Like every person, every nation gets exactly that fate, those tests that it can withstand. It seemed that it would not be possible to survive the terrible tragedy of 1986. The scale of the catastrophe exceeded all possibilities to withstand and retain the strength for rebirth.
Still, after going through years of heroism and indifference, dedication and bureaucracy, suppression, lies, sincerity, humanity and help, it is safe to say that our people and our Ukrainian land have withstood, survived, partially washed out the poison from themselves, matured, began to appreciate life and learned to fight against enemies never seen before.
What`s about terms of the scale of the disaster and the severity of the consequences? Humanity has not known a greater catastrophe than the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Furthermore, unprecedented problems and tasks had to be solved from the first minutes after the explosion.
Among them are: urgent evacuation of the population from the contaminated areas, which, unfortunately, turned out to be belated, the provision of medical assistance to the victims, analysis of the level of radioactive contamination of the environment and its impact on ecosystems and human health, disinfection of contaminated areas and water sources, providing the population with clean food, etc.
The explosion caused radioactive contamination of about 50 thousand km2 of the territory of Ukraine. 189 thousand hectares of arable land and 157 thousand hectares of forest became unsuitable for processing. It relates to the high level of radioactive contamination. A radioactive cloud covered 12 of 25 regions. There are more than 3 million affected people. Could their lives have remained the same as before? Can we say that now, 34 years later, they have forgotten about the Chernobyl disaster? And are they still alive, do they have the strength and health to remember their lives before April 26, 1986?
The specific Soviet ideology deprived people in the contaminated territories of the most important right. It is the right to be informed. Also, it is the elementary right to know about the danger that threatens them and their families. Schools in Pripyat continued to work. Children played outside in the sand. There were only cautious official hints that the windows should kept closed, and a wide variety of gossip that filled the information vacuum.
It is scary to imagine how severe the consequences would have been if Sweden had not raised the alarm. Radioactive particles were found in the area of the Forsmark nuclear power plant. They were brought from the eastern part of the USSR. It was this secrecy, which cost the life and health of thousands of Ukrainians, that gave rise to distrust in society towards official sources of information regarding the real state of affairs at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Therefore, 34 years later, the fear of “radiation” sometimes subsides a little, then flares up among people with renewed vigor, as a result of even the seemingly most harmless rumors.
Do we keep fighting?
Then, in the 80s – 90s of the last century, more than 600 thousand people from all over the former Soviet Union took on the role of defenders and liquidators who saved the Ukrainian land from radioactive disease. Did they know what they would have to pay for their courage? Or did they fully feel the fear of danger?
Did they understand that, for the sake of the life and health of others, they are depriving themselves and their future children of this most valuable gift? Probably no. And if so, would they have done the same, knowing about it? We will never get an answer. Many of them are no longer on this earth. Others continue to fight for their lives and health, as well as for their right to social protection and government support.
Over the years, Ukraine has become accustomed to the role of a patient who has been given a disappointing diagnosis, but who continues to actively fight for its health.
Today, there are several large projects in order to create an infrastructure for handling radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, with the aim of converting the Shelter to an environmentally safe system. International funds finance them. In addition, there is international radiological monitoring of the state of the contaminated territories and their ecological improvement.
Brief points of the results of international studies are as follows:
- 5 million people still live in the contaminated territories of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia,
- 400 million people live in less polluted areas,
- 42% of the territory of Western Europe is polluted,
- there are more than 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer to date; 16,000 new cases are expected in the future,
- the number of patients with radiogenic leukemia, people with cardiovascular diseases and breast cancer has increased.
About 37% of radioactive fallout has settled on the territories of Western European countries, except for Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, which makes up 40% of the collective radiation dose that came to the northern hemisphere. According to different estimations, over the next 50 years, the number of deaths from cancer will increase to 40,000 in these territories, which is equal to the number of victims after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Today, 6,000 people suffer from thyroid cancer in these countries. So, this figure may reach 16,000 in the next 50 years.
Taking into account the risk assessment, there was new evidence, supported by research into an increase in the number of patients with leukemia, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, mental disorders, congenital malformations and other diseases caused by the influence of radiogenic factor in countries with a high rate of radiation pollution. The recommendations submitted to the European Commission mention the need to fund appropriate research projects in order to determine the impact of the Chernobyl tragedy in the long term.
34 years have passed …
The abandoned settlements of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone overgrown with forest, where life stopped 34 years ago, are like the scenery for a horror film. Today, Pripyat greets guests with the views of broken windows, piercing melancholy that hovers in empty houses, trees on the roofs of high-rise buildings and fresh flowers near the cross behind the barrier.
There is a new confinement over the 4th reactor. By the way, this protects the three thousandth plant personnel from irradiation. Moreover, the designers assure hermetically sealed inside everything that caused even the slightest radiation risks. The new building faces the most important tasks:
- protection of the environment from radioactive particles,
- dismantling of emergency and unreliable structures of the Shelter and NPP,
- isolation of the Shelter from rain and melt water.
The workers involved in this multifunctional facility are residents of Chernobyl now. They breathed life into a city doomed to oblivion. Today, there is a functioning museum in the center of Chernobyl. The city alley with the names of the dead villages looks like a real graveyard. A large figure of an Angel who trumpets a distress is nearby. The doors of the city church are open. There is the Bell of Sorrow in the courtyard of the church, and the inscription on it, like a prayer: “God, help us, sinners, overcome this misfortune.”