26 April 2011

After Chernobyl

It has been 25 years since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine, to the day. 

25 years ago, Ukraine, like Poland and other countries, was part of the USSR for 40 years already.  The details of that, I won't get into.  That is a discussion for another day and could be talked about for an entire lifetime without many changing their perspectives and grasping one another's feelings on the subject.

Instead, I will share with you my personal experiences regarding Chernobyl.

We had been in the USA for almost 4 years at this time.  My little brother was about 3 years old.  He is American born.  At this time, I was almost 6 years old.  Not yet in school.

My parents started saying words over and over which meant nothing to my young mind.  "Chernobyl", "Nuklearny", "Energia jadrowa".  And words I knew.  "Ukraine", "Sovieci", "Murderstwo", "Makabra", "Boga".

My mother was crossing herself and crying.  My father was smoking more cigarettes (outside, never inside around us children and always thinking we never saw it) than usual.  My parents were whispering a lot and glancing at us children playing and walking into another room to talk.

Phone calls to Poland were made.  I would hate to imagine how expensive that phone bill was for them, since I knew they easily paid $100 for a half hour phone call at the time.

The news was on a lot.

It was as though the air was electric.  Something was going on but I didn't know what.  I asked but my parents answered me the way they did when I asked about our leaving Poland.  "One day when you are older and can understand and not be angry or blame anyone, I will tell you."

They never explained it to me.  I was never told by my parents about the Chernobyl disaster.  Instead, I learned about it in passing in school and the subject called to me.  I learned about it on my own.

I learned that the sarcophagus now containing the radiation at Chernobyl has an expected lifetime of 30 years and that a newer, more long term solution should have started being created 25 years ago in order to meet the deadline.  I learned that as of yet, funds are still being raised for it.  I can't blame Ukraine.  But that is another discussion about a country's economic aftereffects from being under the USSR for so many years.

When the Japanese nuclear disaster occurred recently, my Ciocia revealed to me a bit about how my family was affected by Chernobyl.

She said thoughts that truly struck home with me.  "People would go outside and not be able to catch their breathe.  Some people got throat cancer suddenly.  Skin cancer.  Other cancers.  Teeth started suddenly falling out of the mouths of healthy people.  Hair fell out for some.  Old people got sick.  Children got thyroid cancer.  Babies bron a few months later, some weren't lucky.  Maybe it wasn't from Chernobyl but it was a terrible coincidence."

I didn't know what she meant at first, but learned later that there were some cases of elevated levels of Downs Syndrome and Neural Tube Defects, etc. in certain areas of population.  Of course, that made sense to me since fetuses are so vulnerable during pregnancy.

My Ciocia was not the first or the last to say such words.  But to hear a very intelligent woman who I respect highly and who I know is not a sensationalist or prone to hysteria in any way, that is what hits home.

I hope the world does not face such a disaster again.  But while hoping against such an event, the only solution I can ever think of is to say "No" to Nuclear power.  Yet, who am I?  I am no government official, I am not a rich company or investor.  I am nobody who can make a difference. 

So, all I can do is pray to God...


VKorchagin said...

The problem with Chernobyl was that the Soviets were in charge of it. In the case of Western nuclear power plants, aberrations like that usually don't occur. However, it was still inhumane, like everything the Soviet Union put its mind to. There was an interview with the firefighters who were forced to be the first responders on NPR yesterday. Disgusting.

Polish Mama on the Prairie said...

VKorchagin, Yes, I thought perhaps to leave the political aspect to it for another time. For some, it's a raw subject still, as I feel it should be since it is not yet resolved.

But to me, Capitalism in it's current form could likewise cause the same disaster should we (by we I mean the rich people) lose focus that human life is more important than profit. In the end, irregardless of what political system one supports, the end result is human life must matter more than profit of any kind or we lose our humanity.

Dawn said...

I agree. "NO" to nuclear power. It could happen anywhere.

Courtney Mroch said...

Wow. What a memory. Neat to hear it from your point of view. These sentinel events have funny ways of sticking in our memories, don't they? But it was really neat to see it from your eyes. My prayers to all the people who suffered through that.

Mom Photographer said...

I saw a movie about Czarnobyl.They were saying that the people who worked there cleaning after the disaster happened were never informed about the limit of radiation that human being can take. After the limit was reached those people should had been removed from being exposed to radiation, they never was.They worked there unaware.
before all of this happened it was a town with about 15.ooo people. Right now it's about 2.5 k people living there mostly scientists and researchers. they live there for about 2 weeks and they leave for a month (because of the radiation). they are relieved by different people until they are back.
they can work there total 3 months a year.can you imagin. 25 years after it all happend!

Liv V. said...

I share a birthday with the Chernobyl disaster and, though I was only 4 years old when it happened, I still think of it. Horrifying. I have family in Norway that were affected - the radiation cloud was so large. People up there who herded reindeer couldn't eat the meat from their animals because the levels of radioactivity were so elevated. It scares me how people accept nuclear power so readily and seem to think that something like Chernobyl wouldn't happen here.

Kasia said...

Very toughtful post.. Just look at me, I was a kid and pretty much nearby when Chernobyl happened, no one told us anything about protecting children or iodine tablets, and today I have a grave cancer like illness :( I am not surprised anymore after learning so much about the dangers during the Japan catastrophe :(

Finally made it to your blog, it is difficult to comment because this "under the post" comment function does not work with Firefox, or any other of my browsers, except Google Chrome (which I needed to install again after a system update, and which is very damaging to my old computer and heavy, so I try not to use it at all) *sigh* I really do not get how Blogger can treat the people who use their service like that, omitting such an essential information, and especially, NOT fixing this huge error :/ :p

So also belated Wesołych Świąt Wielkanocnych :) Do you have a church nearby where to bring your Święconka? I sometimes resolve to just making one and placing it in the middle of the table, but it is not the same of course :/

Truthful Mommy said...

I am so sorry that your family was affected by such a tragedy. thank you for sharing such a personal memory.I agree, no to nuclear power!