The dogs of Chernobyl

Chernobyl dogs fed by nuclear workers are now getting help

By Lucas Hixson

It’s a common misconception that the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant is devoid of life – in fact there are at least 3,500 people each day who work among the more than 250 stray dogs that roam the grounds.

These dogs can be found in nearly every area of the Chernobyl site, including controlled, indoor areas. The workers have adopted the dogs in a way, and save scraps of the their own meals to feed them.

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The dogs are driven out of the woods to the power plant by packs of wolves and a lack of food to support themselves in the Exclusion Zone. There is even evidence that some of the Chernobyl dogs are breeding with wolves in the area.

In the spring of 1986, the Unit 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded and spread radioactive materials into the environment. In response to the disaster, the former Soviet Union established a 30-km exclusion zone around the facility and evacuated over 120,000 people from 189 cities and communities. The evacuees were not allowed to bring anything that they could not carry.  Pets were abandoned.

After the evacuation of Pripyat and the Exclusion Zone in the spring of 1986, soldiers of the Soviet Army were dispatched to shoot and kill the animals in Pripyat which had been left behind, but it was impossible to round up and cull all of the animals in the various small villages throughout the exclusion zone. These former pets lived in the exclusion zone, and migrated to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, where their descendants remain to this day.

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For the last four years, my Clean Futures Fund co-founder, Erik Cambrian, and I have traveled to Ukraine as part of a vocational work program at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. During our time at Chernobyl, we were shocked to discover the large population of stray dogs living around the plant and in the zone.

In addition to our own video, below, there is also now a feature piece viewable on The Dodo, via Facebook.

Overpopulation of dogs in Europe is a well-known problem — there are an estimated 30,000 stray cats and dogs in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev alone — but the Chernobyl dogs are different. These dogs are the descendants of pets left behind during the hasty evacuation in 1986. They have been driven out of remote areas in the zone by packs of rabid wolves that attack them. The Chernobyl dogs are malnourished, have been exposed to rabies by wild predators in the zone, and are in dire need of medical attention.

CFF estimates that more than 250 stray dogs live around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, over 225 stray dogs live in Chernobyl City, and hundreds of other dogs live at the various security checkpoints and roam throughout the exclusion zone.

Out of desperation, not desire, the nuclear power plant has hired a worker to catch and kill the dogs, because they don’t have the funds available for any other option, but the worker is refusing to do so at this point.

Every year, new puppies are born at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and the workers take care of them during the harsh Ukrainian winter.

Today, the dogs of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant rely on the workers at the station to stay alive. Some bring the animals inside and give them care if they seem injured or sick – but the workers also risk exposure to rabies by interacting with the dogs.

It is interesting to note that there are next to no mature animals (over 6-8 years old) at the plant, and most of the dogs appear to be under 4-5 years old.

We have developed a 3-year program with our partners to manage the stray dog population in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The Clean Futures Fund is raising funds to bring veterinarians to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to administer rabies shots and spay and neuter the animals.

Lucas Hixson is a co-founder of Clean Futures Fund and a board member of Beyond Nuclear.

For more on Clean Futures Fund and to support the Chernobyl Dogs, visit the websiteArticle and photos courtesy of CFF.

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