Kazuma Obara





»Essay/Book Review



Everlasting 2015-16



Everything moves, everything passes, and there is no end.
Where did it all disappear? From where did it all come?
Both the fool and the wise man know nothing.
One lives… one dies… one thing blooms,
But another has withered, withered away forever…
And winds have carried off yellowed leaves,
And the sun will rise, as it used to rise,
And crimson stars will float off as they used to,
They will float afterwards, and you, white-faced one,
Will saunter along the blue sky.

Taras Shevchenko, Haydamaky (1841)



The gentle sound of a 1990s Russian pop song was interrupted by a conductor’s mechanical voice announcing the departure of the train at 3.55 p.m. It was the second train in the afternoon leaving the Chernobyl nuclear power plant for Slavutych city, where they live. When the train pulls out of the station, many take a short nap. Some play cards and others use their smartphones or attempt a crossword puzzle in the morning newspaper.


The fixed schedule set by the company for each worker determines the train they take each day. Consequently, everyone soon finds his or her own favourite seat according to their relationships to each other or to their work experience. In the morning, some workers on the way to work even leave some belongings — such as a deck of cards — on the seats to reserve their place for the return trip. These attempts seem to fail in most cases as they are quickly swept away by the middle-aged ladies who get on the train first.


There are four services in the morning and four in the afternoon connecting Slavutych and Chernobyl. The railroad passes through Belarus for about fifteen minutes: a special permission allows it to cross the borders without making a stop.


In October 1986, six months after the Chernobyl accident, the Soviet government decided to build the city of Slavutych for the evacuated plant workers and their family. They used to live two kilometres away from Chernobyl in Pripyat, another planned city founded in 1970 to serve the construction and operation of the nuclear power plant. Pripyat’s population had reached 49,000 before the accident.


Today, the city of Slavutych has 25,000 inhabitants, most of whom make their living on the restoration and clean-up of the plant as well as the supervision of the decommissioned reactors. The railroad, which was constructed immediately after the accident in order to link Slavutych and Chernobyl in a straight line, is still in use today, as are the old train cars. They carry the plant workers, just as they used to transport those of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations who worked in the aftermath of the disaster. Every seat on these trains is imbued with the emotions of all those workers that have travelled this route — delight and misery, hope and despair, courage and fear, love and sorrow.


I first visited the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in March 2015. On my way back to Slavutych, I took the train for the first time. I took one of the seats, but could not sit still for a minute. The late spring sun was going down slowly in the west, pouring a deep, reddish light through the carriage windows. It was as if the whole train had slipped back into the time of the Soviet Union.


A young plant worker sitting four rows in front of me captured my attention. He was gazing vacantly out of a window at the wild plain that opened out beside the train, the same landscape his father might have gazed at on the way home from the plant. I felt as if I was seeing a scene from the past merging with the present. Thirty years ago, in the chaotic mess that followed the nuclear accident, many workers like this young man had been sent to the site of the disaster, sacrificing themselves. Perhaps his son might sit there in the future, if the duties at the plant continue to be passed from generation to generation.


From my first visit in March 2015 to November of the following year, I made several trips from London to Ukraine and stayed there for six months altogether. On my second visit, I met a young couple, Pasha and Nareshka. It was on the occasion of the annual memorial service held on 26 April to commemorate the plant workers and firefighters that were killed in the disaster. As volunteers, they were wearing protective suits and standing in front of the memorial monument holding burning candles. After the ceremony, I was taking photographs of the site when they began talking to me. They told me that they had seen my exhibition, which was on view in the city centre at the time, and were interested in my photographs of the workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. It was already past one in the morning, but we went to a bar together and talked until the day dawned. They told me all kinds of stories, about their work at the plant, how they first met at the memorial ceremony the previous year, how their relationship started one year later on the very day that we met, about the pleasant walks they take together, their eating habits as vegetarians, or why they love Tolstoy’s novels.


After that, as the seasons changed, I visited Slavutych several more times. Each time I got on the train, I found them on board. In July, they told me that they were engaged, and I attended their wedding ceremony in September. When they began to live together, I was invited to stay at their home. At night, I spread my sleeping bag out next to their bed, and a deep, peaceful sleep came to the three of us. It was always a great pleasure to spend time with them, because I could feel how profoundly they trust and love each other. Winter approached swiftly and took over from the autumn. On my last visit, I heard that Nareshka was pregnant.


Looking out of the carriage window and noticing how the four seasons colour the landscape differently from spring to winter, I thought about the cycle of life, or the cycle of love experienced by the people in this place. A man is born into the world, grows up, gets married, gives birth to a child, gets old, and dies. This universal cycle is repeated here, too, by people like Pasha and Nareshka, just as it is in every other corner of the world.


A friend of mine who is a native English speaker told me that the word ‘everlasting’ is associated with ‘eternal love’ or ‘eternity’. I chose this word for the title of this book, as I wanted to show not only the indelible impact of the nuclear disaster, but also the everlasting cycle of love of the people who live here.
My intention is not to idealize these people or their work; some are quite proud of their profession, while others merely accept this work to provide for their family or as a temporary solution before they are able to get another decent job.


However, the daily life that we take for granted in the rest of the world is only possible thanks to the efforts of these plant workers. This is what I wanted to record as a photographer and it pulled me to Ukraine over and over again.


Kazuma Obara (Text from Afterword/ Editorial RM/ 2017)





















ただ、彼らを撮りたいと僕をウクライナに向かわせた理由は、彼、彼女らの仕事によって、僕らの当たり前のような一日があるという揺るぎない事実を写真家として何らかの形で記録し、伝えたかった。もちろん、彼らが担っている仕事は、事故直後にリクビダートルが文字通りを命を削りながら、収束作業を担ったときの仕事とは種類が違う。チェルノブイリ原発で現在行われている仕事は、劣化によって崩れてきた石棺を新たに覆う作業であったり、使用済み核燃料の管理が主な仕事である。しかし、それらの仕事が誰かがやらなければいけない仕事であり、その仕事の行方は多くの人々にとって人ごとではない。(EUは既に総額 €360 millionものお金をチェルノブイリ事故の為に拠出しているが、2015年には新たに€70 millionの追加支援を表明した。)そして、その仕事が生み出されたのは、冷戦の一つの帰結であり、そして、人類が原子力に対する大きな夢を描いた一つの帰結である。僕は彼らの仕事を大きな文脈から捉え、その仕事に対し、様々な意味での重要性を考えたい。そして、これらの仕事は世界中の原発立地地域で行われて行く。例え、人類が化石燃料からの脱却を果たしたとしても。電力の消費地が原発の電力から脱却を果たしたとしても。これらの写真を通して、普段の生活ではなかなか出会うことのない彼らの仕事や、彼らの存在を感じてもらえたら幸いである。