According to Julie McDowall, The Guardian writer *
We were in the forest behind the Chernobyl factory, suddenly, a dog jumped. The thinness, the fur and the golden eyes made it look scary.
Igor, our tour guide jumped in and pinned his hand to the dog's muzzle. Both wrestled in the snow until Igor held up the branch to make his eyes glow, he threw it into the dust, causing the animal to be distracted and chased.
And so, we are free to continue moving.
However, the dog appeared again, snapping a tree under Igor's feet. He continued to throw it away and the dog spared. What happened before my eyes made me smile in relief.
Turns out, Igor and the dog have long been friends. "It's called Tarzan", Igor explained that he just threw some snowballs to tease the dog.
"It was abandoned in the area of exclusion zone. Her mother was killed by wolves, so we [hướng dẫn viên] take care of each other and play with it. Tarzan is still immature … "
Chernobyl Wild Dog Association suffered from the harsh Ukrainian winter (photo: Solo East)
Tarzan is not alone. There is a "group" of wild dogs over 300 in a radius of 2600km. Not only dogs, elk, rabbits and wolves also find roofs here. Wild dogs are considered indigenous animals, while Mongolian horses and Belarusian bears are considered opportunistic animals, often coming here to compete in the area.
When the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place in 1986, the city of Pripyat and neighboring villages were abandoned. At that time, people were not allowed to bring pets on the way to evacuate.
In the haunting anecdote "Pray for Chernobyl", it says: "The dogs screamed and tried to climb on the bus but were kicked down by the soldiers. They chased after the evacuation car desperately …"
Many families in Pripyat are extremely miserable because they have to leave their four-legged family friend, without missing items like: "Don't kill our Zhulka, it's a good dog."
However, benevolence did not appear in the disaster 33 years ago. Many soldiers were dispatched to shoot alive animals to prevent the risk of spreading radiation. Few have escaped, survived and left many descendants as of today.
The Chernobyl wild dogs have increased radioactivity in the body over time, which means shortened life expectancy.
The life of abandoned animals at Chernobyl is not simple. Not only face the cold winter of Ukraine, the extremely high radioactive residues here also make them lose life. According to Igor, only a few survived until 6 years old.
However, not all bad news. The dogs were patrolled by the soldiers to set up tents, they also knew how to gather for food in areas with people. For decades, many dog gangs act as unofficial mascots of Chernobyl.
Nadezhda Starodub, a special tour guide at Chernobyl, said visitors loved the dogs.
"Most tourists seem to love wild dogs, the rest are afraid of spreading infectious diseases, so absolutely do not touch them."
In fact, there are no laws prohibiting visitors from touching animals around the Chernobyl plant. However, Nadezhda said many tour guides are afraid to explain, so they try to stay away from the dogs.
While dogs are fed and played by visitors, their health is covered by Clean Futures Fund. In this area there are 3 veterinary clinics, 1 more in the Chernobyl factory. They regularly treat wounds, vaccinate against rabies and infectious diseases for wild animals.
Also in that forest, I stood back and watched Tarzan golden eyes again. You see, it's not a wild animal, but an example of the resurgence of Chernobyl nature after all these years of disaster.