A paragraph in a textbook or old wives' tales about Chernobyl?
A paragraph in a textbook or old wives’ tales about Chernobyl?

What do modern teenagers know about Chernobyl and what has involuntarily entered their lives, even if they do not realize that this is due to an accident thirty-three years ago? Each specific event in the life of the country has psychological consequences, and not for one generation.

The Chernobyl tragedy is no exception – the man-made disaster of the highest seventh level on the IAEA scale, the largest accident in the history of nuclear energy. What psychological impact does the Chernobyl accident have on modern Ukrainian children and adolescents?

What is the 33 years since the accident? The parents of most modern schoolchildren were too small to remember Chernobyl. So, only grandparents can talk about it. The psyche is so arranged that a person can perceive what he heard from dad and mom as something personal.

Their memories are emotionally rich “pictures”, something that once influenced their lives, indirectly affects their sons and daughters. But a person perceives a story heard from grandparents as an ancient legend or fairy tale. Probably to some extent because the storytellers themselves are still perceived by the old people, so putting yourself in their shoes, introducing them as boys and girls is not so simple.

In addition, stories that are more than 30 years old “fade” over time, turn yellow, like very old black and white photographs, but they are no longer told so emotionally. Therefore, for modern children, Chernobyl is already something quite ancient. Many of them do not remember at all – happened there on April 26, or in what year did the Chernobyl accident happen?

The associations that arise in children and adolescents in connection with Chernobyl are, first of all, “radiation; someone was wrong there, resulting in an explosion; people were taken out of the house forever; mutant animals; a series of computer games S.T.A.L.K.E.R., at best a sarcophagus.”

Environmental education

Pathos (mournful drawings, jammed epigraphs, such as “the bitter wormwood of Chernobyl, the pain of Chernobyl”) find little response in children’s souls. They respond much faster if the Chernobyl problem is presented in the context of environmental issues and the risk of technological disasters in the future.

Let’s say how the human factor affects security, the specificity of nature conservation in the region, which was an exclusion zone, how our intervention can affect nature. This is especially vividly illustrated by the example of the current flora and fauna in the Chernobyl radiation-ecological biosphere reserve: even “red-book” animals breed there, and the absence of humans gives such an enormous positive effect that the presence of radiation pollution even today becomes secondary.

As practice shows, in such cases, for a modern child, the theme of Chernobyl with the category of “painful” goes into the category of historical and cognitive, to some extent experimental.

Image was created by gamers and … Strugatsky brothers

Much of what modern children associate with Chernobyl, in fact, came from the pages of the Strugatsky brothers’ fantastic work “A picnic on the Sidelines”. What to say?

A philosophical story written about 15 years before the accident, about a zone where heroes are faced with an unknown danger, various anomalies, artifacts with an incomprehensible effect, perfectly merged with reality, escalating an alarming atmosphere of uncertainty.

No wonder the national guides in the exclusion zone were nicknamed, as in the book, stalkers. Children’s myths are full of ideas that you can find something mysterious in the zone. The theme was picked up by other computer games, as well as fantastic, mystical, detective films and literature.

And all this settled in the imagination of children and teens much stronger than the “lessons of memory.” A modern kid, of course, understands that no zombies walk in Pripyat, but at the same time they believe that bears are staying in abandoned houses. What they look for there 33 years in a row – they don’t think about it.

Radiation reminds of ghosts

Children also believe in the story of crowds of homeless teenagers who live in the Chernobyl zone as self-settlers. Now the settlers themselves are a little more than a hundred people of retirement age. The only child born and raised there, Maria Sovenko, has already reached the age of 20.

Abandoned apartments, enterprises, institutions also excite the imagination. Another association from the word “Chernobyl” is a doll and a gas mask on the floor of an empty abandoned apartment. This was greatly facilitated by “directed photos”. By the way, no one then distributed gas masks to the population, all the more so, no one kept them at home.

In general, the mystical mood is enhanced by the echo of the experiences of the Chernobyl accident. Then people first met with an invisible danger – radiation, it is many times more difficult than any terrible specifics for the perception of man.

Scientists believe that even the population in Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not experience such horror and fear as the people in Chernobyl. All because their fear was associated with bombings, which were visible and audible. When the threat cannot be felt and fully understood, this experience is closer to the “fear of ghosts.”

In view of the foregoing, as it was explained at the Chernobyl National Museum, adolescents are not seen here as often as they would like, usually only on school trips. But minors are constantly striving to go on an excursion directly to the exclusion zone and to Chernobyl itself, in fact the excursion is allowed only from the age of 18.

The accident became a sad calling card of Ukraine, which is why foreigners still associate Ukraine like this: “Ah, this is where Chernobyl is.”

The system of distribution of benefits based on diagnoses strengthened the subconscious position of the “victim”. Experts say that migrants from Pripyat perceived the move to Kiev as a tragedy.

In fairness, it is worth noting that for the population of most regions of Ukraine, “breaking through” into the capital was the dream of their whole life. Why was everything perceived so negatively?

The point is a massive post-traumatic stress disorder, which was not known at that time, and what is also important, it`s the lack of psychological assistance. Post-radiation stress disorder was subsequently found in 90% of liquidators. The rest of the people had not so obvious signs of it, but still, some people openly showed typical helplessness, a lack of confidence in the future, faith in the future, and some were extremely fixated on this topic.

For example, 40% of the migrants surveyed believed that Chernobyl was personally associated with grave consequences for them, and every second answered that they could not do anything about it. Memories of traumatic events were diagnosed even in children who were not yet in the world when the accident occurred, but who learned about it from the stories of their parents.

Black humor is the protection from psychological trauma

A survey conducted in the 1990s by American researchers at Stony Brook University revealed signs of chronic stress, the same for migrants from Pripyat and for those who were in Kiev at the time of the accident.

Although, in fairness, it is worth noting that the capital’s inhabitants received a dose of radiation a little more than the passengers of aircraft that fly over the ocean. So, it was precisely the consequences of psychological trauma that arose not because of the accident itself, but as a result of silence on the real facts about the tragedy, deception and pressure.

A lot of folklore has arisen that has reached modern children: rhymes-horror stories about the Chernobyl forest and mutants, jokes about “scattered pieces of radiation”, and the like. However, this closed the circle: a lot of immigrant children were teased by their peers with mutants or fireflies (supposedly, they supposedly glow from radiation), which further deepened the psychological trauma.

Displaced children, especially teens, relied significantly less on their parents than their peers. Subconsciously, they trusted adults less because they did not oppose resettlement. They were more independent, but at the same time more impulsive, not inclined to planning. But the grandchildren compensate for this: they strive for clarity, order, they see the future, they grow purposeful.

Self-medication epidemic

For Ukrainians, who did not have true information about what really happened at the time of the accident, the work on radiology were real bestsellers. Two-thirds of people considered almost half of the consumed foods to be highly questionable.

Fears led to a surge in psychosomatic disorders. Doctors began to lose credibility when a person came to an appointment with physical problems, and they tried to connect his ailment with psychological reasons.

In order to search for physiological abnormalities, migrant children were regularly examined in polyclinics – they lived in constant fear of waiting for illnesses. Hypochondria, like oncophobia, has become a sign of the times, even among children. The fear of radiation has shifted to the fear of cancer, which it can lead to, especially since in the 1990s this causal relationship was greatly exaggerated.

So, many of those who are now over 30-40 years old know a lot about medicine in general, but not much about their own health. They are prone to self-medication, read various “medical sources”, collect information about various medicines, are interested in alternative medicine, but are afraid of basic preventive examinations, and are shocked by a simple intestinal infection.

So what did the Chernobyl legacy turn out for modern teenagers and youth? Paradoxically, they want even more independence, strive to learn how to fully control their own lives.

And if you do not go to extremes, then this is more likely to have advantages than disadvantages: children like the ideas of a healthy lifestyle, society they perceive more friendly than previous generations. And thanks to modern technologies, mutual empathy, there is hope that the future lies with the generation of those who value not only their own health, but also worry about the well-being of the surrounding reality, are anxious about environmental well-being.