People who survived the evacuation from the Chernobyl exclusion zone, deprived of reliable information about the level of radioactive contamination of their territory and the effect of radiation on their health, eventually tried to start a new life and got used to not thinking about radiation. They, like most people, began to believe that even if the danger existed, it would not affect them personally.
Surprisingly, foreign opinion polls show that fear of an accident like the one at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is less noticeable among those people who live near nuclear power plants.
Scientists explain this attitude by confidence in the government, because people abroad assume that the government has taken all necessary security measures while building a particular nuclear enterprise. It is paradoxical that the Chernobyl victims, having very quickly lost faith in the help from the government due to its extreme limitations, nevertheless, maintained a similar attitude directly to radiation.
The situation among the liquidators of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident was much worse. According to eyewitnesses, even if a person was called to work as a liquidator within the framework of military service, he had the right to refuse this work.
However, this was very rare. Most people agreed to dangerous work, pursuing substantial financial compensation as a motivation. Very few people went to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant were prompted by a sense of patriotism and responsibility towards the country and society.
From the very beginning, the liquidators understood the impact of their participation in the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl accident, but continued to work. Some of them said that over time they developed a kind of fatalism in relation to their own life. Many began to drink alcohol, suspecting its quick completion due to the irreversible consequences of large doses of radiation.
Diseases caused by radiation, combined with alcoholism and depression led to a quick and high mortality rate among liquidators. This was into the hands of officials for several reasons. Firstly, the liquidators have witnessed numerous violations of human rights and health standards during the liquidation of the accident.
Secondly, although they were assigned numerous benefits and financial assistance, they never received it in full. The Soviet Union developed the Program, the purpose of which was to support the liquidators of the Chernobyl accident. However, as the sociologists who studied the biological community that emerged after the Chernobyl accident explain: “The state apparatus was financially enriched at its work, attributing material and physical damage only to itself.”
The real liquidators received help on a residual basis, because the main benefits were distributed among officials on the basis of nepotism.
Is there no radiation in the Zone?
It is striking that people do not recognize radiation as a real threat even in families where the liquidators died of radiation exposure. Most of them believe that there is no radiation in the Zone today. But immigrants often condemn the voluntaristic approach of Soviet officials to establishing the boundaries of the Zone:
“..There is no radiation there. The decay process has long been established. When the nuclear power plant exploded, the wind blew not in our direction, but to Belarus and the Zhytomyr region. It was necessary not only to set the compasses and measure 30 km along the radius, but to track it all in more detail. They chose the wrong method of dealing with radiation. Then it turned out that it was necessary to ask for help somewhere abroad. But this was not permissible for the USSR. It was impossible to ask for help – they all knew for themselves. Our guys spent the first years fishing through the woods, like partisans. The cars were parked in a neighboring village, which is located directly in front of the Zone – we all know the local partisan paths. Our guys carried mushrooms and fish. It was measured with a dosimeter, the radiation did not go off scale, it was normal,” Olga Borisova says, she is 57 years old.
As you can see, the radioactive danger does not bother the Chernobyl people as much as the fact of resettlement from their native land. They are usually ready to admit that there is absolutely no radiation in the Zone in order to have at least some reliable information about it.
The Ukrainian government often does not provide such information to the public. Such a policy is a part of public debate about the “normalization” of the accident. Not understanding the nature of radiation, the settlers tried and are trying to understand it through various comparisons with phenomena already familiar to them, such as air:
“..There were different things. We didn’t want to communicate right away, because we are from Chernobyl. They thought we had a lot of radiation. And it flew everywhere where it could. Everything happens in the air… “
A study of collective ideas about Chernobyl shows that such an attitude towards life that has been developed among people from contaminated regions is an invisible threat. In this regard, Chernobyl, as a way of being, does not have a definite place – it is immense.
When older or middle-aged people visit a doctor, he cannot tell them exactly if their illnesses are related to age or radiation. There are facts, when applying for social assistance to a living liquidator, their relatives are refused, argued that if their family had a liquidator, they would have died long ago.
The omnipresence of the role of government in determining the degree of consequences of the Chernobyl accident and how to resolve them contributes to the simultaneous displacement of Chernobyl, as a phenomenon, into the past and the future.
Due to the secrecy of information about the actual exposure of the population, due to the corrupt distribution of social benefits among officials, the Chernobyl people displaced the accident into the future, in which they have a chance to find out about the effect of radiation on the human body that doctors cannot predict.
Along with this, since Chernobyl became one of the bargaining chips in the struggle for the independence of Ukraine, its consequences and legacy were squeezed out of the past to form a part of the narrative of the historical memory of Ukrainians about Soviet times.