Hidden deep in the dark forests of the Russian Ural Mountains lies the forbidden city of Ozersk, also known as 'City 40'. Thousands of people live behind barbed wire, guarded by armed militia. They are the keepers of the nuclear shield, or so they have been told by the authorities. But they live in one of the most toxic places on earth.
After WWII, when the US launched a plan for building secret nuclear cities, the Soviet Union followed suit. Around the Mayak nuclear plant in the Ural Mountains, a city was built where labourers and scientists worked, in utmost secrecy, on the Russian nuclear weapons programme. No one was allowed to know of their existence: the city was not put on any maps and the residents were not registered anywhere. Labourers disappeared without a trace from the place they originally lived and no contact with the outside world was allowed.
The City 40 residents had a good life: when the rest of Russia was struggling with food shortages and poverty, they had enough to eat. Even today, the government takes good care of the residents. They have good education, employment and healthcare. But at what price? For decades, the city has produced nuclear material and dumped the waste into open lakes and rivers, resulting in a shockingly high mortality rate. They suffered several nuclear disasters and the radiation level is sky-high. But since the city and its residents effectively do not exist, there are no official documents about the damage the pollution inflicted on mankind and environment. In this documentary we see lawyer Nadezhda Kutepova prosecuting the government. This does not gain her any gratitude. The residents of Ozersk are doomed to live their life of luxury on 'the graveyard of the world'.
Due to her activism, Nadezhda Kutepova has been thwarted and harassed by the Russian government to such an extent that she no longer felt safe and felt forced to flee. She will be present at this year's Movies that Matter Festival as one of the activists in the A Matter of ACT programme, read more about her here.
Text: Annika Wubbolt