My last few days in Japan were hectic. For my final presentations, I was invited along with Fukushima evacuees to present my talk on Chornobyl for two more events at the cultural center in Shimoda. The first presentation was in the afternoon expressly for the center’s board; the second in the evening and for the public. As in my previous talks in Japan during my first week in the country, the audience participated with stimulating questions and insightful observations linking Chornobyl to their own recent nuclear fallout from the damaged reactor at Fukushima after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. There was a particular concern about whether food products from Ukraine—especially wheat, were considered safe since the time of Chornobyl. Ukrainian wheat has been the golden equivalent in grain harvesting over the centuries because it is cultivated in the unique rich dark soil called “chornozem.” However, since and despite Chornobyl which altered that natural wealth, Ukraine still continues to sell its wheat although at reduced quantities (at least in 2012).

Still the question remains—how clean is it? How clean is any of the food we eat especially after a nuclear fall-out?
I discovered how important that question was on my trip to Fukushima Prefecture after my talks in Shimoda. As before, Kazko Kawai, the director of Voices of Lively Spring, a humanitarian and advocacy group for Japan which hosted my Japan tour, kindly acted as my English translator. Despite her having a sore throat from all the public translating she was doing during the previous week on our tour, she graciously accompanied me by train to Koriyma City, Fukushima Prefecture where we conducted several interviews with Green Party politicians and to witness the post 3-11 activism in that city.

Koriyama is part of Fukushima Prefecture, but is oddly considered not as toxic as other parts of Fukushima even though it’s a mere 60 km from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant—about the same distance Kyiv is from Chornobyl. Koriyama City has a population of 330,000 people, and suffered considerable damage in the earthquake as well as the radiation exposure. The tsunami didn’t reach there since it is inland.

Once on the train, Kawai-san and I wore facemasks. I found it very stifling to keep one on in the relentless heat (very humid there—more so than Florida much to my surprise). We noticed how many travelers didn’t bother to wear facemasks or really take any precautions and they freely ate contaminated sandwiches and drinks that were offered by the cart-lady (always an attractive young woman usually in uniform and a colorful apron who pushes a heavy cart of food items for the passengers to purchase).

Like most Japanese train stations, the one at Koriyama is very large and surrounded within a shopping mall and restaurants—there is even a huge and busy MacDonald’s. But the most interesting place to visit was the supermarket—a very modern, abundant one with people buying food on a Saturday morning as in any normal city where one hears happy piped-in music and clerks calling out their special items to the customers. The produce section was especially fascinating with rows and rows of local and lush vegetables: grapes, peaches, eggplant, leeks, squash, lettuce–all handsomely displayed in neat rows and cellophane beneath a sign that says, “We Support Fukushima Produce.”

Fukushima is farm country—many are organic farms but any store that sells fruits and vegetables must stipulate that it comes from Fukushima on the labels. In Koriyama, the people are also encouraged to support the local farmers. And not surprisingly, the lower prices of the gorgeous produce were also an enticement for shoppers although I noticed that many customers looked over the fruits and vegetables, but didn’t pack much into their shopping baskets. Maybe my camera was a deterrent.

Fukushima produce sold at a supermarket, Koriyama

Fukushima produce sold at a supermarket, Koriyama

But not all are buying the government’s insistence of supporting the local farmers. In fact, many Koriyama residents are so mistrustful of the government that they are forming grass-roots activism on many fronts. Upon our arrival in the city, protests were being organized in the town square in front of the train station for children to be relocated from the local schools. Because Koriyama is considered outside the Fukushima exclusion zone, the children will not be relocated to areas that are not contaminated.

How contaminated is Koriyama? We met with Assemblywoman Haruna Takita and her husband, Tsuyoshi who took us around the city with a set of Geiger counters: one that measured in Becquerels, the other in microseiverts. We placed them side by side on the ground in strategic places: on a marble bench, on the concrete pavement, on a curb. The numbers shot up quickly and we watched in great alarm as the readings went as high as 10.6 Becquerels.

I asked for the Geiger counters to be placed closer to where there are trees and grass instead of on the street. At Chornobyl’s nuclear power plant, I recall how our guide demonstrated how quickly the readings on his dosimeter jumped when he measured a clump of trees. In Koriyama, the trees and grass were supposedly decontaminated and thereby safe. Hardly! The Geiger counters shot up even more quickly against the bushes, than on the concrete with a reading of up to 7.1 Becquerels in a matter of seconds.

Geiger counter store, Koriymam

Geiger counter store, Koriymam

Why are people still living there?

Haruna-san and the other Koriyama activists we met told us the same thing: they all feel an enormous responsibility to stay behind and make things better for the younger generation. They became activists because their government failed them by not telling them the truth about the enormous dangers of the meltdown at Fukushima and many have joined the Green Party or were elected as politicians in order to get their voices heard.

Strange to think it was only a little more than a year since the horrible earthquake, tsunami and then the radiation meltdown occurred on March 11. We listened as the Koriyama residents related their personal stories and tragedies of the earthquake: homes demolished, fences flying, cars smashed, loved ones missing, the frantic decisions of escaping or staying behind, and certainly they were concerned about the tsunami in other parts of Japan. And then the radiation meltdown at the Fukushima power plant occurred, no one knew it was happening. Everyone was also surprised beyond belief when they did finally hear about it mostly through the Internet or word of mouth. It was yet another horrific shock because they were so focused on the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami. Many survivors are still angry and mistrustful at their government for not being honest about the radiation and telling them when it happened. They were kept in the dark and lied to, just like the Chornobyl evacuees who were told to pack for a few days because they would return—which was a blatant fabrication of course.

It is heartening to see people become proactive after such hardships. In Koriyama City, a group of housewives established a resource center, called the 3A Radiation Center where they can discuss relevant issues such as clean schools for the children, and present their opinions and demands to the legislature. They also disburse information about radioactivity, and distribute clean fruits and vegetables that were grown outside of Fukushima so that buyers have an option.
After leaving Koriyama, I was impressed and even felt encouraged by the strength and sense of purpose of the people I met there and throughout my visit in Japan. I wondered how much progress they would make before the next anniversary of 3-11.

UPDATES: In Japan Blog: Part II, the unidentified person in the photo of the press conference is the physician/activist Dr. Kitagawa. My apologies for not previously including his name.

Satoko Muraki-san, director of the Kyushu Sunflower Project and who organized the press conference I participated in (see Japan Blog: Part II) is now running for a seat in the Kitakyushu Assembly, and we send her our best wishes.

Kawai-san sent word that Shizouka, her home base which was previously clean (and where I spent several days), is burning “disaster debris”—highly toxic waste from the 3-11 disasters. We will monitor these and other events in future blogs and we send our hopes for a better 2013 to the people of Japan who are still suffering the aftereffects of March 11, 2011.

Photos: Irene Zabytko
© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

Most of what I’ve seen of Japan during my first week was through windows:  of the daily trains my fellow speakers and I were on from one city to the next, or from cabs that thankfully carried us and our luggage away or to the labyrinthine train stations, or through the clean windows in the many hotel rooms I was grateful to sleep in, or from the windows of the several community centers where we were invited to talk about Chornobyl and other nuclear related issues to the Japanese public—many of whom were evacuees from Fukushima.

Kazko Kawai, director of the Japanese advocacy organization, Voices of Lively Spring (and our intrepid and brilliant translator) coordinated our trip and led us on an intensive many-city sojourn. Our core group consisted of two medical doctors (one from America, the other from Germany), and myself, the lone writer and filmmaker on an intensive journey visiting several cities to present talks about the after-effects of a nuclear catastrophe. The topic was of enormous interest to the Japanese people who were still alarmed over the radiation meltdown that occurred in Fukushima on March 11, 2011, after the twin calamities of the earthquake and tsunami. (See my previous post below).

Our last event was in the lovely city of Kitakyushu which was considered less contaminated then the other cities we visited (including Tokyo). After our talk, the coordinator of our event there, Satoko Murakami (who is also known as the “Joan of Arc” in her grassroots eco-organization, the Kyushu Sunflower Project), invited all the speakers to an amazing Japanese style dinner at a traditional restaurant which consisted of many, many delicately arranged courses offered to us by kimono-robed women as we sat on tatami mats. We had an enjoyable time conversing and toasting one another despite the language limitations and the sometimes undetectable and highly nuanced cultural cues I’m sure I missed.

Among the speakers that I had the honor to meet was Seito-san, a highly respected lawyer originally from Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture who left with his family after the radiation meltdown and settled in Kitakyushu. He is currently involved in a lawsuit with the Mayor of Kitakyushu to halt the burning of “disaster debris,” the highly toxic post-tsunami and earthquake waste that was slated to be burned in Kitakyushu on September 17. Apparently, the Mayor made a back-alley and lucrative deal with a contractor to burn the trash causing tremendous pollution and harm to its local inhabitants and throughout the country.

Murakami-san was also involved by organizing protests and bringing attention to the controversy. She called a press conference at city hall on September 3 which I was planning on filming, when she asked me to participate as part of their panel! Imagine my surprise when I walked into the room and confronted by a bevy of silent stone-faced journalists and videographers:


Here we are answering questions and presenting our opinions about the damage that will be caused by the toxic waste burning:

Left to right: Aoki-san (Activist/Journalist from Tokyo), Seito-san (Activist/Lawyer), Murkami-San (Activist/Coordinator), myself, Kazko Kawai (Activist/Translator) and unidentified activist.



Here is a link of the press conference which is in Japanese, except for the few short statements I made in English and Kawai-san translated:

Afterwards, we attempted to go to the Mayor’s office where many people had already gathered in front of the doors. He apparently wasn’t there, but two policemen stood sentry at the door to his office. A petition in opposition to the illegal waste burning was handed to one of the Mayor’s aides who quietly took it and promised to deliver it to him. Meanwhile, the police barricade mushroomed from two to five policemen.

Kawai-san told me how unusual it was to see police guarding the doors. In the past, protests were not the norm in Japan. I thought how amazing this type of protest was for the Japanese people who are not known to be publicly vocal against their elected officials. This was a cultural shift that reverberated throughout the country as protests were being formed over illegal disaster debris burnings and other related issues such as contaminated schools, safe food and water, and the evident lack of transparency by the government.

Alas, the Mayor did not back down nor back out of the contract to burn the waste. The evil deed was done on September 17. Even so, the protests continue against the callous authority figures who seem to have little regard for the fate of their people who experienced the most traumatic and devastating disasters—the tsunami, earthquake and then the radiation meltdown at Fukushima followed by continuous government cover-ups.

The people must be heard whether or not their officials choose to listen.


I had a free day, and decided to visit Hiroshima along with one of the translators I met in Kitakyushu, a wonderful young woman named Chika who as it turned out, learned English in Florida at one of the ESL (English as a Second Language) centers where I once taught. She is originally from Hiroshima and was gracious enough to accompany me on this somber excursion.

Throughout the Zen-like grounds of the Peace Memorial Park there are many monuments and they seem to be an almost gentle and serene counterbalance to the prominent almost intact brick building with a naked dome. This is the only building that withstood the nuclear bombs dropped by the Americans on August 6, 1945. Before the bombs, the stoic building was once an exhibition hall, but now is famously known as the Genbaku Dome or the Atomic Bomb Dome building because of its skeletal carapace:

Nearby is the The Peace Memorial Museum which is especially haunting to visit. The most excruciating exhibits are the remnants of clothing parents saved from their dying children: snatches of school uniforms, a cloth thong from a sandal that was made from an old kimono, charred books and glasses. It is heartbreaking to witness and absolutely vital to remember whenever the idea of nuclear proliferation is held to be the only solution to any crisis.

Peace Memorial Museum Exhibit: Photo of the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

Photo credits: Dr. Masataka Sugiyama, Irene Zabytko


© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

Recently, I had very unexpected and extraordinary invitation to travel to Japan to talk about Chornobyl to the Japanese people—many of whom were survivors and evacuees after the radiation meltdown from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011 which occurred as a result of the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Because radiation contamination is still a lingering and prevalent concern in Japan, with many issues still unresolved such as diagnosing related health symptoms, children attending schools in irradiated zones, waste disposal, and clean food and water standards, Kazko Kawai and her organization, Voices for Lively Spring, coordinated  a series of lecture events and health screenings at community centers located in several Japanese cities to better inform the public about the health, environmental and related dangers from radiation exposure– especially the lessons gleaned from Chornobyl. In addition to local Japanese speakers and physicians, she also invited two physicians (one from the States, the other from Germany) and myself, and did a superb job in translating our talks throughout our tour. Actually, I was a last minute replacement for another filmmaker who had to cancel, and so in late August, I found myself on a long, long flight to Japan.

Having no knowledge of Japanese, no geographical orientation, nor real preparation, and fighting humidity, jet lag (14 hour time difference) and bewilderment, I somehow managed to find the right trains (the “shinkansen,” which only Westerners call the “bullet trains”), and land in Shin-Yokohama where I met up with Kawai-san and our traveling group who had already began their speaking tour in Tokyo. With our Japan Rail passes, we were able to appear usually a city a day to the community centers at: Shin-Yokohama, Shizuoka, Shimada City, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Kita-Kyushu.

The community centers were all very impressive and new buildings equipped with auditoriums, banquet halls, classrooms, libraries, day care centers, and the sanctuary “tatami room”—a Japanese style room with fragrant tatami mats, sliding doors and a calming atmosphere that was conducive for naps (which I took advantage of whenever there was time before going onstage).

In my talk about Chornobyl, I discussed how I first became immersed in that catastrophe and wrote a novel, THE SKY UNWASHED, which is based on a true story about the elderly evacuees returning to their irradiated homes; and from there how I came to filming and producing the documentary about Chornobyl, LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE and the film short, EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL. I concluded with the many parallels between the two nuclear calamities in Ukraine and Japan.

At all the venues, I found the audiences to be highly engaged, sincerely interested in and very knowledgeable about Chornobyl and their questions reflected their intelligence, humanity and concerns about what happened there on April 26, 1986 in Ukraine and how it related to their own alarming and tragic experiences as a result of Fukushima.

Here is a YOUTUBE video of one of the events: Fukuoka, Japan, September 1, 2012:



Posted: April 26, 2012 in Uncategorized
APRIL 26, 1986.

The Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant, is STILL the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident when the core of reactor number four exploded on April 26, 1986 at 1:23 a.m. causing fires, a nuclear meltdown, and sending out a radioactive cloud that blanketed Ukraine, Belarus, Scandinavia and Western Europe. The official Soviet death toll was 31 people; however it is assumed that the more truthful toll is around 250,000 and rising.


Chornobyl is among the most radioactive area on the planet—the fallout damage being roughly the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima nuclear bombs (The Guardian, April 26, 2006).

In commemoration of this somber occasion, please watch and share these two short videos:
“EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL” (our award winning film short):
We at Wheat Street Productions, Inc. are deeply committed to the elderly people currently living in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, the 30 kilometer area surrounding Chornobyl by featuring their lives in our documentary LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE.  The world must never forget Chornobyl and the survivors who have much to remind us of the devastation they experience from living in the dead zone.
–Irene Zabytko and the Film Crew of “LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE”
Please visit us at: for film updates and to make a tax-deductible online contribution for the completion of LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE: THE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT CHORNOBYL. Thank you.

© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

While in Chicago, I had the somber honor of participating in a memorial service commemorating the victims of the Fukushima-Daichi radiation meltdown in Japan. The Fukushima-Daichi nuclear power plant suffered many meltdowns after it was hit by the horrific tsunami and earthquake which in total killed nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan last year. 

            The memorial was hosted by the Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), a valuable and dedicated organization who were instrumental in hosting several fundraisers for LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE, our documentary-in-progress about Chornobyl ( Image My good friend, and NEIS Director, Dave Kraft was recovering from surgery, but even so, he wrote a spirited and fabulous speech calling for an end to all nuclear power.  Carol Kurz did a great job of reading Dave’s words and emceeing this outdoor event which took place fittingly in front of the Henry Moore statue of the Atomic Atom on the campus of the University of Chicago  (where the first atomic chain reaction occurred).

            Among the speakers were Norma Fields, Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago who presented her own impressions of March 11, 2011, and Yuki Miyamoto, a visiting journalist from Japan whose eyewitness accounts of Fukushima were harrowing and enlightening. There were several similarities of the evacuees’ experiences that were reminiscent of those relocated out of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone. For example, Ms. Miyamoto mentioned how the displaced people  returning to their homes in the exclusion zones, are being told by the store owners that wine is a cure-all for radiation, much like vodka was the magic elixir for the Chornobyl returnees.

            I was honored to participate and represent Chornobyl and to honor the victims of Japan. Here is the gist of my speech:

When the nuclear reactor exploded in Chornobyl, Ukraine in 1986, the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima nuclear bombs was released into the atmosphere. 600,000 people were evacuated and over 145,000 people died directly or indirectly. The Soviet government lied to its citizens—they did not immediately evacuate them after it occurred and downplayed its devastation. To this day, the nuclear reactor is not properly contained. To this day, there is radiation leaking into the atmosphere from Chornobyl

When the Fukushima-Daichi nuclear plant was hit by the tsunami and earthquake a year ago, multiple meltdowns of the reactors also resulted, and the Japanese government downplayed the radiation damages, allowing 130,000 residents to stay in the villages nearest the plant. What was not said was how contaminated the air, water and soil were. Now, a year later, the Japanese Science Ministry projected that 22% of the 50 contaminated sites would easily exceed 100 millisieverts, five times higher than the safe level advised by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. On March 3, 2012, Prime Minister Noda of Japan finally acknowledged the government shares the blame in their blind belief that Fukushima was infallible.

These facilities are never infallible especially in crisis situations. Fukushima is a tragic reminder that during natural catastrophes, the unnatural catastrophe of a nuclear meltdown is always a threat…

In Ukraine when we mourn our dead, we say “Vichnaya i pamyat”—“forever in memory.” To the victims of Japan, Ukraine, Illinois and the countless generations who will be faced with similar catastrophes, we humbly say , “Vichnaya i pamyat”—“forever in memory”. We will never forget.

PHOTO: Irene in front of the Henry Moore statue at the U. of Chicago campus during the NEIS Fukshima Memorial Service, Chicago, IL, March 11, 2012. (I. Antonovych photo)

Copyright 2012 Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

Greetings from chilly, snowy, exhilarating Chicago!

I am here in the city of my birth and staying with friends in Ukrainian Village, the neighborhood of my youth. I spent the weekend at the enormous Associated Writers’ Program (AWP) Conference which hosted 10,000 writers! But despite the overwhelming plethora of panels, readings and hobnobbing, the personal highlight for was as a panelist for the following seminar:

“A Call to Arms, Imagining a Better World: Celebrating the Long Tradition of Chicago Activist Writers” (Gary Johnson, Lisa Schlesinger, Kathy Kelly, Haki Madhubuti, Irene Zabytko). Writers from Jane Addams to Lorraine Hansberry, Richard Wright to Studs Terkel and Gwendolyn Brooks share the Chicago tradition of rising to national and even international prominence. Today’s Chicago activist writers continue to frame the troublesome issues of the day, sometimes risking everything with persistent questioning of the status quo. This lively panel will read work samples and discuss strategies for passing the torch of activism to the next generation of writers.

It was an honor to be invited by the moderator Gary Johnson Associate Chair, Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College, Chicago, whose thought provoking and provocative questions provided a tremendous opportunity for each of the panelists to discuss and share our reasons and insights behind our commitment for the many causes we espoused which ranged from Palestinian-Israeli friendship, African-American struggles, global anti-war activism, and for my part, Chornobyl. It was thrilling and enlightening to share the panel with such dedicated, heroic, and noble writers and humanists and I encourage everyone to check out their books and websites.

My participation on this panel included a short reading from my novel about Chornobyl, THE SKY UNWASHED and highlighting the continuous threat of the fallout from the devastated Chornobyl nuclear reactor. I also mentioned the reasons why LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE our documentary-in-progress, is needed to remind the world that Chornobyl is still an ever-present danger.

I wish we had a photo of this amazing session! It seems that writers are so much into words that we sometimes forget the visual component of things. At any rate, if there is an mp3 version I will post the link on our website   I hope the tape will also include the wonderful rendition of the Occupy Movement’s MIC CHECK shout-out specifically meant for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that was led by Columbia student Wyl Villacres. It was a rousing way to end the seminar!

Another panel I attended (but as an audience member) was called “Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age” which featured several non-fiction writers highlighting their works on dealing with nuclear related issues. The moderator was Anna Leahy who along with Doug Dechow, writes the fascinating blog about nuclear topics, LOFTY AMBITIONS  which also includes posts by the other participants on her panel.

More blogging yet to come from Chicago, and I promise to include a photo next time! Peace, Irene

© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.





EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL, our highly acclaimed, award winning film short is now viral on VIMEO at this link:

EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL takes place within the banned 30 kilometer ”Dead Zone” –the irradiated area surrounding the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant after the nuclear reactor accident occurred on April 26, 1986. Despite an official ban, many residents secretly returned to their contaminated villages within the Zone. Baba Maria is one such survivor who decided to return and continues to live in her ancestral home. Along with other Chornobyl Zone survivors and workers, she celebrates the feast day of Epiphany in which water is blessed and according to their Orthodox Christian belief, washes away all evil–even radiation.

Pete and I created this film with footage taken from our documentary-in-progress LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE. EPIPHANY won the “Redemptorist Storytellers Award” (Redemptive Storyteller Award, 2008, Redemptive Film Festival, Virginia Beach, VA) and was screened across the U.S. to capacity audiences at The Global Peace Film Festival, Sierra Club, Friends of Chernobyl Centers. U.S. (FOCCUS), Ola Fest, The Ukrainian National Women’s League of America (UNWLA), Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Ukrainian Medical Association of North America (UMANA), The Ukrainian Museum, New York, Florida Trails Association, The United Ukrainan American Organizations of North Port, FL, and numerous other organizations and schools. Even though it was widely viewed, we wanted to make it even more accessible to anyone who wished to learn about Chornobyl, and for teachers who may want to include this film in their curricula since we’ve had so many requests for it.

Whenever I presented EPIPHANY to a live audience, I was always asked about the haunting and beautiful soundtrack on the film—where did we get this music? Music is so important in filmmaking, and Pete I were searching for just the right score that would enhance and impact our film’s content in profound ways for the viewer. So when we heard the first mesmerizing notes (as you will when you click on to our film), we immediately knew we found the perfect song.

The song we used is called “Wave” and was composed by Mariana Sadovska who is an internationally renowned Ukrainian singer, composer, musician and actress. Mariana mentioned to me in an email that the inspiration for this song came from a Corsican melody and also from Ukrainian wedding and water ritual folk songs. Mariana is herself a famous and highly respected “song catcher.” She collects, resurrects and reinterprets Ukrainian folk melodies and has saved many from obscurity. She also composes her own original compositions and is open to diverse influences from other cultures in her music. She performs and conducts singing workshops throughout the world, and is currently collaborating on a new work with the Kronos Quartet which will have its New York premier in 2013. Mariana’s website is

“Wave” is found on a fabulous CD called “THE RUSALKA CYCLE: SONGS BETWEEN THE WORLDS” that was composed by Mariana and performed by Kitka: Women’s Vocal Ensemble on the Diaphonica label.

About Kitka (from their website:  “Kitka is an American women’s vocal arts ensemble inspired by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe. Dedicated to developing new audiences for music rooted in Balkan, Slavic, and Caucasian women’s vocal traditions, Kitka also strives to expand the boundaries of folk song as a living and evolving expressive art form.” They are fabulous!

Prior to recording THE RUSALKA CYCLE, Mariana traveled to Ukraine with members of Kitka including the executive director Shira Cion, Kitka’s stage director and Ellen Sebastian Chang to witness the pre-Christian water rituals and collect the folk songs about the “Rusalki” – water nymphs from Slavic mythology. “Rusalki” represented women who died too soon and in order to appease them, village women sang special songs to them.

“Rusalki” are still revered by villagers mostly in the Polissia region of Ukraine, which incidentally is the region where Chornobyl is located. Pete and I did not know this history behind “Wave” until we read the CD liner notes and related links. It was truly a serendipitous and profound choice for our film on many levels!

To read more about how the “Rusalki” songs came to Mariana and Kitka go to: can also hear some audio samples and buy the CD (which you should—it is amazing!!) on this page or at

And don’t forget to watch Kitka’s fascinating SPARK KQED Documentary Short, which includes footage from Kitka’s and Mariana’s Rusalka Cycle Expeditions in Ukraine:

Wheat Street Productions, Inc.  is grateful to Mariana Sadovska and Kitka for their sublime music. We are honored that “Wave” is featured in EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL and is a fundamental part of our film’s success in reaching so many people.

And we hope to reach even more viewers on Vimeo. –Irene Zabytko

© 2012 by Wheat Street Productions, Inc.

Posted: December 23, 2011 in Uncategorized

Welcome to the LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE: THE DOCUMENTARY ABOUT CHORNOBYL blog which will feature brief updates of our film production and related topics.

As part of our fundraising efforts to continue filming LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE, our documentary about the elderly survivors still living in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, we created an award-winning short film using some of our footage from previous shoots called EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL (music by the extraordinary Mariana Sadovska and Kitka Women’s Vocal Ensemble —more about them in an upcoming post). EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL was screened at fundraisers, film festivals and other public events generating more interest in Chornobyl because of the immense audience reaction and impact of our short film.

I mention this because the earliest screenings of EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL were held at the Global Peace Film Festival in Winter Park, FL where it was shown twice: in 2008 for the Peace Pitch Panel (along with Nelson Betancourt’s documentary in progress, CANNIKAN’S WAKE—more about that project in yet another blog) on films dealing with nuclear issues that was presented to Rollins College students; and then in 2009 where it was an official selection of the Global Peace Film Festival.

EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL is a 17 minute short about one of the elderly women still living in the forbidden and contaminated Chornobyl Exclusion Zone near the devastated nuclear power plant, and where she celebrates the feast day of Epiphany, the Eastern Orthodox holy day in which water is blessed. The Orthodox believe that all water is purified when blessed –even the waters of Chornobyl.

Exposure in film festivals like Global Peace enables a forum for serious topics and issues that are timely, important and thought provoking. We are grateful to Nina Streich, Executive Director of the Global Peace Film Festival and everyone there for continuing this great festival of films and hosting it in Winter Park, Florida and for allowing us the chance to showcase EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL.

Among the fabulous selections at this year’s Festival (Sept. 20-25) three will include issues of nuclear energy:
“Atomic Mom” is an intimate portrait of the only female scientist present during atomic detonations in the Nevada desert who goes through a crisis of conscience.
• Robert Frye examines the story of nuclear weapons in his film “In My Lifetime.”
“Into Eternity” explores the complex issues of storage of high-level radioactive waste created by nuclear power plants.

For more information about the Global Peace Film Festival visit:

And if you or your organization would like to host a screening of EPIPHANY AT CHORNOBYL and selections from our longer film-in-progress, LIFE IN THE DEAD ZONE (about the about the elderly survivors in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone), please contact me at

Meanwhile I will be in touch about our next film shoot in the Zone. Thanks for listening.

Irene Zabytko (Producer, Co-Director, Writer)

Please visit our updated website at: and make a contribution online on or make out your checks to our non-profit sponsor organization: AWAKENING/Art and Culture and send to: Wheat Street Productions, Inc. PO Box 898, Apopka, FL 32704-0898. Please earmark the check as: CHORNOBYL FILM

All donors will be listed on our website and on the film credits.

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