Episode 4 of HBO’s Chernobyl aired with a bleak reminder that when people were evacuated, many pets were left behind. But, what happened to these animals over the years?
In Episode 4 of HBO’s limited mini-series, Chernobyl, workers, known as the liquidators, were shown culling abandoned pets within the exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear power plant. A young recruit is shown to be struggling with having to shoot so many dogs and cats. And, it was equally as hard for many viewers to watch, something the show’s creator, Craig Mazin, anticipated prior to the episode airing.
“I know that was hard,” Mazin posted to his official Twitter account after Episode 4 of Chernobyl aired.
“Just so there’s no confusion — the story of the liquidators is real. It happened. And we actually toned it down from the full story. War leaves all kinds of scars. These were the things men were ordered to do.”
In the Chernobyl Prayer by Svetlana Alexievich, an oral recording of the events after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 25 and 26, 1986, many people reported the devastation of having to leave behind their pets and not being able to bring them with them as they left the radioactive zone. It has been recorded that dogs howled as their owners boarded buses and were kicked back by officials, according to The Guardian.
When Pripyat was evacuated, residents were not allowed to take their pets. This meant that many cats and dogs were left stranded in a radioactive area. Initially, the liquidators were sent in to cull the large numbers of animals left behind. However, some of these animals did survive and their descendants still live in the area.
In fact, it is believed that approximately 300 stray dogs currently live in the 1,003m² (2,600km²) nuclear exclusion zone. The descendants of the abandoned pets have joined the wild animals also residing in the zone, creating an unexpected wildlife zone, according to The Guardian.
Many animals have managed to survive the harsh winters and now have adapted to their surroundings. Guides who take people close to the evacuation zone have befriended some of these animals and have even set up little huts for the animals near checkpoints.
The animals living within the Chernobyl exclusion zone have increased levels of radiation in their fur and have a lowered life expectancy than for animals living outside of the exclusion zone. However, they still manage to survive as best that they can.
In addition, a US non-profit organization, Clean Futures Fund, has set up three clinics close to the Chernobyl zone and helps the animals by giving rabies, parvovirus, distemper, and hepatitis shots as well as providing emergency treatment as required.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get zero dogs in the exclusion zone but we want to get the population down to a manageable size so we can feed and provide long-term care for them,” says Lucas Hixson, the fund’s co-founder.
Chernobyl is currently airing on HBO every Monday at 9 p.m.until June 3.