What pain Chernobyl veterans?
Former officer of Chernobyl radiation reconnaissance battalion
Head of the Kharkiv City organization of "Union Chernobyl Ukraine"
Manager of Kharkiv Center of Chernobyl survivors' socio-medical rehabilitation
Environmental Sciences & Policy Dept,
Central European Un-ty, Budapest, Hungary
Advisor for 'PRIPYAT.com' Chernobyl survivors' NGO
'Chernobyl Institute' Initiative Group, Kyiv/Kiev, Ukraine
Former commander of Chernobyl radiation reconnaissance platoon
The first Chernobyl NGO – both in the USSR and globally – emerged in the city of Kharkov/Kharkiv, the 2nd biggest city of Ukraine with the population of almost 2 million, the 3rd biggest educational center of the USSR as for the number of students and universities (after Moscow and Leningrad/now-St-Petersburg) and a major scientific and industrial agglomeration. It was not by chance: the city sent the first big military force to mitigate Chernobyl (the approx. 3000-men-strong 25th brigade of radiation, chemical and bacteriological protection, into which the two of us were drafted from reserve in 1986). The city kept feeding for years this and one more brigade and many other military regiments and civil technical crews and scientific teams in the zone and at the NPP. Thus, the critical social mass of Chernobyl veterans was reached, and the NGO was conceived.
Chernobyl NGOs was among the first and, probably, the most organized institutions of the civil society during the perestrojka, disintegration of the USSR and emerging of the independent Ukraine. Now they strive to formulate, voice and protect the interests of the Chernobyl survivors (both the 'liquidators', the evacuated and their children, only in Kharkiv region 27 thousand of them), help them adapt themselves to new realities of our country.
We will reflect on this experience, and discuss special groups of needs of the Chernobyl survivors, some of them not apparent for the outsiders yet. It's painful to say that both in the USSR and Ukraine the state has failed to provide the survivors with adequate medical care, compensations (e.g., monetary), which they are entitled according to the law, fails to socially support them (by providing the housing, jobs, loans to start business). However, beside these more or less expected problems, the need of proper commemoration becomes more and more acute as the time passes. For example, until now, in 22 years, there is NO single movie, dedicated to the Chernobyl disaster; like back in the zone, it us, non-professionals, who are to tackle the task. And we do it: our Chernobyl mates work on the screenplays; one has been already written, presented and awarded at international screenplay contests – and waits for being turned into a movie.
Until now the researches address the Chernobyl disaster as first and foremost a physical and ecological issue. Even if social scientists, psychologists, scholars of humanities arrive to some adequate conclusions, – being unaware of their wider context, they and decision-makers often implement them with deteriorating consequences. It looks like until now the researchers, historians in particular, fail to produce the REAL story – or rather, stories of Chernobyl: the detailed, knowledgeable, complex, systematic ones, those with true human faces, and not necessarily only those of the victims. Instead, both academic community and society still operate with some reduced, biased versions – Soviet or anti-Soviet, pro-nuclear or anti-nuclear. And Chernobyl is spoken about only as a matter of April-26th' anniversary routine, with one and the same set of data, words and facial expressions.
It's no secondary-importance issue: the unshared experience of Chernobyl alienates the survivors from the society, marginalizes them, and badly affects their health – at first psychic and then social and physical one. The veterans are deeply worried that their actions to mitigate Chernobyl are usually represented as vain (which is radical untruth, for by our efforts the scope of Chernobyl mishap has been reduced at least several-fold), that their experience and practical skills of combating radiation accident will escape with them. Until now in the schools and universities of Ukraine there is no handbook or textbook on Chernobyl, not even merely a small methodic book for teachers. The civil defense courses are largely taught in an obsolete, dull, actually pre-Chernobyl way – both in their essence and teaching techniques.
The Chernobyl veterans try to do what they can, they always gratefully accept the invitations to meet with the schoolchildren and students, enthusiastically support cultural events, exhibitions. It's really important for them to know that the stupidity and awe of Chernobyl will never happen again.
We strive to turn the 20th anniversary of the first Chernobyl NGO, which will be celebrated on August 6, 2008 in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, into a major international event, with a series of artistic events and a scientific conference. It should sum up human experience of Chernobyl - and look into the future, the one not solely of the Chernobyl and its survivors but of our small planet.
We hope you will join and cooperate with us in this remarkable project.