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Samosely (Belarusian: самасёлы, Russian: самосёлы, Ukrainian: самосели — "self-settlers") are illegal residents of the 30 kilometer Zone of Alienation surrounding the most heavily contaminated areas near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Belarus and Ukraine. The zone contains a number of abandoned towns and villages whose current population is made up of people who either refused to evacuate the area or secretly resettled in the relatively unprotected region after it was cordoned off. The majority of the samosely are elderly people who made their home in the area prior to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, although some are disaffected settlers from outside the region. When the population was evacuated, they were initially told they could return in a few days, and many faced discrimination in areas of government resettlement. As of 2009, there are thought to be less than 400 remaining samosely of an earlier[clarification needed] population estimated at over 10,000. Most are concentrated in the town of Chernobyl itself, with about half the population dispersed in other villages throughout the zone.


In Ukraine, population was estimated at 197 in 2012, down from 328 in 2007 and 612 in 1999.[1] During the past 25 years, there were more than 900 deaths and just one birth in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. The only known birth occurred on 25 August 1999, when 46-year old Lydia Sovenko gave birth to a healthy girl child. Both Lydia and her husband, Mikhail Bedernikov had returned to Chernobyl a few months earlier. The child, Maria Sovenko lived in Chernobyl until 2006. She now lives in a village outside the Exclusion Zone, attending a boarding school. Maria returns to Chernobyl only on weekends, to meet her mother who still lives there.[2]

The average age of a Samosel was 63 in 2007. In 2012, the local administration unofficially granted permission to the elderly samosel to live in the area, but ordered all the younger inhabitants to move out.[3] The total population in 2009 was reported to be 271.[4] The major population centers as of 2007 were:[4]

  • City of Chernobyl - 136
  • Ilyinke - 37
  • Teremtsy - 36
  • Kupovatoe - 32
  • Opacic - 20
  • Paryshev - 16
  • Lubyanka - 12
  • Otash - 10
  • Rudnya-Ilinetskaya - 8
  • Ladyzhichi - 8
  • Zalesie - 5
  • New Shepelychi - 2

Also a few families live in the town of Chernobyl illegally, after migrating from areas outside the Exclusion Zone to escape poverty. These people have ignored government orders to leave the area, and are hostile to the journalists. Local administration is claiming that the squatters have occupied several houses in the town, without proper permission from the original owners.[5]

In April 2013 Minister of social policy of Ukraine Natalia Korolevska said the settlers are getting full social support from the government but she excluded possibility of legalizing their habitance in the Zone as it is still prohibited to live there. Also the Minister said the Ministry does not register illegal settlers but estimates their number for 2013 about 200-2000 people.[6]


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