The only child born in the highly-polluted Chernobyl exclusion zone after the 1986 nuclear explosion has turned into a healthy young woman.
Mariyka’s amazing story did not feature in the recent TV hype over the Soviet atomic power station, but she is said to be a “symbol of Chernobyl renaissance” following the disastrous explosion.
She hit the headlines 19 years ago when she became the first and only baby to be born and brought up living close to blitzed reactor number four.
But she has not been seen in the media for years.
Now a 19-year- old student at a leading higher education institution in Ukraine’s capital Kiev, she was tracked down by the Sunday Express and said: “I am doing well, I am working.
“I’m providing for myself. This is it.”
When she was born in 1999, the Ukrainian authorities sought to hide the “embarrassment” of her arrival to a family of Chernobyl workers living illegally in the 19-mile exclusion zone.
Her parents refused to leave the zone because the authorities offered them no alternative housing.
But they were harassed and accused of “murdering” their daughter.
She swam in a river where fish – which her father Mikhail caught to feed the family – sent Geiger counters bleeping wildly, says the newspaper.
She drank milk from a cow fed on Chernobyl pastures irradiated by the nuclear explosion.
Her mother Lydia Sovenko was forced to deny rumours over her daughter’s health.
“If people think she is a mutant, or has two heads, they are quite wrong,” she said in one interview.
“She is a lovely child who is absolutely healthy as far as we can see.”
Today Mariyka does not wish to highlight her past as she funds her studies working at a fashionable bar.
“She really doesn’t care about being unique through being born in Chernobyl,” said a friend.
“In fact, knowing that she is the only child who was born here after the explosion, and who grew up in Chernobyl, is rather painful for her.
“She sees it as a stigma.”
Her health and success – confirmed by her mother and friends – comes as the nature of Chernobyl is fighting back against the appalling nuclear decimation it suffered 33 years ago.
Wildlife is teeming in the area with elk, deer, wild boar and wolves thriving as well as rare wild birds and flowers, some of them from the Red Book.
As her mother, now 66, has said: “People here believe that Mariyka is a symbol of Chernobyl’s renaissance, a sign from God which they interpret as a blessing to live here, and that life is coming back to this blighted place.”