The largest man-made disaster in history occurred on April 26, 1986. Thousands of people have died of the effects of radiation. Hundreds of thousands have lost their health. No one doubts that in addition to environmental, energy and social consequences, the Chernobyl accident also had political consequences.
Historian Ivan Patrilyak thinks that if the Chernobyl disaster had not occurred, the Soviet Union would have existed a little longer. “Firstly, the economic reserve would be extended for a longer period. Secondly, lethargic would continue on the territory of Ukraine. Moreover, if you read private magazines in Moscow in 1985-1986, for the same articles in Ukraine – the KGB could thunder you. That is, Shcherbitsky made a kind of stagnation reserve out of Ukraine. Actually, Chernobyl became the impetus that this stagnation reserve finally destroyed”.
But then, 34 years ago, the then Soviet leadership did not realize the scale of the disaster. Alexander Sych, an American of Ukrainian origin, was the first and for a long time the only Western researcher who worked in the Chernobyl zone. “… I understood from the documents that the first 36 hours after the accident, the Politburo still did not understand how catastrophic it was. The reason for this is that everyone, from the director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to the plant personnel, simply did not want to believe that a terrible tragedy had occurred. Purely psychologically, they could not realize that the operation of a nuclear reactor could lead to such a large-scale catastrophe,” he says.
A day later, news about the Chernobyl accident began to propagate in Kiev, rumors spread throughout the city. So, panic was growing.
Bill Courtney was working at the US State Department at the time of the accident. He was preparing to leave for Kiev. In 1985, after the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Geneva, there was an agreement to open a US Consulate in Kiev and a Soviet consulate in New York. Courtney was then studying Ukrainian and preparing to become the first American consul in Ukraine. And suddenly, it became known about Chernobyl: “… The first information came from Sweden.
The United States, along with other countries, used various mechanisms to assess the damage from the Chernobyl accident. We have observed the Chernobyl disaster with the help of various sources and informants in Europe. There was no other way to get at least some reliable information about the accident. Getting it from the Soviet Union was out of the question,” Bill Courtney notes.
Three truths are, in fact, one lie
Meanwhile, historian Ivan Patrilyak says. The Soviet leadership made a decision in Moscow what can and cannot be told to people: “Gorbachev, Ligachev and others, as “responsible comrades” said then, consulted what information to provide to their compatriots, what information voice to the countries of the socialist camp, and which one to provide to the United States, Great Britain and other Western states.
The sidelines said that there are already photographs of the exploded Chernobyl reactor on the Reagan’s table. So, it is impossible to say that there was no explosion. It was decided to provide three versions of what happened – three truths, which, in fact, meant an actual lie. And since it was a lie, it finally undermined the confidence of the population. Especially it was the confidence of citizens in the party and the authorities.”
Only on May 14, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, spoke on central television. He officially announced the tragedy at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to the world. 20 years after the tragedy, he explained his actions as follows:
“We had to urgently provide information to the international community. The reason was Sweden. This country discovered radioactive fallout on its territory. After all, we did not advertise that the nuclear reactor had collapsed during the explosion. We only talked about the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, and that’s all, without details. “
Historian Natalya Baranovskaya, who has studied the Chernobyl disaster for almost 20 years, says: “Many were dissatisfied with the Soviet regime for years. However, only the nuclear disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, its consequences and the unsuccessful attempts of the USSR leadership to hide, silence or diminish the scale of the tragedy influenced the political activity of people. “It was the Chernobyl accident that pushed society to attempts to change the existing political system.
There was an understanding that it is better to be independent, to decide for ourselves which stations to build or not to build, and in general how to develop. Finally, Chernobyl undermined the economic foundations that existed in the Soviet Union. The first public organizations began to form around the topic of the Chernobyl accident”.
Historians estimate that up to 30% of the GDP of the then Soviet Union was thrown into the aftermath of Chernobyl. The accident hit the economy hard. Especially in the late 1980s, the Soviet economy was already in a state of stagnation. Its actual permanent fall took place for several pre-accident years. Chernobyl practically interrupted both legs of the already weak Soviet economy, burying it completely. “
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is a symbol of economic power or a springboard for the collapse of the USSR
The ferment of facts and speculation around the topic of Chernobyl, not veiled propaganda work related to the Chernobyl accident, overflowed the cup of people’s patience. So, in 1991, they voted for Ukraine to leave the USSR. “I am sure that the impact of the Chernobyl accident on these processes was absolutely decisive,” historian Baranovskaya says. Chernobyl is a thing of the past. Its address is the Soviet Union, where the guys are smart, where the posters “Forward!” are sung in the famous Soviet song.
Then, there was a referendum and the Belovezhskaya agreement, which put an end to the existence of the USSR. Thus, the history of the once mighty and indestructible Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ended like this. Before the accident, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant was one of the symbols of the economic power of the Soviet Union. In addition, it became a catalyst for its collapse, a symbol of the leadership’s disregard for the safety and health of its own population, as well as a challenge that the Soviet Union was able to answer only at the cost of its own existence.