DESERTED VILLAGES (Satis Shroff)
Welcome to the ‘Zone,’
Which was once my country Polesia.
We were rich in culture,
A country with different people,
Various religious communities,
Where we once lived peacefully.
It was a rural civilisation
Of Ukranian farmers,
With a culture of minority Jews.
Our town had Jewish Chassidian mystics,
Dating back to the 18th Century.
In the Jewish life
Even though the Tora played a big role,
The religious experiences of the community
Had its share of importance,
Even as far as Eastern Europe.
It was a wild country,
Located between White Russia
And the Ukraine,
With small hamlets,
Field and meadows.
The river Prypjat brought
Life and trade to the region.
For centuries we were able
To conserve our culture,
When Europe was experiencing changes.
Time stood still in our village.
Even the dictatorial collective farms
And laws of Stalin,
Couldn’t bring change in our lives.
Ach, you cannot redeem time.
We in Polesia were proud
Of our heritage and upbringing.
Our town was the center of spiritual activity.
We called the Jews of our town
For they seemed to live on air.
The poor Jews had nothing to eat.
When there was Progrom in western Europe
In the Middle Ages,
More Jews sought refuge in our village..
Alas, our 1000 year story came to an end,
When Hitler marched into Russia.
The mass murder of Ukranian Jews
Began in 1941.
You can’t redeem time.
Nein, you can’t redeem time.
As if to add pain to injury,
The nuclear reactor accident
On April 26, 1986,
Gave us the last blow.
It ended all life within the Death Zone,
A thirty kilometre area,
Our provincial farming culture.
What remains after the catastrophe,
This atomic curse of mankind,
Are only memories:
Of the Chanukka chandeliers,
Thora capes, jewellery, cult objects.
A solitary nightingale lost its way,
Perched on a naked, soiled bough,
Cried in its inviolable voice:
‘Atom! Atom! Atom!’
The world still labours with the atom,
The false promises,
The destruction it releases.
What thought of harvest
And proper sowing,
When the very earth is poisoned.
What you see in Chernobyl today
Are only deserted dwellings.
Not mirthful ones,
With men, women and little children.
All you hear is the silence
Surrounding a tomb.
Deserted by mankind
No dung in the fields,
Only death called ‘radioactivity.’
A bitter lesson:
You cannot redeem time,
Nyet, you cannot redeem time.
* * *
Documents and artefacts from 250 villages and small town of Chernobyl have been collected by the Institute for Ethlology of the Academy of Sciences (Ukraine, Lemberg), Study Center for History and Culture of East European Jews (Kiew) and the National Vernadskij Library of Ukraine (Kiew). The pics depict the provincial culture of the farmer families in Polesia and the lives of the Jews in the Schtetl of Chernobyl.