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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 17:19 GMT 18:19 UK
Chernobyl voices: Natalia Khodorivska
Natalia Khodorivska

Natalia Khodorivska
Sociologist, Kiev

The first, very brief, information came from a Moscow evening paper. People from Moscow started to call Kiev saying: "Run, hide your children, something awful has happened."

We also heard that coaches had been travelling by night, with their headlights switched off, along the main road to Chernobyl. This was one of the most frightening things my friends talked about - whole convoys of coaches.

The problem of uncertainty about risks existed in 1986, and it remains today
We watched the May Day parade in Kiev on television with horror, our hair standing on end. At that point we didn't know how much radiation had been released but we knew something bad had happened.

The authorities did not want children to leave, nor parents. I had arguments about this at work. The policy was that everyone should stay and not panic. The most offensive thing was that the authorities saved their own children, but did not think about ours at all.

Depression

It was only at the end of May that a decision was taken to evacuate all children from Kiev and surrounding towns for the summer - too late to save them from the iodine strike, as doctors call it (the wave of radioactive iodine from Chernobyl).

MORE CHERNOBYL VOICES
In the Soviet Union there was an illusion of protection - that you had a place to work, a place to live, that you had a future. But when our children were threatened, we learned an awful lot. We understood that if we did not defend ourselves, no-one would, and that we would have to be a lot cleverer, in order to survive.

It's been clear now for 20 years that no-one is protecting anyone - but a huge army of people still expects the state to look after them. They behave passively, they don't actively seek information, or methods of protection.

It's possible that passivity and depression are themselves caused by radiation, but our doctors do not want to recognise this.

They say these people have radiophobia, that they themselves are to blame. They say: "Why do they sulk, since they chose this position in life, and could have made a different choice?" But it's unknown, whether they had a choice or whether it was force of circumstances.

Contaminated food

The problem of uncertainty about risks existed in 1986, and it remains today. A person does not know how to protect himself. Three doctors produce five diagnoses. Some say it's OK, some say it's bad. Who do you listen to? Who is the expert? An ordinary person cannot assess the risk.

People living in contaminated territories face a problem with food. Economic circumstances oblige them to grow their own, but they don't know how to ensure it is clean. There are more than 450 towns and villages in contaminated areas, and those are the official figures. So a colossal number of people need to be educated.

In childhood we learn not to cross the road without looking in both directions. These people live in contaminated territories and do not know in which direction to look, except to where the icon is hanging so that they can cross themselves - so that God will save them.



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