The Chernobyl disaster occurred in April 1986, at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Ukrain, then part of the Soviet Union.
Up to 30 percent of Chernobyl’s 190 metric tons of uranium was now in the atmosphere. The Soviet Union eventually evacuated 335,000 people, around 200 villages and small towns, establishing a 19-mile-wide “exclusion zone” around the reactor. It is estimated some 28 people initially died as a result of the accident, while more than 100 were injured.
They were specifically told to leave their animals and livestock behind
When people were evacuated after Chernobyl, they were told by the government that they would only be gone for three days. They were told to take the things they needed for a short trip; identification documents, some clothes, money and food. They were specifically told to leave their animals and livestock behind.
The fire inside the reactor continued to burn until May 10 pumping radiation into the air. Authorities eventually realised they had to stop it to prevent the radiation contamination spread. Using helicopters, they dumped more than 5,000 metric tons of sand, clay and boron onto the burning, exposed reactor no. 4.
Still An Active Work Site
Thirty four years later the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant is still an active work site. An American environmental contamination and radiation specialist, Lucas Hixon, started traveling to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant as part of an international vocational exchange program in 2015. He had been studying Chernobyl since a decade and recalls how, at first, he encountered a totally different context than he had expected.
Plant Workers Sharing Their Food With The Strays
He discovered resilient, warm-hearted and courageous people who commuted in and out of the area every day. Despite limited resources and a harsh environment, among other things these people have been sharing their food and their own money to protect stray dog in the area and help them survive the winters. About 300 strays that lived around the plant and another 1000 in the Exclusion Zone.
These animals were descendants of pets that were left behind after the former residents were evacuated. Some of them survived and became todays resilient Chernobyl stray dogs. They are no longer wild due to proximity with the plant workers, but neither are they domesticated.
Radiation Was The Least Challenging Factor For The Strays
Lucas and his friend Erik Kambarian found out from the locals that the dogs survived 1 to 2 years, due to the harsh Ukrainian winters, scarse food and water, predators like wolfs in the surrounding areas, and spread of diseases like rabies and distemper. The radiation problem was apparently the least challenging factor for them. They preferred to stray around the populated areas of the Plant and the Exclusion Zone protected by plant workers and tourists that provided possibilities for food and shelter from predators. The dogs have also been exposed to rabies by wild animals, which also carries a risk for the human population. Other than the generosity of the plant workers there was no management program in place for the dogs at the plant.
Support For Plant Workers And Strays
In 2016, Lucas and Erik co- founded Clean Futures Fund, a U.S. non-profit organization that supports the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and affected communities. Inspired by the resilience, openness and compassion of the workers, they are committed to supporting them and their families over the long term as they continue to respond to this life-altering event.
Moreover, in 2017 the Dogs of Chernobyl Program was initiated. In the last 3 years they have vaccinated and sterilized over 1,500 animals.The Fund obtained permission from the Ukrainian government in 2018 to begin rescuing and adopting puppies from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone to forever homes in the United States and Canada. As of fall 2018 over 40 puppies have been adopted.
Healthier Dogs Living Longer Lives
One can now see the impacts of their program on the population. The overall population has declined to around 600 animals. They are seeing healthier dogs living longer lives. Most probably because there is not as much competition for food and shelter and the dogs are able to stay in populated areas safe from the predators that stalk the forests surrounding them.
2 years ago two litters of puppies and their mother, were removed from underneath a building at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. They were all spayed, neutered and vaccinated and all of them have found permanent homes in the United States and Canada as well as Ukraine, thanks to the Dogs of Chernobyl Program and SPCA International.
5 Tons Of Dog Food
Clean Futures Fund began a feeding management program for the dogs to improve their quality of life in 2019 . Over 5 tons of dog food has been brought in and distributed. There are groups of dogs that hold and defend territories, so the dogs are fed in the middle of their territory where they feel safe. While the territory boundaries are invisible to humans, the dogs know exactly where they are and will not cross the boundary. The rescue staff make sure to feed the dogs in all territories. Thanks to donations, they have been able to continue this work even during the lockdown period of the Covid-19 crisis.
Formalized Feeding Program Needed
Many of the workers that were sharing their food with the dogs will not be returning to Chernobyl this year. As the number of staff decreases over time, the charity has reached a point where their supplemental help with feeding will not be enough anymore. Clean Futures Fund is committed to creating a formalized feeding program to keep these dogs fed, watered and healthy every day through the winters, starting September 2019.
To find out more about the remarcable programs for the people and strays of Chernobyl, go to