Chernobyl survivor and popular singer, Nataliya Gudziy, is using her experience to help Japan cope with its nuclear crisis.
“We make the same mistakes if we forget history,” she said.
Gudziy, 31, a proponent of the Ukrainian folk string instrument called a bandura, gives concerts to tell others about the events in her Ukrainian hometown of Pripyat, which is like a ghost town as a result of high-level radiation following the Chernobyl accident 25 years ago.
Gudziy, whose ties to Japan go back to the mid ‘90s, has recorded 8 albums, a CD book, and a successful cover of “Somewhere,” the theme song from Hayao Miyazaki’s Academy Award-winning 2001 movie “Spirited Away.”
She was six years old when she was evacuated from her home just 3.5 km (2.2 miles) from the Chernobyl plant. Her family, like many others, was not told to evacuate until two days after the Chernobyl meltdown.
“We were told we would be able to return home in three days, and also to leave with a minimum amount of personal effects,” Gudziy said. “I wanted to take my dolls with me. My father continued to work in the plant even after the accident, and he always kept me at a distance after he came home from work.”
Her family relocated several times until they moved to Kiev, and into an evacuee’s residence with no electricity or heating, just as Ukraine’s cold autumn was beginning to set in.
“My parents worried about the family finances and our health,” she says, noting that her parents and three sisters are all still alive. However, the radiation exposure claimed the lives of seven classmates.
Her passion for music through learning the bandura at a music school in Kiev led to her bond with Japan, when the Chernobyl Children’s Fund invited the Ukrainian folk music group to which she belonged to visit Japan in 1996 to play a charity concert.
Gudziy came to Japan with dreams of becoming a doctor to support her family, but photojournalist Ryuichi Hirokawa persuaded her to become a professional singer. Hirokawa organized photo exhibitions of Chernobyl and was an advisor for the Chernobyl Children’s Fund until 1999.
Moving into action
In March, after the earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 and triggered the nuclear crisis, Gudziy quickly sprang into action. On March 22, she posted a YouTube video calling people to volunteer to house mothers and children evacuating from Fukushima. In the video, which has attracted over 45,000 views, the performer asks nonprofit organizations and local governments to set up a home-stay support system for families who live close to Fukushima plant so they can live without fear of over-exposure to radiation. She says there is no way to asses the extent of the radiation released until the plants have been sealed.
Gudziy emphasizes the importance of giving emotional support to children, according to a spokesperson from her music label, Office Zirka.
“She knows that the difficulties for people in Fukushima are not going to end in only a few years,”the spokesperson told Majirox News. “She plans to visit evacuees in all areas of Japan and to organize more concerts in Fukushima to help people move out of the place. She will give continuous support on a long-term basis.”
Gudziy performed live in Fukushima on July 25. She told the Toyo Keizai business magazine at the time, “I think children and pregnant women should move far away from the plant. The effects of radiation sometimes only appear several years after initial exposure, like it did with my classmates.”