As we walked among the empty houses of Zalesye, the last thing I expected to see was an inhabitant. But suddenly there she was. Striding from her cottage in heavy boots, a scarf tied on her head, Rosalia greeted us in Ukrainian and proudly showed us her potato patch.
The sole inhabitant of the village, she is one of about 100 older people, mostly women, still living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone — 1,000 square miles of Ukraine that were evacuated in 1986 after a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant.
In 2011, the area was officially opened to visitors, and last year, I joined a tour group for a two-day journey through the zone. In another village, our guide introduced us to Maria, who said she would be celebrating her 86th birthday that July. “Come visit me on the 16th,” she said with a toothless grin. “We are going to …