La Mémoire des arbres

The aim of the secret

La Mémoire des arbres / Nadezda Kutepova

I was born in Oziorsk, a closed city. This secret city is close to the Mayak plant, a nuclear facility. There was a specific ideology with which we all grew up in the city. We were persuaded that we had created the Russian missiles shield, thus guaranteeing world peace.

My grandmother died of cancer seven years before I was born. She had worked as an engineer in the nuclear plant. I had a completely normal childhood but, when I was 12, my father fell ill. He had stomach cancer. It is a very severe type of cancer and he was sent to Moscow. There, some bits of his organs were removed and he was given an artificial pouch to collect his faeces. I recall the constant stench. We didn’t have a washing machine. My mother had to boil the dirty fabrics. But we couldn’t say anything. We couldn’t speak of our relatives’ cancers. He was ill, but it was anything but cancer.

In the soviet era, nuclear plants were a state secret. Victims were seen as collateral damage of the Cold War that raged between the United States and the East. Victims did not matter in this war. The highest interest of the state was all that mattered. Everything was a secret. In the closed city and all around it, people knew nothing about plutonium or about nuclear waste. In 1985, my father died at the age of 48. He never found out that he had died because of his voluntary participation in the cleaning of contaminated land. On his disability certificate, two words are inscribed: “common disease”. That’s how life went during the Soviet era. Secret was fundamental to create a strong State.

Things are different in post-soviet Russia. Cold War has ended. A part of the Mayak plant continues producing plutonium, but the aim of the secret is different. Nothing is disclosed, and the quantity and gravity of victims are kept secret. The goal consists in creating a global centre for recycling nuclear waste without tarnishing the image of the Russian nuclear industry with a disgraceful past. Ultimately, secrecy still prevails but not because of the cold war, just for business reasons.

— Interview by Cécile Michel on 21 June 2019


Nadezda Kutepova is the dramaturgy assistant for La Mémoire des arbres by Fabrice Murgia and Dominique Pauwels.

Born in 1972 in the closed city of Oziorsk in the Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia, in 2000 she creates an association, “Planeta Nadezh” (Planet of hopes) to preserve the health of pregnant women in the highly-contaminated regions around the closed city. As a lawyer, most of her work consists in representing the victims of the nuclear industry of the Russian Federation at all levels of procedures, up to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In June 2014, “Planeta Nadezhd” is one of the 68 Russian associations included in the government’s “list of foreign agents”.