Exactly 25 years ago today, when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded to its core in Ukraine, Olga Sakovich was 23 and the mother of a eight-month-old living just 62 miles away. Like so many others, the violin teacher evacuated for a while, but then decided to return to her old life a few months later.
It wasn’t until 1992 – six years after the world’s worst manmade disaster – that she decided to leave her homeland for good. Her decision came after her second child was born with blue skin and weak organs because of heightened radiation levels near Chernobyl, where the repercussions lasted decades.
But instead of resettling in Eastern Europe, Sakovich flew her family half a world away, to Argentina.
Sakovich was part of a large group of Ukrainians who resettled in Argentina after the Chernobyl disaster as part of an agreement between the two countries. Signed by the Menem Administration in 1991, the agreement allowed Ukrainian to relocate to Argentina for a “healthier future.”
Almost 15,000 people affected by the Chernobyl disaster ended up moving to Argentina following the agreement. They moved to areas like Buenos Aires and Mesopotamia, starting a new lives and learning a new language.
Sakovich said she moved to save her family, especially her newborn daughter who was declared almost terminally ill.
“One day, as I was walking through Kiev’s streets with my little sick baby, I began to think, ‘What will happen to my family in the future?' My family was very ill. My mother, too. I had health problems, so did my older daughter,” she recalled.
“Then I understood I had to change something,” she said. “I decided to go somewhere very far away from Ukraine. Although I loved my country, Argentina was our destiny.”
After moving to Argentina, her daughter made a remarkable recover. She’s now 19 and studying environmental sciences. Sakovich still teaches the violin.
Alexandre Bouronov, 59, was contracted as a miner in Chernobyl after the blast. His job was to remove contaminated soil, but no one told him the seriousness of the situation, he said.
“We didn’t know much about radioactivity and the government didn’t take the security measures needed for those kinds of accidents,” said Bouronov, who moved to Argentina in 1996.
Half of the group he worked with at Chernobyl ended up dying. And even he suffered the consequences, he said. But after he moved to Argentina with his wife and two children, now 20 and 23 years old, his health improved.
“I knew nothing about this country, I'd only heard of Maradona and Lolita Torres,” he said. “But I’m happy here.”
It wasn't always an easy transition.
Larisa Kovalchuk was a young engineer working at the Chernobyl plant and living less than three miles from work when disaster struck. A mother of two, she was unable to have more children because of the radiation levels. She decided to adopt a child and start a new life in Argentina in 2000.
“I learned Spanish at public school at night, and I worked as domestic help during the day,” she said. “We bought a little house, we have a job, and now I’m enjoying my grandchildren …We felt reborn, and Chernobyl’s consequences were left behind us.”
Teresa Sofía Buscaglia is a freelance writer based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.