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Monday, January 31, 2022


by Charles Rammelkamp

Ukraine has initiated a defensive strategy for the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, one of the most radioactive places on Earth, which lies on the shortest path between Russia and Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. Photo: A Ukrainian border guard on a joint patrol with the Ukrainian police inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. —The New York Times, January 22, 2022

“It doesn’t matter if it’s contaminated,
or if nobody lives here,” Yuri declared,
responding to the unspoken skepticism 
in the sheen of the reporter’s dark eyes.
“It’s our territory, our country,
and we have to defend it.”
Shouldering his Kalashnikov, Yuri patrolled 
the snowy fields of the Chernobyl zone;
winter in northern Ukraine.

“I remember reading about the Soviets
parading the children on May Day 
through the swirl of radioactive dust
right after the accident 
to try to make us—and the world—believe 
nothing serious had happened.
Thank goodness I wasn’t alive then.

“Pripyat’s a ghost town now;
used to be the biggest city in the area.
You can still see the old Soviet propaganda –
a sign extolling the virtues of nuclear energy.
‘Let the atom be a worker, not a soldier.’”

Hunching his shoulders, as if to toss away his anger,
shifting the rifle, Yuri went on:
“Now we don’t know 
what will kill us first,
the virus, radiation, or Putin’s bombs.”

Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives with his wife Abby. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip, Misfit Magazine, and The Compulsive Reader. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published in 2021 by Clare Songbirds Publishing and another, Sparring Partners, by Moonstone Press. A full-length collection, The Field of Happiness, will be published in 2022 by Kelsay Books.