Overgrown agricultural machinery on a vacant farm near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. 
Credit: Okla Michel / CTK / AP

Gergana Daskalova was nine months old when she was taken in by her grandparents in their small village in Bulgaria. It was soon after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and her parents had left for the city after the closure of the village’s state-run collective farm.

She grew up in a countryside emptying of people and with large areas of farmland lying abandoned. She eventually left too, traveling abroad and forging an academic career as an ecologist. But she never forgot her home village, where her childhood saw an ecological transformation paralleling the social one. As people left Tyurkmen, in Plovdiv province in southern Bulgaria, nature returned with a vengeance.

“Over the last three decades, I have seen Tyurkmen change as houses were abandoned, gardens engulfed by vegetation, and birds like pheasants and hoopoes became a more common sight than people,” she says. “The brambles are so thick, stepping on them feels […]

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