In 1957, several trenches worth of radioactive material exploded at Mayak. Waste was spread over an estimated four hundred to nine hundred kilometers, contaminating dozens of settlements, ruining the groundwater, and prompting the Soviets to perform their usual cleanups. Russians were removed from villages, their settlements bulldozed as they were moved elsewhere by the infinite wisdom of Moscow. Native Tatars were told nothing, and left in place to suffer, fear, and die in the wake of a bountiful harvest of hay and wheat from radioactive fields.

Signs were put up around the most contaminated of the areas. Maintain a constant speed and do not roll down your windows. Do not loiter.

1957 was not the first disaster at Mayak. Before came the contamination of Lake Karachay, used as a dumping ground for waste, and the strong winds of 1951 that brought the initial wave of radioactive dust across Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile throughout the next forty years, the cover up continued. Doctors came to study the locals. First teeth. Then tissue samples. Enough of a pittance was paid out to keep the local Tatars fed: enough to live on, not enough to escape. The officials, not understanding the threat any better than the natives, ordered that meat could not be eaten unless boiled for at least two hours. The berries and plants and other fruit of the land were banned from sale - except internally to the zone.

Who cares about the tribesmen? Doubtlessly they're plotting against us, comrades.

If you hunt for pictures of the land contaminated by Mayak, you'll find rusting signs with the fading signs of radiation warnings, themselves as contaminated (if not moreso) than the rivers they sit beside. If you look for nearby Lake Karachay, you'll find it filled with concrete in a vain attempt to keep the waste at the bottom of the lake from blowing further away.

Then you'll die. To sit by the lake for even five minutes is to receive a fatal dose of radiation.

In 1952, Russia finally acknowledged the incidents at Mayak. So far, little of note has been done for the locals. Six Euros a month is little compensation for a fatal dose of radiation and a blind eye turned to the massive rates of cancer in the region.

The Tatars, the lake, and the contamination are still there.

So is Mayak.

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