Up Close & Personal with a Chernobyl Survivor

January 21, 2012

Bozeana came at 9am. Gracie jumped up on her to greet her and I told Gracie to get down. I asked
Bozeana if this week she was going to be changing the sheets, and she said yes. She said, “Look at my
hair; I don’t know how to fix it.” It looked the same to me as always – pulled back into a ponytail made
up of not much hair.

Bozeana is my cleaning lady now for 3 months. She was referred to me by my former cleaning woman
of 12 years, Regina, from Poland. In the weeks that passed, I came to learn that Bozeana was 47, had
one child who was two years old and had miscarried many times. Since Regina brought Bozeana to me, I
assumed she was Polish but I was wrong.

I live an isolated life in some ways. With all the children in college, no job on the horizon and no taste
for social gatherings, I spend most of my time on my own, so when later that morning Bozeana
complimented me after I had put on my makeup and said “you are older than me (I’m 53) but you look
younger than me. You always look so nice”, I grabbed the moment to make both of us feel good. I told
her – “let me put your hair in hot curlers; you can leave them in while you clean and when you are ready
to go we will take them out. You will love your hair.” Bozeana was really excited yet embarrassed as I
combed her hair in order to put the curlers in. She apologized for her thin hair. Her hair was extremely
thin. I told her not to worry; the curlers will give her volume. I felt happy knowing she would be so
pleasantly surprised at her new look.

As I was putting the curlers in, Bozeana told me when she was a little girl she had thick, long hair but
after Chernobyl she started to lose her hair. What? What did she say? I asked her what she meant. She
said she was 16 when the nuclear accident at Chernobyl occurred. I said, “But you lived in Poland.”
Bozeana said, “No, I lived in Russia. I lived 50 miles away from the accident.” I was speechless, and my
mind was spinning. Bozeana continued “no one warned us, no one told us anything even after it

In a small town in Russia, was the media silenced? All of Bozeana’s miscarriages, her lost hair.
Wondered if her son would be able to father children. After I got all the curlers in Bozeana’s hair, I told
her not to worry if some things don’t get done, let’s do some makeup. Bozeana’s eyebrows were so fair
they were invisible. I made up her face including coloring in eyebrows with powder and brush. She
nearly cried, and we laughed that she was ruining it. Then I wanted to cry but held it in. I went into my
closet, found a cheerful top and gave it to her. I told her to put it on when she took out the curlers, and
to refresh her lipstick before she left – I said, “you know where I keep it.” She said “but you use it on
your mouth,” and I said I didn’t care, just use it.

Unfortunately, I had to go out before I could see her hair and new look all put together. I’ll have to wait
until next week to ask her how it worked out. Bozeana survived a nuclear accident and struggled
through to have a child. She went from Russia to my house once a week. The world is becoming smaller
all the time.


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