Twenty-five years ago – Chornobyl – Where were you?

For the most part anniversaries are usually a time for celebration, however, today is not one of those moments. Twenty five years ago today the world experienced something that it had never experienced before, a nuclear catastrophe that made Three Mile Island look like a spitting contest in a hurricane. In the light of the nuclear disasters in Japan as a result of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami, there are many who are beginning to question the nuclear energy programs worldwide. However, while Japan lives its own catastrophe and is dealing with things short term, there are many, who to this day still living with the events that happened quarter of a century ago.

There have been more than one occasion where I was in a position that I was sitting in Ukraine and had the task of reporting on “Where were you that day in history?” I personally, cannot pinpoint exactly where I was, but I’m quite certain it was either in South Lancaster, Ontario or up on the Ontario-Quebec border sleeping in a tent, as part of a weekend training session for a trip which would take me from Vancouver, British Columbia to Montreal, Quebec by bicycle. It was only when I arrived home a few days later that I had heard of what had happened. Though many years later while living in Ukraine I met people, who became my friends who had lived through that whole nightmare.

Two of these friends were Iryna and Olena Mokhnyk, five years ago it was my task to not only do my little piece for the Kyiv Weekly, but to put a Canadian journalist friend of mine Marie-Claude Malboeuf of La Presse together with Olena [ed. Article in French], as the former was doing an expose on the human tragedy of Chornobyl, for a special issue in La Presse twenty years after the catastrophe. Subsequently, Marie-Claude won a Canadian Newspaper Award for her work, however, I only discovered this quite recently. Five years later Marie-Claude is again covering Chornobyl and is also closely covering the recent events in Japan, however, I can’t help to think just how many people like Iryna, Olena and their brother Andriy had to live through everything that happened twenty-five years ago, not only in Ukraine but also to the north in Belarus, and how many more will live through a similar nightmare in the Fukushima Prefecture in Japan.

Last week, I revisited the topic of Chornobyl for my radio segment called Kultural Capsule on Ukrainian Roots Radio – Nash Holos. It churned up a lot of different memories of experiences in my life that relate to the topic of Chornobyl. I spent some time thinking about my friends Iryna and Olena, stories of other friends who were told that they would be marching in the May Day parade on Khreschatyk, Kyiv’s main street, back in 1986 and then there was my own trip into the Exclusion Zone and Chornobyl with a United Nations delegation back in 2002 headed by a man from Japan who was all two familiar with radiation as a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. I wondered, what Kenzo Oshima has been thinking about since the recent events have struck his own country. Will Fukushima Prefecture become an Exclusion Zone like the one I had visited with him in 2002?

However, as I prepared my program which you will be able to hear on May 1, twenty-five years after the darn Soviet bureaucrats kept on making out that nothing at all had happened to the world at large, I came across one particular piece of music which I wanted to share with any of you who do happen to read this. The piece is called Song about the Shuhayster by Tin Sotsya. The Shuhayster is a Ukrainian mythological forest man, though this song in particular is dedicated to the Chornobyl. This piece was also done in Belorussian and appeared on a CD dedicated to the twentieth anniversary of the Chornobyl tragedy called Chornobyl Wind, though this song was originally done for a tribute album to GODS TOWER a well known Belorussian folk-metal. For four months it remained at the top of the Belorussian charts.

While the future segment of Kultural Capsule was already in the can last week, this morning I was looking through my mail and it came as no surprise that my friend Stepan Pasicznyk aka Ludwig, whom I had interviewed a while back for my segment, also had something to offer up on anniversary which is far from a celebration.

I would be more than happy to hear from anyone who reads this as to where they were 25-years ago when “the world was changed for good that day.”

 

  • Great post, Vasyl! And what a powerful song by Ludwig.

    I was in Winnipeg April 26, 1986, attending university, as you read on my Chornobyl blog post here.

    I was being every bit as amazed (and dismayed) as I was tonite watching the evening news and seeing nary a mention of what changed the world (not exactly for the better) 25 years ago.