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The story of the Elm Dance is interwoven with the story of Novozybkov, an agricultural and light industrial city of 50,000 a hundred miles downwind from Chernobyl. With its surrounding villages in the Bryansk region of Russia , directly east of Chernobyl, Novozybkov is considered to be the most contaminated city of its size that is still inhabited. And the contamination does not subside. Through wind, water, and fodder, it continues to move through the ecosystem affecting the food supply. As it mixes with automotive and industrial pollution, it produces grim new toxins. In recent years newcomers from war-torn areas, like Chechnya and Tadjykistan, have taken refuge in abandoned and contaminated barns and buildings.

Because of my promise to people in Novozybkov in 1992, I have told their story in virtually every workshop I conduct. To help me do that, I began sharing the folk dance they had loved when we were together--and the Elm Dance began to spread throughout the US and other countries. So did interest in Novozybkov. Thus the desire grew to offer support to this town and the villages around it, as their families struggle with appallingly high rates of radioactive contamination. How were we to do this?

Enter Ludmila Zhirana, a biology professor in the regional teachers training college. This petite, blonde dynamo is founder-director of a highly respected environmental organization which is based in the nearby regional capital of Bryansk; it is called VIOLA (Russian for violet).

Ludmila's research on health effects of ionizing radiation provide a strong scientific base to her tireless efforts to help families minimize and correct for exposure. These efforts--through publications, workshops, and teaching methods--are disseminated through her many graduates, now biology teachers throughout the area.

When I first met Ludmila, a colleague of my husband's, I was fascinated by her stories of working in contaminated areas, and the educational use she made of a few handheld radiation monitors. Over breakfast I conceived the notion of using the Elm Dance to raise funds for more of these monitors. Ludmila was certain that greater ability to measure radiation levels in their homes, gardens, schools, and farms would help families overcome feelings of futility. They could now choose safer places to plant, harvest and buy their food.

This web page is about VIOLA's many initiatives. Take a look at what they are doing in these photos and reports. Please join us in supporting Ludmila and her VIOLA team. Make your tax-deductible contribution through:

Living Earth
P.O. Box 86960
Portland, OR 97286