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Expert trip to the Ukraine and Belarus

Short report on the trip to regions in the Ukraine and Belarus affected by the Chernobyl nuclear power accident (September 6th till September 15th 1998)

Foto der Reisegruppe (JPEG - Datei ca. 90 kB)
Our group of travellers in front of the fire brigade's monument in the city of Chernobyl/Ukraine. "To save the world", the inscription, next to the names of the firemen who lost their lives during their fight against the disaster.

The trip's aim:

We wanted to get a general idea of the real situation in the Ukraine and Belarus 12 years after the Chernobyl Disaster?

  • by collecting and transmitting information and figures about the consequences of the disaster on the lives of man and nature in the Ukraine and Belarus.
  • by informing ourselves in places with different radiation exposures and with the help of affected people, as we presumed that much information about life after Chernobyl was wrong or presented unreasonably, so that a wrong impression originated in people's heads.
  • by joining together different views and perspectives in order to develop an impression neither playing down nor exaggerating the facts.
  • by visiting different medical, social, educational, religious and economic institutions in the Ukraine and Belarus in order to understand the social and economic structure of the affected countries.
  • by trying to refurbish the common grievous past with the Ukraine and Belarus.
The reason for our questions is the decreasing interest in Chernobyl. Some foreign organisations, that - in the past - generously supported children who suffered from thyroid gland cancer, are planning to reduce their assistance now. One reason for their decision is the fact that medical institutions have been built up in Belarus that are able to offer some of the necessary treatments themselves.

The previous concentration on diseases of the thyroid gland don't do justice to the real plight, as there are other serious problems concerning health in the Ukraine and Belarus resulting from the Chernobyl accident.

With our trip we wanted to investigate that problem since we presumed that assistance was still necessary in those regions.

In the following you can read about the most important stops during our trip:

  • 1st Stop: National center for radiation medicine in Kiew, Ukraine

    Prof. Dr. Romanenko (secretary for public health at the time of the nuclear power accident) is the senior physician and manager of the center for radiation medicine in Kiew.

    He reported that the disaster of 1986 implied enormous problems. He and his employees occupy themselves with the consequences of radiation and with help for the concerned people, especially with radiation linked diseases of those who worked at the reactor. The center also houses a hospital and a station for animal testing. Another institute for leukaemia, which will be able to carry out bone marrow transplantations, is planned. Romanenko also reported that the increased frequency of many diseases and the mortality is not only due to the direct radiation. The center's aim is to be prepared for the actual increase of cancer diseases expected in the future.

    Foto der Reisegruppe (JPEG - Datei ca. 40 kB)
    Our group of travellers with Belarussian and Ukrainian hosts in Kiew/Ukraine in front of a church that had been destroyed in the 2nd World War. After the Chernobyl disaster people began to rebuild the church as a symbol that life goes on.

  • 2nd Stop: Prohibited area around the nuclear power plant Lenin near Chernobyl

    The city of Chernobyl is about 12 km away from the power plant and about 1.100 years old. Before the accident 18.000 people lived there. After the evacuation 700 mostly old people moved back into the prohibited area, 200 of them into Chernobyl. A surprisingly high number of people still work in that area going back to their home towns on the weekends. Those workers are occupied with clearing-up operations and forestry work in the area. In Chernobyl we also saw the monument for the firemen who died while they fought the fire at the power plant or soon afterwards as a result of radiation. A smaller monument is to remind of a helicopter pilot who brushed a crane above the reactor and fell into it.

    Pripjat, a town that was built for the employees of the power plant, is about 2 km away. It was a town with high-rise buildings, shopping malls and an amusement park. Its 55.000 citizens were evacuated immediately within 27 hours after the accident. Today, you don't meet anybody in this town except the police. On the outskirts they have built up another roadblock which is strictly guarded. The sight of that dead ghost town made us pensive and very depressed. A new town, Slawutitsch, has been founded very quickly for the present employees of the power plant. Today, the number of its citizens has reached 28.000. In the new international institute for radiation protection we were received by the director Nosowskij. The institute's aim is to keep a watch on the health of the town citizens and the power plant's employees.

    Driving on through the prohibited area we could see more deserted and "buried" villages where only small hills reminded of former houses.

    The power plant Lenin itself employs about 5.000 workers. 600 of them work at the sarcophagus. Blocks I and II are out of work, while block III (connected to the destroyed block IV) is the only one producing current. The construction of blocks V and VI hasn't been completed. The sarcophagus of the destroyed block IV can be seen from the adjacent building. Here, the devastating consequences of the explosion in block IV are presented in an exhibition. Visitors can also watch a film showing live recordings of the situation immediately after the explosion. This film makes aware of the accident's dramatic extent and the difficulties during the clearing-up and safeguarding operations.

    Foto von Dr. Malko bei Untersuchung (JPEG - Datei ca. 30 kB)
    Dr. Michail Malko submits to a medical examination during his visit in the hospital of Wjetka/Belarus. His radiological results are normal as he has been in the contaminated zone for only a few days.

  • 3rd Stop: District of Gomel/Belarus

    Belarus was stroke very heavily by the Chernobyl disaster. The village Bartholomäi in the region of Wjetka is one of the most heavily contaminated regions in the country. It had also been evacuated. Many houses were razed to the ground and agriculture is now prohibited. In the hospitals of Wjetka and Korma and in the clinic of Gomel we heard about an increase of many different diseases. The medical care is influenced negatively by the shortage of medicaments. Nevertheless, Prof. Sokolowski, vice director of the medical institute of Gomel, welcomed us with the words: " Gomel is alive!"

  • 4th Stop: Minsk/Belarus

    1,8 million people live in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Here, you can find numerous medical centers, some of them working out statistics about the population's state of health. Patients who cannot be treated in other hospitals come to Minsk. We saw clinics that had been renovated and equipped with foreign (mostly German) aid. We were received by leading professors and senior consultants. They took their time for conversations with us and showed us their institutions, the equipment and operating rooms. We got the same information everywhere: there are more and more sick persons, but not enough medicaments to treat them all. That fact also goes for hospitals built up with foreign assistance.

    We also visited Belarussian organisations trying hard to give medical and humanitarian aid. They help families that have fallen into social and psychological difficulties. For instance, we met a group of mostly elderly women who came from contaminated regions and cannot move back now. They told us in tears how they lost their husbands in consequence of radiation and how they were evacuated from their villages in 1991. Moreover they described their present situation in Minsk. They get an apartment and a pension of 720.000 roubles (that's about 12 US$).

    Raisa Malikowa, resettler and head of the self-help organisation "Help for Resettlers" told us about resettled families with up to 11 children who have to live under conditions beneath human dignity. She takes care of those families. As she wanted to spare those people, she gave us a video tape showing their living conditions instead of visiting them with us. Irina Arinowitsch, member of the organisation "Confidence", looks after children fallen ill due to radiation and their families. She's supported by a group of psychologists and social workers working in an honorary capacity. They seek interchange of information with foreign colleagues, since that work is also new ground for them. In that domain as well there's a lack of general and public assistance.

Moreover we visited the following institutions:
  1. School no. 16 in Babrysk, partner school of the EXPO school Schoeppenstedt
  2. The Lutheran parish "Rescue" in Minsk. Chairwoman: Olga Stockmann (about 50 members)
  3. Nadesha, rehabilitation center for children fallen ill due to radiation
  4. A firm of the Belarussian association of visually handicapted in Minsk, with 50% of the employees being blind or visually impaired
  5. The farm of Alexander Swiridow (150 hectares ground)
  6. Chatyn, commemorative monument for the Belarussian victims of World War 2
We have to stress the outstanding role of the Belarussian association of the visually handicapted. It was thanks to its director Anatolij Netylkin that our trip was possible. On his behalf, Wjatscheslaw Pleskatsch organised our trip very carefully - as usual. He took care of our group in an excellent way all the time and coordinated our appointments. In this place we'd like to thank the Belarussian and the Ukrainian Federation for the Blind for their hospitality.

It was great luck that Dr. Michail Malko, leading scientist at the Institute for Physical and Chemical Radiation Problems of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, accompanied us and let us profit from his enormous knowledge. In detail, he explained to us everything to know about the facts and problems and introduced us to well known institute leaders in Belarus and the Ukraine. Dr. Malko is also committed to the Social-Ecological Union Chernobyl whose chairman, the writer Wasil Jakowenko, received us as well. He told us about the aims of his organisation and about their problems.

The trip's result:

The damages in Belarus and the Ukraine caused by the Chernobyl disaster are, even now, 12 years after the accident, still bigger than people know in general. We'd like to fight that ignorance. Though it is necessary to show the detailed complicated interrelations, this is not possible within such a short report. After all we have seen and got to know, we feel obliged to call for further aid for Belarus and the Ukraine.

The group:

Initiators:

  • Dr. med Dr. rer. nat. Horst Wohlfarth, Winnigstedt
  • Friedrich Krüger (Vicar), Erkerode
  • Paul Koch (Diacon), Watzum
Foto der Reisegruppe (JPEG - Datei ca. 50 kB)
The initiators and organizers of the expert trip in front of the sarcophagus.

Further travellers:
  • Ingeborg Bechstedt, Kassel
  • Karl-Siegfried Bottke, Schöppenstedt
  • Dr. Volker Crystalla, Braunschweig
  • Dr. Gerd Hensel, Wetzleben
  • Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Manfred Kwiran, Schellerten
  • Ute Kwiran, Börßum
  • Ingeborg Schindler, Braunschweig
  • Dr. Heinrich Schrader, Braunschweig
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Last modified at 2006-11-03, Sabine Bossert. Contact address