Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster


In late August 1986, a power surge at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant caused a days-long fire that unleashed unprecedented amounts of radiation into the surrounding areas of Ukraine and Belarus.

In Voices from Chernobyl, Svetlana Alexievich records the profoundly tragic stories of the accident’s victims — from members of the clean-up crew at the plant to soldiers assigned to work in the area to parents of small children affected by the radiation.  In each short, heart-wrenching story, difficult questions loom:  why did this happen, what could have prevented it, and how can life continue after such a profound disaster?  By documenting the lives and deaths of the men, women, and children impacted by the blast, Alexievich gives voice to both the survivors and the ghosts of the world’s greatest nuclear catastrophe.

“One time I filmed people who’d been in concentration camps.  They try to avoid meeting each other.  I understand that.  There’s something unnatural about getting together and remembering the war.  People who’ve been through that kind of humiliation together, or who’ve seen what people can be like, at the bottom, run from one another.  There’s something I felt in Chernobyl, something I understood that I don’t really want to talk about.  About the fact, for example, that all our humanistic ideas are relative.  In an extreme situation, people don’t behave the way you read about in books.  Sooner the other way around.  People aren’t heroes.”

Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian author and journalist.  Her books include War’s Unwomanly Face; Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from a Forgotten War; Enchanted with Death; and Voices from Chernobyl.  In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Published:  1997
Length:  240 pages
Set in:  Belarus and Ukraine
Translated by:  Keith Gessen