Outside Hanna Zavorotnya’s cottage in Chernobyl’s dead zone, a hulking, severed sow’s head bleeds into the snow, its gargantuan snout pointing to the sky in strange, smug defeat.
The frigid December air feels charged with excitement as Hanna, (above) 78, zips between the outlying sheds wielding the seven-inch silver blade that she used to bring the pig to its end.
‘Today I command the parade,’ she says, grinning as she passes a vat of steaming entrails to her sister-in-law at the smokehouse, then moves off again. In one hand she holds a fresh, fist-sized hunk of raw pig fat – there is no greater delicacy in Ukraine – and she pauses now and then to dole out thin slices to her neighbours.
‘I fly like a falcon!’ says Hanna, shuttling at high speed back towards the carcass. Indeed, falcons – as well as wolves, wild boar, moose and some species not seen in these environs for decades – are thriving in the forests and villages around Chernobyl. One particular falcon, however, has not fared so well. A large grey and white specimen, it is strung up, dead, chest puffed and wings outspread against the slate sky, above Hanna’s chicken coop as a warning to its brethren. ‘He came and ate my chicken, so I beat him with a stick,’ she says.