Under “Chernobyl” Sign

The Chernobyl accident endangered the whole region of Polesye, including its rich historic and cultural heritage. The villages of Berdyzh of the Chechersk District and Yurovichi of the Kalinkovichi District, in the Gomel Region, were recognized the first encampments of prehistoric people in Belarus and are mentioned in all history books
Мinsk is to host an international conference timed to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy this April. Issues headlining the agenda will be ways to overcome the consequences of the disaster, but the rehabilitation of historic and cultural values of the contaminated areas will also be high on the agenda.

Much has been lost after a long four-year pause taken by scientists and ethnographers. It was almost impossible to work in the polluted districts then, and even now distant villages are growing older and shabbier, while ancient constructions and ethnographic monuments are “dying out”. Migration, disappearance of towns and villages and ageing population result in fall in the number of carriers of historic and
cultural values.

The Chernobyl accident endangered the whole region of Polesye, including its rich historic and cultural heritage. The villages of Berdyzh of the Chechersk District and Yurovichi of the Kalinkovichi District, in the Gomel Region, were recognized the first encampments of prehistoric people in Belarus and are mentioned in all history books. The villages of Borovka of the Bykhov District and Zhuravel of the Cherikov District near the rivers Dnieper and Sozh boast cultural artifacts of the II millennium BC. Besides archeological artifacts these settlements have numerous architectural monuments and unique wooden constructions. Folk arts of this locality were based on pre-Christian European traditions, which were lost in other parts of the continent.

The folklore of the contaminated areas, especially traditional songs, is of especial value. In a few villages of the Gomel and Mogilev Regions old-timers still sing far-back ceremonial and everyday songs preserving incomparable speech patterns. The inimitable folklore of the contaminated regions must be preserved in documents. According to specialists the International Council for Monuments and Historical Sites, Belarus should create a special national archive to preserve and study folklore, as well as special departments in art museums and galleries. Besides, folklore requires legal protection.

Belarus indeed aims to protect and preserve the values of the past and present. The linguistic, arts and ethnography and folklore institutes of the National Academy of Sciences have launched a program of the folklore and ethnographic heritage, language and culture of Polesye studies. As a result of numerous on-site research and expeditions more than a thousand works of folk arts were prepared for press, more than a hundred folklore teams were discovered and a series of articles “Chernobyl Speaking” was published.

Expeditions were sent to the Bykhov, Kostyukovichi, Klimovichi, Slavgorod and Krasnopol Districts of the Mogilev Region. A total of 362 monuments of neolithic age, bronze and iron age, early feudalism (settlements, camps, burial grounds and mounts) were rediscovered, and dozens of new artifacts that had been officially unregistered were revealed. The scientific institutes are doing their best to prevent the destruction of the monuments as a result of construction, forestry and other land tenure operations.

In the Gomel Region scientists studied wooden houses and other constructions that date back to the 19th century and prepared restoration projects. A lot has already been done, but there is much work left for scientists and volunteers wishing to preserve the diversity of the historic and cultural heritage of the Polesye region. For instance, architectural monuments in the villages of Miloslavichi and Zabychanye of the Klimovichi District, the village of Borisovschina of the Khoiniki District, a castle and a synagogue in the town of Bykhov, a palace and a park in the town of Narovlya.

In a word, the 20th anniversary of the disaster and the international conference are expected to give an impetus to the international community to take better measures to preserve the values of Belarus’ Polesye.

Yelena Digilevich
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