Titok Alexander Ivanovich, chairman of the Executive Committee in the Khoiniki district in southeastern Belarus

"This is all good news"

Titok Alexander Ivanovich has been the chairman of the Executive Committee in the Khoiniki district in southeastern Belarus since 2011. He possesses the power of a prince. When he drives visitors in his German luxury car at breakneck speeds through he district, a short call is enough to turn factory directors, managers and museum directors into puppets on a string. He also controls the police, as he pointed out.

"The Chernobyl disaster was a very heavy blow for Khoiniki. We now have to live with the fact that large parts of our municipality are off limits for human use for a long time to come. 90,000 hectares, more than half our area, are affected. Our best soils are located in the exclusion zone. 48 villages were evacuated, 16 of them levelled to the ground to make it impossible for people to return. The number of inhabitants in our district has shrunk from 50,000 to 20,000. We remember this disaster with a permanent exhibition in our newly built museum in the renovated palace of the former princes. It's also affected my own family. My father was a tractor driver, my mother a vegetable gardener. They moved with us children to a less contaminated city, while my parents' house was razed to the ground like so many others. But we have to look forwards if we want to continue living here. President Lukashenko has already visited Khoiniki four times and insists each time that he won't let the district down. When he appointed me chairman of the Executive Committee in 2011, I felt encouraged because I know that he is with us and takes us seriously. And he's kept his word. Khoiniki is hardly recognisable today. We have outstanding health services: each resident is thoroughly checked twice per year, and all food is strictly controlled. The schools are also impressive, with over 1,000 people employed there. Yes, you heard that correctly. 1,000 people, from administration to teaching staff. And we have a new, very beautiful city park for strolling around, a sports centre with an artificial turf football pitch, and a running track. Our wrestlers are among the best in the country, and some have even made it to the highest level, the Olympics. But this is just one aspect. What good is any of it if I'm healthy but don't have a job? We need a strong economy and jobs. As regards agriculture, we've had to take entirely new steps because the crops that once dominated this area are no longer possible to grow due to the radiation. These days the dairy industry and some farming, especially corn, dominate with a few very modern and efficient factories. The milk and grains are of course controlled at all times. In Belarus, we have very strict limits, stricter than in Germany, for instance. Fresh milk is too heavily contaminated to sell, so we instead process it into cheese and other dairy products. The radionuclides remain mainly in the whey and buttermilk, for which we've developed a method that allows us still use what is mostly uncontaminated in a dried form. The forestry and timber industries are regaining momentum, and forest now grows on the land that can no longer be used for agriculture or simply cannot be used at all. The trees can be cut down, but naturally only under strict controls. In addition to the sawmill in Khoiniki, there is once again a carpenter who manufactures construction timber as well as parquet flooring. It's a modern facility, which also exports abroad. I'm especially proud of two industrial companies that have practically emerged out of the ashes of their ruined predecessors: an ultra-modern supplier plant for the tractor factories in Minsk and Gomel, and an equally modern concrete foundry, which specialises in concrete elements for prefabricated buildings. Just now a new production line is going into operation that will easily double the output. In the meantime we are desperately looking for skilled workers, and several housing blocks are being built for them. This is all good news, isn't it?"

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