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Monday, 24 May, 1999, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Chernobyl - a disaster recalled
Anastasia Zanuda
Anastasia Zanuda is now a journalist in Kiev
By Alex Kirby, News Online Environment Correspondent and presenter of BBC Radio Four's Costing the Earth

Anastasia Zanuda, a Kiev journalist, remembers Chernobyl clearly enough. She was 13 years old at the time.

She does not remember the exact day of the accident, 26 April 1986, because the first the people of Ukraine knew of it was on 3 May.

A sign marks a 30 km exclusion zone around Chernobyl
That marked the end of the four-day May Day public holiday, during which many Ukrainians had been out in the forests, welcoming the spring sun in lightweight summer clothes, arms and legs unprotected against the radioactivity settling on them.

"Then we heard that there had been a fire at one of the reactors," she says. "There was a brief report on an inside page of a small-circulation newspaper.

"A few days earlier, we had wondered why all the buses had disappeared from the streets of Kiev. They had been sent north to evacuate the Chernobyl workers and their families from Pripyat, the dormitory town nine kilometres from the plant.

Public control

"Parents who heard what had happened and decided to send their children away from Kiev were told that that could mean losing their jobs.

"The Soviet authorities were determined to prevent panic. They had police guarding every main road out of the city, to stop people getting away. You couldn't get a seat on a plane. They were all booked solid with the children of party officials.

Nature reclaims its own: Plants take over Pripyat, the now deserted town which housed Chernobyl families
"The railways had some spare capacity, though, and parents were sending their children as far away as Moscow or even Leningrad - anywhere they could to get them away from Ukraine.

"In the end, we did get out of Kiev by road - my father, my grandmother, my cousin, my four-year-old sister, and me. "My father spends a lot of time in the forests picking mushrooms, so he knows many of the back roads out of the city. We went south, to the Crimea, and stayed there for six months."

Mother's cancer

After the accident, Anastasia says, she found her concentration was impaired.

"I found it hard to sit through a 45-minute lesson at school, though before the accident that would have been no problem for me."

Chernobyl has left a legacy of health problems
She believes fatigue is linked to radiation sickness, and attributes her chronic tiredness to the effects of the accident. Her mother, now 45, who stayed in Kiev throughout, has thyroid cancer. Her younger sister has thyroid problems, though no sign of cancer.

Anastasia and her father remain in good health. But the accident has made up her mind about plants like Chernobyl. "I don't want anything more to do with nuclear power", she says. "Ever."

And she says what happened to Ukraine in 1986 was typical of its lot under Communism, and under the Czars as well.

"This country has never been anything more than a suburb of the empire to the north."

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