Chornobyl means wormwood in Ukrainian
And the third angel sounded,
and there fell a great star from
And the name of the star is called Wormwood;
And the third part of the waters
and many men died because the waters had been poisoned.
The Revelation of St John the Divine, 8:11-12
Here is an excerpt from a much longer article about Chornobyl and its after-effects, which appeared in issue Number One, 2004, of the magazine entitled: "Welcome to Ukraine". Anyone wishing to subscribe to this outstanding English language quarterly can visit their website and see the covers of past issues and read the tables of contents -- or send an email to:email@example.com.
Don't miss this harrowing first person account of a young student living in Kyiv at the time, and experience just a bit of the horror of what it was like to be forced to live in the monstrous, totalitarian hell that was the Soviet Union. The nuclear power plant at Chornobyl exploded on April 26, 1986. The effects are still being felt in Ukraine and Byelorus, which took the brunt of the radiation.
Take note of the formerly top secret government reports which showed that the authorities were well aware of the disaster and the extent of the danger to the population, and not only remained silent, but insisted that public celebrations of May Day go on as scheduled in Kyiv, which was being bathed in waves of dangerous radiation.
For Whom The Bell Tolls
ESSAY: By Myroslava Barchuk
Welcome to Ukraine magazine
In 1986 the Ukrainian poet Ivan Drach came up with a stunning metaphor "the nuclear lightning of Chornobyl has struck right into the genotype of the Ukrainian nation." Back in 1986, we in Ukraine, could not grasp the full extent of the disastrous consequences of the Chornobyl "nuclear lightning." The Chornobyl disaster was to become a moral category.
Like a chain reaction, it spread through our society, it delivered a devastating blow to the traditional Soviet principles and values, it exposed brazen, monstrous lies and barefaced cynicism of the Soviet system, and, eventually, Chornobyl turned out to be one of the causes that led to the ruination of the evil empire, and paradoxically, to making us free.
APRIL IS THE CRUELEST MONTH......
April of 1986 stands in my memory for its unprecedented early warmth, pale, hot spots of sunlight on the ground near the building of my university, and poignancy of the first, unrequited love.
It was an exceptionally warm spring, with everything in bloom. April 26 was a Saturday, and a great many people took advantage of the sunshine. Children were let out of homes to play outdoors; PT classes at schools were conducted at open-air sports grounds; farmers went out into the fields; peasants dug in their vegetable gardens; young people went to the sandy beaches; mothers rolled out their infants onto the alleys of the parks; the old sat on the park benches enjoying the warmth.
The first official information in Ukraine about the accident at Chornobyl was published in the communist party newspaper Radyanska Ukrayina (Soviet Ukraine). It was a tiny piece, at the bottom of the page, saying that there was an accident at the Chornobyl nuclear power station and that the work to put things back to normal was underway; those who were injured in the accident were being given medical help; a government commission was set up to investigate the matter. Just a little problem that will be easily dealt with and not a hint of warning.
The next morning I was woken up by strange sounds that were coming from the street trucks, or rather water tanks, were moving along the street aiming powerful jets of water at the boles of the trees, washing sidewalks and the road. A vague sense of unease began to creep in. Later, there appeared columns of huge military trucks, their platforms covered with tarpaulin, with signs PEOPLE attached to them. These trucks rolled through the streets heading north.
It was only much later that we were to learn that the "PEOPLE" riding in the platforms of these trucks were young army conscripts, boys of around twenty years of age, who were sent to "deal with the consequences of the accident." Many of them were to die, saving the country from "the consequences." But on those days, right after the accident we just saw the trucks and heard their heavy rumble.
There were also many cars that were heading in an opposite direction, and they made very little noise - children and relatives of the communist party bosses and top Soviet apparatchiks were being taken to safe places in the south of Ukraine. A friend of my mother's who had "some connections in high places" called her on the phone and told her, "Shut all the windows, use only bottled mineral water, and take your daughter out of town as soon as possible." But he provided no explanation, letting us do panicky guesswork on our own.
On April 30, a well-known pediatrician appeared in one of the prime-time television programmes, and answering "an unexpected question" posed by a journalist present, said without any hesitation and very confidently that there was absolutely no danger for the health of Kyiv children. "Dear Kyivans, do not let yourselves become victims of unreasonable radiophobia [fear of radiation]! It's ridiculous to fear something which poses no danger at all! The radiation background is now lower than it was before the accident at Chornobyl!"
30.04.86, Top secret
Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic
Concerning the measures being taken in assisting the population during the work being done to deal with the consequences of the accident at the ChNPS (Chornobyl Nuclear Power Station)
The Ministry of Health Protection of the Ukrainian SSR is carrying out dosimetric control:
data available on April 30 1986 shows that in the city of Kyiv there has been a sharp increase in the gamma-radiation background from 50 micro-roentgen an hour in the days preceding the accident up to 1,100- 3,000 micro-roentgen an hour.
Besides, there has been observed [radioactive] contamination of samples taken from the open water reservoirs, [samples] of drinking water, of the soil, of the leaves, and of the animal fur in Chornobyl, Polissya and Ivankiv [administrative] Raions.
The highest level of [radioactive] contamination of upwards of 10,000 to 20,000 micro-roentgen an hour has been discovered in the samples of the soil, leaves and needles of conifers.
[in the original, this document is in Russian]
* Comments in square brackets [..] belong to the translator; in translating the official Soviet documents and quotations from the Soviet publications, the translator bent over backwards trying to render the peculiar Soviet style of writing as close to the original as possible but it is hard - nay, impossible - to adequately reproduce it in English.
A LITTLE REMARK IN PASSING
In order to make it clearer to the reader what 1,100 - 3,000 micro-roentgen an hour registered in Kyiv in April 1986 actually means, I supply a quote from the newspaper Atomnik Ukraine which describes a radiation leak that occurred at one of the Ukrainian nuclear power stations two years ago:
"On February 16 2002 in the territory of the Khmelnytska NPS there occurred a leak of radioactive water from a crack in the pipe that connects the reactor section with the special water purification unit; 30 square meters of the ground were contaminated, with the level of gamma radiation being 240 MICRO-ROENTGEN AN HOUR! (that is, so many times lower than in Kyiv! M.B.) The contaminated soil that totalled 10 cubic meters was removed and TAKEN TO A SPECIAL RADIOACTIVE WASTE REPOSITORY. (bold itallics are mine, M.B.).
It took the then secretary general of the communist party of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, the supreme ruler of the country in everything but in name, eighteen days to summon up courage and address the nation and the world with a message about the Chornobyl disaster.
Among the things he said were these words: We have come across veritable mountains of lies, lies of the most dishonest and vicious kind [promulgated in the West about Chornobyl] As far as the alleged lack of information [about the disaster] is concerned, it's not true that informationvhas been suppressed on purpose. There's been an actual political campaign launched [in the West] to accuse us of deliberate suppression of information -
From a 27 June 1986 order of the head of the 3rd Main Board of the Ministry of Health Protection of the USSR Yevhen Shulzhenko on "Tightening secrecy around the measures being taken to deal with the consequences of the accident at the ChNPS":
Classify as secret the information about the accident. Classify as secret the information about the treatment [of those who have been affected] and its results.
Classify as secret the extent and state of radioactive injury suffered by the people who have taken part in dealing with the consequences of the accident at the ChNPS.
From a 4 January 1987 telegram sent by the means of a special high- frequency communication service from the head of the 3rd Main Board of the Ministry of Health Protection of the USSR Yevhen Shulzhenko (telegram # 2; marked: Strictly confidential):
"The diagnoses connected with the injurious effects of the ionizing radiation include:
acute case of radiation sickness chronic radiation sickness body organs and tissues affected by radiation health hazards resulting from being exposed to radiation, such as leukaemia or leucosis which develop 5 to 10 years after the exposure to radiation of over 50 rads; skin cancer developing as a result of radiation exposure; adenoma of the thyroid gland that develops as a result of radiation exposure of more than 1,000 rads
Note: this document is allowed to be copied by those whom it directly
AVE CAESAR, MORITURI TE SALUTANT
("Hail, Caesar, those who are about to die, salute thee!")
April in the Soviet Ukraine was a special month the time of preparing for "fittingly celebrating the great holidays of May 1, the International Day of Solidarity of the Working People of the World, and May 9, Victory Day" [victory over Germany in WWII]. Floors in schools and offices were polished; employees and engineers were engaged in washing the office windows, cleaning the yards, removing yesteryear leaves from the parks.
Flower beds sported portraits of "the beloved leader Lenin" slogans like "Peace-Labour-May," or "Long Live Communist Party!" Red-blue banners (the colours of the Soviet Ukraine).
Artificial blossoms of cherry trees and big flowers of garish colours were made in thousands to be distributed among the participants of the May Day civil parade that was to file through the main street of Kyiv Khreshchatyk, past the viewing stand with the communist party and Soviet bosses greeting them.
On May 1 1986, when the direction of the wind had changed and the radioactive particles were carried out by the air currents to Kyiv, the civil parade was to take place as always. We, students of the University, "privileged," to take part in the civil parade were to gather at the university at 7 o'clock in the morning.
Three hours of waiting - and then together with "the celebratory masses," we were to march through Khreshchatyk singing patriotic songs, chanting even more patriotic and cheerful slogans, and waving the artificial flowers.
The morning was chilly and windy. We were not aware of the radiation (three days earlier on April 28 Swedish monitoring stations reported abnormally high level of wind-transported radioactivity and pressed the Soviet government for an explanation) that was carried by the winds from the north to Kyiv, passing through our homes, our bodies and our hearts - and then further to Europe - to Austria, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany and even Great Britain. But we felt there was something wrong, a vague menace hung over the crowds.
The city, bright-green, young leaves, the rising sun, the banners fluttering and rustling in the wind. everything seemed unfriendly, alienated, even hostile. The coloured-paper "blossoms," all these slogans and posters looked incongruous, out of place. We shared whatever information we had gleaned from various sources - Voice of America, BBC and Radio Liberty broadcasts (at that time jamming of these broadcasts was particularly relentless and ferocious); hearsay; rumours.
Somebody said that those students who would leave the city, "succumbing to panic and fail to turn up at the exams will be expelled," no matter what the explanations of their absence would be; others said it was advisable to drink red wine, introduce iodine into the diet and avoid drinking milk.
We marched through the main street, through the waves of loud music and cheering and hurrahing; people were waving little flags, dancing Ukrainian dances, greeting the communist bosses on the viewing stand
The previous night, on April 1986, these people from the top echelons of power had been fully apprised of the radioactive situation in Kyiv (see document 1). Years later a German doctor who had treated Ukrainian children suffering from the cancer of the thyroid gland in the 1990s, told me that if the authorities had alerted the people right after the Chornobyl accident to the dangers of exposure to radiation and advised them to introduce the iodine homoeopathically into their diet, the number of cancer cases could have been reduced by at least half small quantities of "normal" iodine saturating the thyroid gland would have prevented the radioactive iodine from penetrating into this gland.
But the Ukrainian leaders feared Moscow's reaction to their "unauthorized" humanitarian action and not wanting to lose their posts and jobs they had kept mum and did not cancel the civil parade. And then they stood on the viewing stand, smiling and waving back, greeting to the unsuspecting people who carried small children piggy-back marching past them. As it turned out later, many children on that day were exposed to radiation much above the safety level.