|The Long Road to Recovery: Community Responses to Industrial Disaster (UNU, 1996, 307 pages)|
|7 The Chernobyl disasters Its effect on Belarus and Ukraine|
1. All names used in this paper have been
cited in the Russian version. While I have no wish to offend Ukrainians or
Belarusians, I consider that this usage is pertinent here since the names are
well known to the Western reader. Moreover, to use three different languages in
one paper would only cause confusion. Hence I use Chernobyl (not Chernobyl),
Kiev (not Kyyiv), and Minsk (rather than Miensk).
2. Of the numerous sources on the immediate aftermath to Chernobyl, see especially Grigorii Medvedev (1991), Shcherbak (1988), and Illesh and Pralnikov (1987). A photographic depiction, which includes excellent commentaries by Vladimir Yavorivsky, Andrei Illesh, and others is Eisymont (1988). The above account is also based on eyewitness statements made to the author during a visit to Chernobyl in June 1989.
3. The population figures are derived from State Committee of Statistics of the Ukrainian SSR 1984: 8 and State Committee of Statistics of the Belorussian SSR 1990: 15.
4. The area is described in Marples (1986: 115).
5. On the design of the RBMK reactor and its inherent problems, see Zhores Medvedev (1990: 3 7) and Marples (1986: 109-113).
6. The most famous criticism was that of journalist Lyubov Kovalevska, a reporter for the Pripyat newspaper, who published an article about the flaws in the construction of the fifth Chernobyl reactor in Literaturna Ukraina, 27 March 1986. See also Marples (1986: 118-124). Zhores Medvedev also notes that, for purely political reasons, the fourth reactor at Chernobyl was brought into operation well ahead of its official schedule and without adequate safety tests (Medvedev 1990: 12).
7. This imprecise phrase has an interesting history itself. As far as I can ascertain, it was first used by Stalin (or, at the least, widely used in public statements) during his first collectivization campaign, to eliminate alleged rich farmers or kulaks, to wit: "the liquidation of the kulaks as a class." Subsequently, it was used to designate a time of frantic and sustained activity, particularly in accident or wartime situations.
8. Interview with the editorial board of Izvestiya, 27 November 1987.
9. Radio Kiev, 1 May 1986.
10. Zhores Medvedev (1990: 65), citing the eyewitness testimony of his namesake (no relation), Grigorii Medvedev.
11. One roentgen of gamma rays is equivalent to one radiation absorbed dose (red; 0.01 Gy) or one radiation dose equivalent (rem [acronym for radiation equivalent man]; 0.01 Sv).
13. The figure is, none the less, more than 30 times higher than the natural background.
14. In May 1986, incidentally, it was almost impossible to locate a current issue of a Western newspaper in Kiev, and such newspapers were never seen outside the major cities. Foreign radio broadcasts from the Voice of America and Radio Liberty were still being heavily jammed. Thus the accusation that such reports were causing panic seems far-fetched. The only possible means of such panic might emanate from telephone calls. According to many American and Canadian Ukrainians with whom I spoke, who tried during that period to call relatives and friends in Ukraine, it was extremely difficult to get a connection.
15. See the account of the accident by Victor G. Snell of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) written as an introduction to Marples (1988: 1-24).
16 The meeting was publicized on the front page of some newspapers; see, for example, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, 17 May 1986.
17. Professor Jovan Jovanovich, for example, notes that his request to visit Chernobyl as a private citizen in 1988 was promptly granted, and the visit took place in February 1989 (Jovanovich 1991: 10). He was thus the first Canadian to visit the site as an individual. I was the second, but my request had taken three years to be accepted. While I was there, it was made clear that I was regarded initially (i.e. in 1986-1987) as a hostile observer.
18. The brief history of Slavutich is a miserable one. Billed as a twenty-first century city, it was belatedly discovered to be located in a radioactive "patch" and surrounding forests had to be cut down. Shortly after the completion of what was labelled as its first stage, the Ukrainian government announced the forthcoming permanent closure of the Chernobyl station in 1995. In December 1991, once Ukraine became independent, the ultimate fate of the station appeared more certain. Residents were reported to be depressed and unsure of their future. Its present population is estimated at 20,000, i.e. Iess than half that of Pripyat in early 1986. For an account of its construction, see Marples (1988: 225-238).
19. See Zakon Respubliki Belarus (1992), especially Article 3 on page 2.
20. Perhaps inevitably, this was taken to extremes. Thus, the Ukrainian government began in 1989 to publish maps of individual oblasts, some of which had received virtually no significant radiation fallout, but may have had a few isolated areas of radioactive caesium of more than one curie per square kilometre in the soil. The maps, without doubt, caused some unnecessary panic, though in such oblasts there were often other environmental hazards that constituted a far greater danger to the population but which were being ignored. The maps are still being published regularly. See, for example, the map of Vinnitsya Oblast, published in Demokratyehna Ukraina, 12 May 1992.
21. It is symptomatic of the depth of concern manifested in Ukraine that the local party leader from Narodichi, G. Gotovchits, subsequently became Ukraine's first Minister for Chernobyl in the new government of 1992.
22. In March 1993, an estimate of the costs of the Chernobyl accident was provided by the Belarusian parliamentary deputy, Anatoly Volkov: in Russia, $174 billion; in Belarus, $171 billion; and in Ukraine, $138 billion. He estimated with regard to the "current republican budgets" that Russia would be able to raise the necessary funds within 8 years, Ukraine in 28 years, and Belarus in 171 years (Minsk Business News, March 1993: 7). I have reservations about the size of the bill for Russia, which had a broader area affected but at less intensive levels. The comment in any case precludes international aid, which thus far has proved vital in attempting to meet the problems engendered by Chernobyl, particularly in the medical sphere.
23. A statement by Boris Prister, First Deputy Minister for Protection of the Population from the consequences of the Chernobyl Accident, cites a figure of 420,000 people "directly affected by the accident" [IPS (Moscow), 3 February 1993]. There was no indication, however, of what was signified by "directly affected." In June 1992 at the United Nations conference on Environment and Development in Brazil, Yurii Shcherbak, then Ukrainian Minister of the Environment, declared that in the territories of Ukraine contaminated by Chernobyl there were living 2.4 million people, including 500,000 children under the age of 14. There was no indication of the level of radiation used to arrive at such figures, however (Radio Ukraina, 1 June 1992, 10.20 p.m.).
24. The informal association of clean-up workers involved in the decontamination process at Chernobyl and the immediate vicinity.
25. For example, Vladimir Chernousenko, a clean-up worker, who maintains that up to 10,000 "volunteers" have died to date. Cited in Marples (1993c).
26. Interview with Dr. E.P. Demidchik, Institute of Oncology, Minsk, Belarus, 17 April 1993.
27. Interview with Academician E.P. Konoplya, Institute of Radiobiology, Minsk, Belarus, 14 April 1993.
28. Interview with Drs. D. Chesnov and K. Radyuk, Minsk No. 3 Hospital for Sick Children, Minsk, Belarus, 20 April 1993. I was permitted to see and speak to the children suffering from diabetes, thyroid problems, and other illnesses.
29. Dmitrii Chesnov, 20 April 1993.
30. In reality, the role of the Communist Party at Chernobyl was a controversial and far from decisive one. Disaster control remained in the hands of the Soviet government (the Government Commission) and relevant ministries (such as Medium Machine Building, Power and Electrification, Internal Affairs, Coal). It was pointed out to me by one observer that the spheres in which the party or Komsomol (Communist League of Youth) did take control were notable for widespread corruption. A prime example of this was said to be the administration of the Pripyat Industrial and Research Association, which administered the decontamination operation led by military reservists, which was run by the Komsomol.
31. For a more detailed look at birth and death rate trends in this republic in the period since 1970, see State Committee of Statistics of the Belorussian SSR (1990: 20).
32. The appeal was issued during the Eurochernobyl-2 Congress in Kiev, in April 1991, at which I was present. ironically, Masyk has since been accused, by the Chairman of the Ukrainian State Committee for Chernobyl, Volodymyr Yavorivsky, of embezzling funds designated for Chernobyl children. See Pravda Ukrainy, 24 November 1992.
33. A complete history of these events has now been published (Solchanyk 1993). Periodic updates have been published by Solchanyk, Bohdan Nahaylo, Kathleen Mihalisko, and David Marples in Radio Liberty's Report on the USSR, which was renamed RFE/RL Research Report in 1992. An informative perspective is found in the diary of a Kiev intellectual; see Pavlychko (1992).
34. On 25 March 1990, the BPF intended to commemorate the seventy-second anniversary of the creation of the Belorussian Democratic Republic. This action was regarded with horror by the authorities, who tried to equate the political orientation of this short-lived government (it was eliminated by a Polish invasion) with the German National Socialists. In this way, the BPF leaders themselves were branded as extreme nationalists. See Shag (Minsk), special issue, No. 2, 23 March 1990.
35. I am here not simply taking Pozniak's statements at face value. Over the course of three visits to Minsk in 1992 and 1993 I have had ample opportunity to experience for myself the unchanged political climate in the republic. The main square and street in the capital city provide symbolic testimony to the maintenance of the status quo, with statues of Lenin and founder of the Cheka (KGB) Feliks Dzerzhinsky. It is recalled that after the failed putsch in Moscow in August 1991, Dzerzhinsky's statue outside KGB headquarters was the first to be dismantled. Belarus is also the only state to have retained a secret police under its original acronym of KGB.
36. Interview with Iryna Grushevaya, Minsk, Belarus, 13 October 1992 and ff.
37. In early 1992, the government declared that all the children being sent abroad must be registered with the Ministry of Education. Later in the year, it was ordered that children must also receive a personal letter of invitation from their host families, despite the fact that more than 20,000 children had already taken part in such visits (interview with Iryna Grushevaya, 13 October 1992). The purpose of such trips appears to be at least partly psychological - to remove children from a fairly wretched situation in the villages and divert their attention from medical and Chernobyl-related issues, while ensuring that their diet is both healthy and nutritious.
38. I was informed, however, by the Director of the Institute of Radiobiology, Belarusian Academy of Sciences, Academician Evgenii P. Konoplya, that the medical data on victims in Belarus was essentially complete (interview with E.P. Konoplya, Minsk, Belarus, 14 April 1993).
39. One example in the case of Chernobyl was that of a UPI reporter who stated that there were 2,000 immediate victims, evidently on the basis of a single telephone interview with a woman who later retracted her story. Similarly, the 2 May 1986 headline in the New York Post concerning Chernobyl was as follows: "Mass Grave for 15,000-N Victims."
40. Fatal accidents had occurred, however, in military nuclear stations. For example, a power surge occurred at the nuclear reactor experimental station at Deep River, six miles from Canada's first atomic plant at Chalk River on 12 December 1952, and it took two years to clean up the radioactive water that had spilled into the basement of the building (see Silver 1987: 89-90).
41. Thus, in his book on the effects of Chernobyl internationally, L. Ray Silver, a strong advocate of nuclear power development in Canada, notes with pleasure how a national magazine that had at one time regarded an anti-nuclear spokesperson as an expert, cited this same person merely as a "critic" after the Chernobyl disaster. In his view, this was a sign that the magazine in question was becoming more professional in its response to nuclear accidents (Silver 1987: 152).
42. See Marples (1988). Other scientists have verified these comments. For example, the noted scientist Zhores Medvedev stated that: "For several months after the Chernobyl accident the Soviet nuclear establishment was generally successful in promoting a cover-up story about the test of an entirely new safety device" (Medvedev 1990: 33). See also Sakharov (1992: 608-609).
43. Thus, on 26 May 1986, the Novosti press agency reported in English with regard to Chernobyl that "There was a danger of scaring people into panic which could result [sic] from misinterpreted excessive information." In fact, the only panic seems to have occurred among party members in Pripyat, who were, perhaps, more aware of the scale of the disaster than ordinary citizens: 177 of them fled the scene (Marples 1986: 170).
44. The same figure was repeated as recently as February 1993 by Dr. Robert Gale, who returned to Moscow to check on some of the patients he had originally treated after the accident. This is an indication, perhaps, of the effectiveness of official propaganda, and the old dictum propagated by Hitler that, if a lie is repeated enough times, it will be regarded as the truth. See Associated Press, 4 February 1993. The real figure of immediate deaths is not known, though several prominent figures died in the summer of 1986 (including the Ukrainian film director Volodymyr Shevchenko and an official from the Ministry of Medium Machine Building) as a result of exposure to high levels of radiation at Chernobyl. There is ample evidence to indicate dozens of other cases. However, no precise figure has ever been determined, and the Ukrainian government's 1992-1993 citation of 8,000 Chernobyl casualties remains uncorroborated.
45. The question of the necessity for a large-scale evacuation after Chernobyl continues to be debated. It appears that evacuation has greatly increased trauma among evacuees. Therefore, some specialists advocate strongly that future evacuations should not take place until every possibility for reducing the dangers of increased radiation intake through food and water has been exhausted. See the comments of Professor of Biology Yakov Kenigsberg in Katastrofa (special publication of the Belarusian State Chernobyl Committee), 24 April 1993:10.
46. For details on demographics of areas around nuclear power stations, see Mitchell (1983: 367-384).
47. This was outlined in the press conference of the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, Moscow, 21 January 1993. Reported by the Federal News Service, Washington, DC.