the zone


The pictures on the wall of the library at the Slavutych elementary school are vivid and richly colored—and startlingly postapocalyptic. A mournful ghost appears in front of an ashen city. The fins of a beautiful goldfish reach out and lightly touch the chimneys of a nuclear plant. An atom, its orbits laid out like petals, is on fire, and trees and buildings emerge from the flames. In the back of the room, three large posters repeat the same story, but the colors are bland, the plain charts and graphs government-sanctioned, and the blocks of text fail to capture the magical moment that the children have grasped intuitively. There was a disaster. A city was lost, another built in its stead. It’s a horrific story—and any seven-year-old here could tell it to you. This is how the day begins for first graders. They change their shoes, they exercise for five minutes, waddling like ducks around the room, and then they open their books for today’s lesson. A brief history refresher. What is the name of the country you live in? Ukraine. What are the colors of its flag? Blue like the sea and the sky, and a golden yellow like the sun and the wheat in the fields. What is the name of the capital? The beautiful city of Kiev. What city do you live in? Slavutych. When was it built? In 1988. Why? Because there was a nuclear explosion. The teacher nods after each answer.

more from Maria P. Vassileva at VQR here.