In 1986, the residents of Chernobyl were forced to flee their homes when the town’s nuclear power plant turned into a disaster zone. The area of Ukraine has been without a permanent human population ever since, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty. The landscape is teeming with insects, plant life, and even radioactive puppies descended from the house pets that were abandoned there 31 years ago.
A new mini documentary from Cloth Map explores the lives of some of Chernobyl’s cutest occupants. In the “Puppies of Chernobyl,” the tiny animals can be seen playing, wagging their tails, and running around just like domesticated dogs. Though the stray dogs tend to gather around places with the most tourist activity, like Chernobyl’s canteen, contact between humans and puppies is discouraged. As host Drew Scanlon explains in the video below, “Visitors are advised not to touch animals in the exclusion zone because they could carry radioactive particles in their fur.”
According to Newsweek, the radioactivity goes even deeper than that. When the American nonprofit Clean Futures Fund surveyed dogs in the exclusion zone, they found pockets of radioisotopes in their bones. The organization has set up a spay and neuter clinic nearby to keep the line of Chernobyl dogs from proliferating.
Parts of Chernobyl have been open to visitors since 2011, but officials still warn about the health risks posed to visitors who don’t follow the rules. Despite this, some explorers, like YouTube star Bionerd23, have been known to taste-test radioactive apples and feed catfish off the designated path. Even the workers with the Clean Futures Fund can’t resist petting the puppies in Chernobyl, but at least they know enough to wash their hands afterwards.