The documentary 'Block Four: Chernobyl 2011' premieres this week in Chicago

Worldview and CityRoom

April 26, 2011

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(Getty Images/Daniel Berehulak)
At age 93, Zinayida Trofimivna Huzienko was one of the eldest residents living in the "Zone of Alienation" back in 2006.

In the third part of a series of commemorations for the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl (Chornobyl) nuclear disaster, Worldview features the new documentary Block Four: Chernobyl 2011. The documentary follows the film’s producer, Father Myron Panchuk and film student and director Julian Hayda on their journey through Chornobyl from the "Zone of Alienation" to their interviews of those most affected by the tragedy.

The inspiration for the film started with a dream, in which Panchuk saw broken shells of Ukranian Easter eggs in a soup he was eating. A few weeks later, he heard about a friend who wanted to go to Chernobyl and speak to the people there. Panchuck, who is in a Ph.D program at Pacifica Institute studying dreams, says he knew instantly that the dream was a reference to future work where he would "ingest Ukranian trauma."

After spending time with those who live near the site, director Julian Hayda fears the impact of the radiation is only now being revealed. "Chornobyl isn’t a story that should have faded into the headlines," he says. "The situation in Chernobyl changes daily, maybe even less, maybe even hourly."

Hayda said little information was disseminated to those living in the area, and many were seen as squatters for wanting to return to their homes after the explosion. 

The pair believe this lack of information was due, in their words, to the "aura of mystery" and deceit that spread after the disaster, created by the reticience of the Soviet Union to reveal the danger of their fresh circumstances. As far as the future of the area is concerned, they mentioned the importance of building a new sarcophagus to contain the exclusion zone. President Obama has recently pledged money to help with this cause.

But it was the people who left the most indelible mark on Panchuk and Hayda. "I’m amazed at their resilience. I think part of it was just Soviet training – you had to be resilient to live in this society," said Hayda. But he cautioned that it has been exhausting for some people to deal with the influx of visitors, who treat it like "this exotic zoo."

"It seems interesting that Chicago is this sort of accidental hub of experts about Chernobyl," Panku said, explaining that it could be due in part to the University of Chicago and its own history with nuclear research, as well as the Chicago's relationship to Kiev as a sister city.

The film premieres at a special conference that will commemorate Chornobyl’s 25th anniversary this Thursday at the Chicago Cultural Center. The event is sponsored by the Kyiv Committee of Chicago, Sister Cities International and other Ukrainian groups in the Chicago area.

Trailer for Block Four: Chernobyl 2011: