A roundtable discussion commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster was held at the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (USUF) on April 26, 2016. The panelists were Valeriy Chaly (Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S.), Mykola Riabchuk (a prominent Ukrainian writer and literary critic), and Nadia McConnell (President, U.SUF).
Ms. McConnell, recalled the Soviet information blackout about the catastrophe and how only a week after the explosion, while radiation continued to spew from the damaged reactor, the May Day parade in Kyiv went on as planned with thousands of people of all ages exposed to Chornobyl’s radioactive cloud. She said for her, the biggest lessons from the Chornobyl disaster pertain not to the issue of nuclear safety (which, certainly, is important) but rather to how a totalitarian state deals with a catastrophe versus the response of an open society. She drew a stark comparison between the Soviet cover up of the nuclear accident at Chornobyl and the quick and comprehensive Japanese and international response to the Fukushima power plant crisis.
Nadia McConnell stressed that the Soviet “playbook” of concealing and denying the Chornobyl catastrophe and the scope of its destruction and human casualties is the same tactic employed by the Kremlin today regarding Russia’s engagement in a hybrid war against Ukraine:
“I don’t think that we in the West have learned any lessons about Chornobyl because again when anybody talks about Chornobyl… nobody really talks about the cover up, the understanding of the cover up. The fact that this is a consistent playbook by the Kremlin and we see it today with the war–denial… We don’t really discuss the real tragedy of Chornobyl.”
Ms. McConnell also noted that pledging conferences that have been convened to assist the victims of Chornobyl as well as the victims of Russia’s war against Ukraine have never met their goals.
For Ambassador Valeriy Chaly the Chornobyl disaster had a deep personal dimension. His father was a Chornobyl “liquidator”-the title given to thousands who were involved in the rescue, containment and clean-up operations surrounding the nuclear power plant-and was also involved in establishing a museum devoted to Chornobyl.
Ambassador Chaly said that Chornobyl is a symbol of the old Soviet style of governance and is an important reminder of the failed Soviet culture of security lapses and suppression of news and information, as a well as a general lack of respect for human life.
According to Mr. Chaly, Ukraine’s experience with this nuclear tragedy has made it a constructive contributor to nuclear non-proliferation efforts, including giving up its nuclear arsenal and cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Ominously, there are concerns that Russia may deploy nuclear weapons in the Crimean peninsula, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Ukraine still relies on nuclear power for generating a large portion of its electricity and needs additional international support for completing the Chornobyl containment structure and dealing with other aspects of the aftermath of the disaster, explained Valriy Chaly.
In his presentation, Mykola Riabchuk reminded the audience that “liquidators” were being sent to quell the disaster without any gear to protect them from lethal doses of radiation. They were being sent to their deaths as the Soviet system did not care about human lives.
The Chornobyl disaster had huge political ramifications for the closed Soviet system, says Mr. Riabchuk: “This silencing of the disaster largely contributed to the opening of the Soviet system, because people both within the elite and within society, people who favored this opening, they had an additional argument, to say ‘see what happens in a closed society.’ A closed society is dangerous for its own citizens, for its own people. So I think it was a very important argument within the reformist camp to push forward this idea of opening, of glasnost.” Glasnost became a topic in the aftermath of the disaster. In Ukraine “it disclosed the very cynicism of the imperial center, how harmful this dominance of Moscow was.”
Mykola Riabchuk, who was residing in Kyiv at the time, recalls how he learned about the Chornobyl catastrophe from his father, who was living in Lviv. His father heard about the Polish government’s rapid response to Chornobyl on Polish radio and more and more Ukrainians soon came to learn about the seriousness with which neighboring countries were trying to mitigate the impact of Chornobyl’s radiation. This showed that Polish government, unlike the Ukrainian government, cared about its people, says Mr. Riabchuk, while the Ukrainian government – “they were just puppets of Moscow.” And whatever nationality you were, those living in Ukraine all suffered from the policies of Moscow -all were in the same boat and this consolidated people. “I think the real drive for independence was initiated by this event,” explains Mykola Riabchuk. He went on to say that it also contributed to the emergence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the environmental movement, and many other important changes in people’s mentality occurred after that. He concluded that people realized that the system and imperial rule were a disaster for all and something should be changed. “I think it was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union,” exclaimed Mr. Riabchuk.
|Embassy of Ukraine event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Chornobyl. (Embassy website).
The Embassy of Ukraine in Washington commemorating the anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster with an event on April 27th. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller and Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), a Co-Chair of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus spoke at the gathering. As reported by the Embassy of Ukraine, addressing the audience, Congresswoman Kaptur underlined that “the effects of the disaster linger socially, economically, and culturally and Chornobyl’s legacy remains a heavy burden for the people of Ukraine. That is why continued American humanitarian aid in the region is vital.” She also reaffirmed the strong support by the United States for Ukraine and its democratic aspirations.
|Nadia L. McConnell … photo & story credits: Ukrinform
Західна спільнота продовжує вважати, що головний урок, який принесла аварія на ЧАЕС 30 років тому, полягає в посиленні ядерної безпеки. Насправді ж, більшу небезпеку становить стратегія Кремля щодо заперечення та замовчування його дій, що загрожує цілим народам Європи, зазначила в коментарі Укрінформу президент Фундації Україна-США Надія Макконел. … CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
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