Two documentaries about life in Ukraine are to be featured in the Toronto HotDocs film festival which starts today. One’s about a 15 year-old in eastern Ukraine who works illegal coal mines to help feed his family, while the other features a family raising over 20 orphans, 16 of them who are black, and the xenophobia they encounter.
Snizhne, a Ukrainian mining town that thrived during Soviet-era occupation, is today plagued by crushing poverty. For years, the town’s desperate residents have been illegally mining coal on their own, dangerously excavating abandoned mines, the basements of condemned buildings, the nearby woods, and even their own backyards. Everyone digs to survive—women, retirees, unemployed miners, even children. Since leaving his alcoholic mother’s home, 15-year-old Yura has put his schooling and his dream of becoming a cook on hold. He takes it upon himself to provide for his sisters the only way he knows how: by working the illegal pits. Yura shoulders familial responsibilities—parenting, shopping, cooking meals, making ends meet—in the absence of adults. The parental perspective on the children’s situation? “They want to eat, so they work.” A heart-rending case of children forced to grow up too quickly with no role models. – Angie Driscoll
Here’s an emotionally absorbing subject filled with layers of complexity. In a modest house in a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya raises 27 kids, among them 16 black children who were abandoned by their mothers and orphaned because of their race.
There’s tension with the outside community – ignorant neighbours, tsk-tsking health inspectors – but there’s also bickering within the mixed family, as the loving, hardworking yet hardline Nenya gushes over one no-good son while standing in the way of another’s talent for soccer or a daughter’s desire to move to Italy. (After the Chernobyl disaster, a summer exchange between Ukrainian kids and European families began.)
The next-to-last scene, in which one of Nenya’s children describes his treatment in a psych institution, is so full of horrific details it couldn’t be made up.
It was 25 years ago today that testing of the cooling system failed in reactor #4 of the Chornobyl (Ukrainian spelling) nuclear power station, ripping open the 2,000 ton cover, releasing radioactive particles into the atmosphere:
After the fall of Communism in 1991, Russia became the successor to the Soviet Union, inheriting it’s wealth and nuclear domain. The original Soviet statistics which are still used to this day claim only 30 lives from this catastrophe, but much headway has been made recently from researchers to gain a more accurate understanding of the suffering:
Most recent data say the total Chernobyl death toll comes to over one million people all over the world, and this staggering figure is only bound to grow further, claiming more and more from the future generations. The bulk of the contamination covered the territories of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, but still it only made up 43 percent of the total radioactivity that was released when the multi-tonne reactor cover was blown away by a powerful explosion and the highly radioactive fuel from reactor 4 was dispersed into the atmosphere. Most of the radioactive particles fell out in North America, Africa, and countries in Europe and Asia. These are the data from the book entitled “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” which is to be presented in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, today. The book was written by scientists from countries that have been most impacted by Chernobyl and includes data from a considerable number of studies undertaken in the past quarter-century in many countries of the world.
Russian authorities and the atomic industry not only have not drawn any new lessons from the Chernobyl tragedy, but they have not even learned respect for the victims of nuclear catastrophes in general. There cannot be any respect in a situation wherein the majority of the victims are not even acknowledged. Such is the attitude to victims of the nuclear disaster at the Mayak Chemical Combine in 1957. Instead of apologies and a renewal of historic justice, the government seemingly is waiting for all of the victims to quietly die off. At the end of last year, the State Duma refused to enact a law defining those who were irradiated in utero by the 1957 accident at Mayak as victims of the incident. According to archives, some 2000 pregnant women were inducted to work on the liquidation of the accident, but their children, a small number of which are still alive, now cannot prove the harm their health sustained. From a legal point of view, they cannot be victims of the accident because they had not yet been born when it happened.
The 1957 accident was kept under wraps until 1989 – doctors were forbidden to issue diagnoses confirming a link to radiation related illnesses, which means that today’s victim statistics aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. In the first three years after Chernobyl, the data on those who suffered in the wake of the explosion at the nuclear power station were also extremely distorted and today the Soviet period data is hardly adequate. The maimed figures can be explained either by secretiveness or political expediency, but why has such a disrespectful and cynical attitude toward the victims remained? The answer to that question is almost obscenely simple: money. Atomic businessmen consider it their duty to deny any negative consequences of the nuclear accident, assuming that admitting to problems will tarnish the image of nuclear energy, which will negatively impact business.
An international donors’ conference raised pledges of euro550 million ($802 million) to build a shelter to cover the exploded reactor building for the next century. But that was short of the euro740 million ($1.1 billion) sought for the shelter and a facility for storing spent reactor fuel.
Once the enormous shelter is completed and slid over the reactor building on rails, expected in 2015, workers can begin disassembling the reactor and disposing the hundreds of tons of radioactive material inside. It is still not clear how that will be done or how much it will cost.
“Right now, we don’t have the processes, but we are working on developing them,” Igor Gramotkin, director of the now-decommissioned power plant, told delegates.
the Toronto-based Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund (CCCF) is marking the solemn occasion with the official opening of a special photo essay called Chornobyl: 25 Years Later on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 p.m. at the Ukrainian Canadian Art Foundation, 2118-A Bloor St. W., second floor.
The exhibit, which runs from April 26 to May 4, features 24 documentary-style images snapped by Leslieville photographer Olena Sullivan.
While I wasn’t able to promote all the local Easter festivals that had happened this weekend, there’s still time to get some of your favourite foods from popular stores (in Toronto there’s Future Bakery, Natalie’s Kitchen and Vatra to name a few).
And in all the food eating and pysanky making this long weekend, don’t forget to remember the religious aspect of the holiday. For the past two years both Easters have been on the same day, but next year the Gregorian calendar will have Easter fall on April 8, 2012 and Julian on April 15, 2012.
Here’s a little something to fill your weekend calendar:
Ethnic cleansing of Ukrainians in Poland documentary
Saturday at 4pm at the Revue Cinema in Roncesville (just south of Dundas West TTC station) is the airing of ‘The Last Journey Home’, features stories of some of the 150,000 Ukrainians forcefully deported from their homeland annexed to Poland after World War 2 under ‘Operation Wesla’ and returning 63 years later.
These Ukrainians were scattered among the hostile Polish population and condemned to assimilation. They were expelled from over 1000 villages and towns, hundreds of churches were destroyed, some 4,000 people were imprisoned and tortured in the Jaworzno concentration camp, and around 1,000 were killed during the operation and added to the list of the thousands of victims of previously carried out pacifications, executions, and torture. As the consequence of Operation “Wisla”, the most western part of the Ukrainian ethnic territory ceased to be inhabited by Ukrainians.
“Do you have any cultural groups that would like to participate by having someone at the event in an ethnic costume? We are seeking one or two people from your community,” the email signed by Zeljko ‘Zed’ Zidaric said.
The email stated that the Etobicoke Centre campaign was seeking to create a “photo-op about all the multicultural groups that support Ted Opitz our local Conservative candidate and the Prime Minister.”
“The opportunity is to have up to 20 people in national folklore costumes which represent their ethnic backgrounds,” the email said.
Ted Opitz’s campaign spokesperson Patrick Rogers confirmed that Zidaric is a campaign staffer.
The email quickly drew criticism as it made the rounds on blogs and via emails on Wednesday.
Mouamar compared the photo-op to asking people to come to “a Halloween party.”
The Conservative government cut off more than $1 million in funding to the Canadian Arab Federation after the president expressed “hateful sentiments” toward Israel and Jews, according to then immigration minister Jason Kenney.
“So suddenly now we exist as props for a photo op?” said Canadian Arab Federation president Khaled Mouamar. “This is hypocrisy.”
Borys Wrzesnewskyj, the Liberal incumbent who has represented the west-end Toronto riding since 2004, said he was stunned to learn of the email.
“It’s really unfortunate,” said Wrzesnewskyj. “My goodness, we’re not in the 1950s here… Canada is a global village and Toronto is especially so.”
The Conservative Party has aggressively courted the ethnic vote in hopes of wresting ridings from the Liberals and gaining a majority. Outreach efforts have been spearheaded by Kenney.
About 44 per cent of the riding’s residents are immigrants. Most come from Europe, specifically from the eastern and southern parts of the continent. However, almost half (47.7 per cent) of Etobicoke Centre’s most recent immigrants hail from Asia and the Middle East.
Since 1993, Etobicoke Centre has been decisively Liberal. Incumbent candidate Borys Wrzesnewskyj has served as MP since 2004, and in 2008 defeated Conservative contender Axel Kuhn by more than 10 percentage points. The Wrzesnewskyj-Kuhn race had been identified by Stephen Harper as one that could see a Conservative breakthrough. This time around, Wrzesnewskyj will face Conservative candidate Ted Opitz, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian military. Also in the race are Ana Maria Rivero for the NDP and Katarina Zoricic for the Greens.