24th Anniversary of Chornobyl today

Last year’s article on the Soviet cover-up of Chornobyl (that’s how it’s spelled in Ukrainian as opposed to Chernobyl in Russian) is still as relevant as ever. Today one of the co-founders of the U.S. Ukraine Foundation, Robert A. McConnell made a statement to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Chornobyl and nuclear weapons:

During the evening of April 26, 1986 – 24 years ago – there was an explosion at one of the reactors of the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant in Ukraine, a fact now well known throughout the world.However, even today we do not have a complete understanding or information about the consequences of this disaster then and its ongoing ramifications because the Soviet Union took on a major cover-up of this nuclear explosion.

Moscow, which then still controlled all dissemination of information throughout the Soviet Union, did not announce or warn the people of Ukraine or nearby Belarus of the Chornobyl accident. When European scientists raised an alarm, on the morning of April 28, Moscow initially denied an accident had occurred.

The accident was played down and life went on as usual in the Soviet state. Though, as was later learned, Kyiv’s Communist political elite knew, or had suspicions about the disaster and began to evacuate their families, within the first 72 hours after the explosion. However, millions of people within 100 kilometers of Chornobyl, which included Kyiv, and outlying suburbs and villages, had no information whatsoever.

On April 30, the lead story in Soviet media was about flowers in Ukraine and preparations for the May Day parade. The public was assured that “the air and water around Kyiv was fine,” though we now know the radiation plume returned over Kyiv with increasing amounts of radiation.

Not until May 5 – 10 days after the explosion – and only after public outcry from Europe and government pressure from the West did the Kremlin admit to the completely uncontained nature of the explosion and the extent of the radioactive disaster.

However, Soviet authorities held steadfast to their decision that no Western aid – none – would be sent to Ukraine. American doctors were allowed to fly into Moscow to assist there, but none were allowed into Ukraine. These aid efforts were reported and highlighted in the West but the disparaging treatment of the people of Ukraine, the people most affected, never seemed to trigger any genuine official or media outrage.

Eventually, significantly more than a year after the nuclear explosion, Western aid finally was allowed into Ukraine. No one will ever be able to define adequately the human cost of the unnecessary delay.

This information is important to place into context, not only to the reality and the implications of this reality within Ukraine, but to add a critical perspective to the history of the American’s on-again, off-again infatuation with Moscow and our frequently myopic Russo-centric attitudes and policies.

If ever there is a country that has had both a reason and a determination to be nuclear-free, it is Ukraine. Ukraine’s actions did not stop with declarations, but continued after independence. Ukraine acted upon its declaration: officials sought a way to dismantle and dispose of aging nuclear missiles. As mentioned earlier, in the early 1990s, the last people Ukraine trusted with anything that could endanger the lives of the people of Ukraine were the power elite in Russia, under the direction of the Kremlin. Ukrainian officials wanted to turn over Ukraine’s warheads to the United States and said so many times, on many occasions. Moscow, however, vehemently protested Ukraine’s position, insisting that the warheads be delivered to Russia.

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Meanwhile residents in nearby village too poor to live elsewhere are still suffering and dying from this catastrophe, and while the exploded reactor is encased, the shell is deteriorating and internationally funded work to replace the shell is far behind schedule.

The death toll from the Chernobyl disaster is not well documented. Officially there were 56 fatalities, mostly from radiation poisoning after the event. However, a cover-up by Soviet authorities has spurred much speculation over what the long-term effects of the incident are. Outbreaks of cancers and birth defects have been blamed on the Chernobyl disaster but never scientifically substantiated. [Wired]

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