Meet the Only Child Born and Raised in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

June 10, 2019 Updated: June 10, 2019

The only baby who was born inside of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone following the nuclear disaster is now nearly 20 years old.

Mariyka Sovenko, whose last name was not disclosed, was born and raised in the extremely polluted exclusion zone in Ukraine, according to the Daily Mail, which said she is the only child known to have been born there.

She was born about a decade after the 1986 disaster, which has drawn more interest following HBO’s popular show, “Chernobyl.”

Her parents, Mikhail and Lydia, refused to leave the zone because the Soviet Union didn’t offer them housing.

Lydia didn’t realize she was pregnant until she gave birth. Her husband, Mikhail, aided in the delivery, cutting the girl’s umbilical cord before washing the newborn.

After the news spread in the late 1990s, Lydia and Mikhail were treated “like a criminal” for giving birth, according to the Mail.

However, she kept raising Mariyka in the zone and ignored the Ukrainian government’s warnings that she would be putting the child in danger to radiation exposure.

Lydia also said that rumors began to spread when the girl turned 5.

“If people think she is a mutant, or has two heads, they are quite wrong,” she was quoted by the paper as saying. “She is a lovely child who is absolutely healthy as far as we can see.”

In 2006, in an interview, the mother also said that she wishes “there was just one other kid here. I would show him or her around my house and the village—we could have real fun together.”

Also, in a recent interview, Mariyka told the Sunday Express this week that she is currently “doing well.”

“I am working. I’m providing for myself. This is it,” she said.

According to the Express, she grew up drinking milk from cows that ate in the irradiated pastures around Chernobyl.

“She really doesn’t care about being unique through being born in Chernobyl. In fact, knowing that she is the only child who was born here after the explosion, and who grew up in Chernobyl, is rather painful for her. She sees it as a stigma,” said her mother.

The mother also said, “People here believe that Mariyka is a symbol of Chernobyl’s renaissance, a sign from God which they interpret as a blessing to live here, and that life is coming back to this blighted place.”

Disaster Response

According to the Washington Post, the Soviet Union, which controlled Ukraine at the time, attempted to downplay the significance of the catastrophe, considered by many to be the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Repairs are being made to the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Aug. 5, 1996 after one of the plant’s four reactors exploded on April 26 of that year. (Zufarov/AFP/Getty Images)
Repairs are being made to the damaged Chernobyl nuclear power plant on Aug. 5, 1986, after one of the plant’s four reactors exploded on April 26 of that year. (Zufarov/AFP/Getty Images)
The remnants of an abandoned classroom is seen in a pre-school in the deserted town of Pripyat on Jan. 25, 2006  (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

“When Sweden initially contacted the Soviet Atomic Power Inspection Board, Moscow denied that an accident had occurred. However, as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway reported unusually high levels of radioactivity, Moscow was forced to officially announce the accident,” the Post’s Julie Vitkovskaya wrote in 2016.

At the time, Soviet embassy officials claimed that despite the high levels of radiation, “The problem is getting better. It is not out of hand. It is improving. But unfortunately, it is not over yet.”

The Kremlin’s silence prompted former President Ronald Reagan to issue a missive, saying “the Soviets owe the world an explanation.”

A photo taken on Jan. 22, 2016, shows a Ferris wheel between abandoned buildings in the ghost city Pripyat near to Chernobyl Power Plant. (Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images)
General view of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant taken from the ghost city of Prypyat on April 8, 2016. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

“The Soviets’ handling of this incident manifests a disregard for the legitimate concerns of people everywhere,” Reagan said. “A nuclear accident that results in contaminating a number of countries with radioactive material is not simply an internal matter.”

After three decades, as reported by Live Science, the number of people who died as a result of radiation exposure could be as high as 93,000, and 270,000 people in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus could have developed “cancers who otherwise would not have done so.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said there have been “no deaths or cases of radiation sickness directly associated with the” Fukushima disaster in Japan, which was triggered by a massive earthquake in March 2011.