Chernobyl: no right to be forgotten

Twenty seven years have passed since the moment when ancient Slavonic word ‘Chernobyl’ represented more than a simple weed and a town in Ukrainian Polesie. It has acquired new meaning and is now associated with suffering and tragedy, while standing as a warning.
By Yury Chernyakevich

It’s impossible to forget that the lives of thousands of Belarusians, Ukrainians and Russians changed forever on April 26th, 1986: for them, time is separated into ‘before’ and ‘after’, being forced to leave their beloved homes almost three decades ago.

Of course, few recall Chernobyl with the horror felt in the late 1980s. A year ago, I took part in a two-day international press tour, looking at how the consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear power station disaster have been tackled. Journalists, including those from Russia and Ukraine, visited the Belarusian cities of Gomel, Vetka and Chechersk, viewing farmsteads and cattle-breeding farms, as well as medical and socio-cultural institutions in the region.

What we saw on that trip could have easily become the basis for a sociological survey, looking at how the media perceives Chernobyl. Most of the journalists were interested in the quality of medical services provided to the population in affected areas and were keen to learn about scientific research at Gomel institutes.

I can’t help but think that today’s perceptions of the Chernobyl tragedy differ drastically from those evident immediately after the explosion at the fourth reactor. Over the past 27 years, Belarus has done much to minimise the consequences of the accident. According to the Emergency Ministry, the last state programme (2005-2010) saw over 1,000 flats built in affected territories, while clinics and schools were revamped. Moreover, dozens of thousands of children took recuperative trips abroad. Naturally, efforts continue.

The new, fifth, Chernobyl state programme focuses on the socio-economic development of affected areas, with new factories and modernised facilities providing employment.

Other parts of the world have since benefited from Belarus’ experience in mitigating the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Last year alone, over 30 delegations from Japan visited our country. Of course, they are now dealing with the aftermath of the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power station. Their interest has covered measuring radiation, farming on contaminated territories and recuperative trips for children.

The state has borne major expenditure in its efforts to tackle the consequences of the Chernobyl tragedy, while international organisations have assisted: European partners, the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency have supported various Chernobyl programmes, with affected regions still receiving humanitarian help from charities.

A recent press conference in Minsk announced that a new programme is to be approved, continuing the mitigation of the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. The Belarus-Russia Union State budget is allocating over 1.4bn Russian Roubles, with funds primarily directed towards the purchase of the latest medical equipment for hospitals and children’s rehabilitation-recuperative centres.
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