediments and tall windows. They are rather like wise old men who have resisted time with dignity. Residents’ handicrafts have endured the trials of time, remaining as a constant tradition in a world that is ever moving on. Without them, it would be a different place.
Reality of the future. In late April 1986, few people were aware of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power station, yet it shaped the destinies of thousands. Only later was the full scale of the misfortune felt. 13 villages in the district had to be resettled, with 500 families forced to leave their homes. Victims across the affected region were rehoused in twenty purpose-built settlements in clean areas. Those events will never be forgotten. People say, “It will stay with us forever, but life goes on. We have to protect our children and provide them with a firm basis to move forwards.”
Accordingly, the state’s actions to alleviate the results of the disaster have an impact on every individual from the region. The rules of life have changed, requiring attentive and careful behaviour, but hope remains for rehabilitation of land, restoration of abandoned farms, updating of factories and construction of agricultural towns. Simply put, there are real plans for the future.
Support for stability. Dobrush Porcelain Works is now seeing major reconstruction; established 30 years ago, it is well-known throughout the former Soviet Union. Its porcelain — sold under the trademark name ‘Belaya Rus’ — can be found in German, Dutch and Swiss homes.
“We have been exporting for several years,” notes Oleg Parfeniuk, the Director General of the enterprise. “Our biggest regular customer is Germany. Moreover, we have several new Swiss customers.”
Dobrush District Executive Committee employees say that economic stability is the foundation for change when it comes to living conditions for residents. The state provides support for new and old partners.
“Over the past 15 years, Dobrush has been twinned with the Swiss town of Ittigen,” explains Gennady Maltsev, the Director of the Economic Department of the District Executive Committee. “Our relationship began from charitable projects to improve children’s health, while offering support to their families. Now, we are seeing joint efforts benefiting Dobrush. Last year, under the aegis of the ‘Dobrush — Ittigen’ Affiliation Commission, 20 000 US Dollars was spent on the acquisition and installation of a packaging line for ‘Dobrushskoe’ starch factory; it improved competitiveness, while raising salaries and providing jobs.
Life line. In the 23 years that have passed since the Chernobyl disaster, almost everything has changed in this town, including the people and their way of thinking. Only memories remain unchanged; you can’t forget the tragedy even for a day. Public health is the main priority, especially when it comes to children.
The secondary comprehensive school in the village of Nosovichi (Dobrush District) meets spring in a special way. Deputy Head Viktor Serpikov believes firmly in the importance of physical activity for children — and always has. He is confident that the children benefit greatly from becoming ‘tourists’ in their own area, visiting sites of historical and cultural significance. In fact, every third child in the school (which has about 300 pupils) originates from outside the district. Serpikov, in spite of his 60 years, is tireless, “We are going to the Lelchitsy District with the older children, travelling 200 km. We’ll be camping for several days, visiting sites which mark the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis. Places of the former combat glory are on the agenda for the trip. In summer, we’ll be spending three months outside, ensuring pupils get plenty of fresh air and exercise. It builds their strength for the rest of the year.”
Serpikov’s program is famous not only in Belarus but in those Russian border zones which also suffered from the Chernobyl disaster. Nosovichi tourist meetings, gathering hundreds of children from post-Chernobyl districts, are like bright festivals of life. The children’s cheerful mood and sparkling eyes give proof to the benefits of such events.