In Chernobyl’s radioactive zone, a shadow economy thrives

In the years since the town’s 1986 reactor explosion, an entire illegal economy has metastasised throughout the poorly guarded, forest-covered “Alienation Zone” around the shut-down Chernobyl nuclear power plant, allegedly with the help of corrupt officials and police officers, cut-throat entrepreneurs and impoverished villagers.

Despite obvious health risks to undocumented workers and unsuspecting customers, they log thousands of hectares of trees that become timber or charcoal, smuggle thousands of tonnes of irradiated scrap metal, poach fish and game, pick and sell contaminated berries and mushrooms, and illegally mine amber, according to anti-corruption groups, environmentalists, officials, police and court documents.

“Chernobyl has become a cesspool of corruption, a source of timber, [scrap] metal, berries and everything that grows there,” Roman Bochkala, head of Stop Corruption, a Ukrainian non-profit that investigates corruption in the zone, told Al Jazeera.

Kyiv-based analyst Aleksei Kushch said: “The zone is being ruthlessly exploited by marauders protected from the top” of the government.

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