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Women´s Power vs. Nuclear Power

“Did you hear that we should not open the windows?” I was seven and playing with my friend Tanya at home when we began to talk about “the thing” that was happening. I still remember the fresh smell of spring rain and very green leaves on the trees. This smell gives me a strong feeling of life. I close my eyes and take a deep breath trying to understand what could be dangerous in this air. In the same moment, in the north of my country, near the Belarus border, hundreds of kilometers from my house, men called “liquidators” were fighting against the black radioactive cloud which threatened to destroy our life forever. Spring 1986. We lived an ordinary life of a common Soviet family: working, studying, housekeeping, and children playing “mothers and daughters” or “Voinúshki” (“little wars” in Russian). Only three weeks later we understood that the history of the world was divided into two parts: before and after Chernobyl.

Acid Rains of My Memory

Still now, I remember the sweet taste of tiny pills the school nurse gave to all pupils every week. Someone said it was “from thyroid”. I lived in the South of Ukraine, in the Crimean peninsula, a region with iodine deficiency. These regions revealed significant increase of thyroid diseases after Chernobyl. The World Health Organization reported in 2011 that about 6,000 people of Ukraine, Russia and Belorussia were diagnosed with thyroid cancer because of the Chernobyl disaster, and this amount will probably grow in the next years. For me, it becomes normal that many friends have enlarged thyroid glands. That’s why I always choose iodinated salt.

After the Chernobyl explosion, as children all we knew about radiation was that you could lose your hair if you get under the “acid rain”. We made jokes and tried to push each other under the rain just to see if the hair will fall down immediately or maybe just change its color. Still today, I always try to hide my head from the rain. This habit will probably stay with me forever.

Do you know what dosimeter is? It is a special device to measure the level of radiation. Everyone in Ukraine knows what it looks like. Also, we know that the highest level of radiation could be found in mushrooms. I remember my father borrowed the dosimeter from his friend. All next days we measured everything, but first, food and water. When an arrow on the device was moving to critical numbers I could feel how my heart was beating. So close, so silent, so invisible and so real was the threat! Nuclear power is not the key to safe and independent future, for me it is life on a time bomb!

We lived under the USSR regime, which strictly controlled people’s right to information. Almost no one knew about radiation leaks from the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl. Engineers at Sweden's Forsmark power plant were the first to warn the world of the nuclear emergency after detectors showed soaring radiation levels. I remember how my parents discussed that someone heard by Voice of America radio about the Chernobyl explosion, and levels of radiation were extremely high and dangerous even for us, hundreds kilometers from there.

Weeks later, on May 14, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev made an official statement about the Chernobyl tragedy. Our family was stuck to the TV: “Dóbryi vécher, továrischi (Good evening, comrades)! We all know that recently we suffered a misfortune - the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. It painfully affected Soviet people, worried international community. For the first time we actually faced with such a formidable force as a nuclear power when it goes out of control.”

He was speaking about many things, from which I could understand only that some explosion had happened and many people died because of strange diseases I’ve never heard before. Also, I understood that my country and other countries had a dangerous weapon that could destroy the whole planet. And this weapon and power plant had the same name: nuclear. Until now, I believe these two things not only have the same name, but cause the same danger for people.
My mother, born during the Second World War, says, “I could never thought that in peaceful time I would witness another awful tragedy – Chernobyl and be afraid for the future of my children.”

Chernobyl: Zone of Alienation

On the night of April 26, 1986 the world’s biggest technogenic catastrophe happened. On the fourth power block of the Chernobyl nuclear station after the set of explosions, the reactor was destroyed. Huge amounts of radioactive substances went into the environment. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded a hundredfold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The radioactive cloud covered Ukraine, Belorussia, Russia, the surrounding European countries and even reached North America.

Different researchers make different conclusions about the real number of victims and subsequent diseases caused by the explosion. For me, the real question is: how many people must die before the world governments understand that we need to stop building new reactors?

Every April wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters of “liquidators” go by train from Ukraine to Moscow’s cemetery and recall the memories of the Chernobyl catastrophe. I am a woman and I know that we are the strongest fighters against anything that threatens our children’s future and health. I saw it several times in my life: when my mother washed the floor in the house a dozen times per day after Chernobyl, when NGO “Ecology and Peace” members gather and recall the events which united them into a single organization. That organization was created as a public movement aimed to stop nuclear power plant building in the Crimea.

Nothing Peaceful in Atoms for Peace

The first nuclear power stations resulted from an international program called “Atoms for Peace”. In his 1953 speech, US President Eisenhower expressed concern about developing nuclear weapons not only by the USA but also by other countries, including “friendly countries” and countries like USSR. To minimize the danger of nuclear war, and not interfere with "the development of science," Eisenhower proposed developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

For peace or war, my family played the role of guinea pigs in nuclear tests. My father was a pilot, and before I was born, my family moved several times, including to Semipalatinsk. The USSR had several nuclear test sites. Semipalatinsk “polygon” was one of them. It was a secret area. My parents and my brother who was a little child lived very close to the airport, which bordered the polygon. When after several months they returned to Ukraine, my brother and mother with new, permanent allergies, my grandmother was shocked how skinny and pale they all looked. Even she asked my mother: “Tell me the truth, you live badly? Your husband hits you?” Only years later, after the USSR failed, we knew about radioactive explosions which took place so close to people’s settlement. We are living proof that nuclear power is much too dangerous to use, even “for peaceful purposes”.

A Woman in White

1988. Only two years after Chernobyl. A woman covered with a white sheet is sitting on the crossroad in the middle of the steppe. She can see a metallic monster staring at her with empty eyes. The woman is sitting here for the second day… This is not a picture from sci-fi. The woman is Lilia Levchenko, and she is protesting against building a new nuclear station in Crimea. She is going to stay here until the construction will be stopped.

I’ve heard this story many times. I feel proud of this woman’s strength. She is an honored member of “Ecology and Peace”, the NGO where I work. Lilia always repeats, “Take care about the unique land where you live! Take care about the future of your children!”

While Chernobyl poisoned almost all north and central modern Ukraine, a similar explosion on the Crimean nuclear power plant threatened to destroy the famous Soviet resort: the Crimean peninsula. Sun-baked land situated on the coast of the Black Sea attracts people from the whole world not only for its subtropical climate and natural resources, but also for the unique combination of ancient history and modern cultures, Europe and Asia. In the Middle Ages one of the Silk Road routes passed through this land connecting the peaceful culture of the East and the temperamental West. Crimean people were strongly against the nuclear threat.

I am watching black and white photos. One of them shows people in black with a coffin. Lilia Levchenko is in the foreground. I feel chills seeing her covered with a black shawl and holding a poster: “Farewell to All-Union health resort!”
Numerous actions, letters personally delivered to the government, protests finally led to the fact that in 1990 the nuclear power station was stopped. But we cannot say that we completely eliminated the nuclear threat.

Chernoshima: A Fairy-tale with An Unhappy End

When the first nuclear power stations were built, we were assured that the probability of disaster was one to 10,000 years. In 1986, Chernobyl happened. Then 25 years later, Fukushima. Fairy tales about “peaceful atom” did not end happily.

Sometimes the propaganda becomes so aggressive that it seems that the world cannot exist without nuclear power. We are convinced that the energy received from splitting the atom is the cheapest, most effective and safest. In reality, this energy is dirty, dangerous and the most expensive. Building one reactor costs about five billion dollars. Ukraine has now 15 working reactors on four nuclear plants. The national nuclear power strategy to build and commission 11 new reactors to more than double nuclear capacity by 2030 was approved by the government in 2006 to enhance Ukraine’s energy independence. But nuclear power plants also produce highly radioactive nuclear wastes, which will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no way to demonstrate that waste will remain isolated from the environment for so long a period.

Another radioactive substance is nuclear fuel. Right now Ukraine finished negotiations with Russia and in August 2013 begins building of a plant to produce this type of fuel in amounts 37.5% more than Ukraine needs. This increases the danger of radioactive pollution from Uranium production.

Ukraine is one of Europe’s largest energy consumers and takes fourth place in the world by the percent of nuclear power used to produce electricity. This makes me feel a great danger that my children will live in a radioactive dump.

Clean Energy Now!

“We need an energy system that can fight climate change, based on renewable energy and energy efficiency”, Greenpeace activists say. I completely agree.

Today the part of renewable sources in Ukraine is about 0.5%, while European countries state 20% target for the nearest future. A country where the Chernobyl catastrophe has happened must have other priorities.

In the West of Crimea, I saw beautiful wind turbines, which look like fantastic giants and remind me of Don Quixote.

These machines can provide my region with electricity from renewable source without harming the environment or people. We need to take care about nature and nature will take care about us!

What I do every day to use less energy:
Turn off the lights when I’m not using them.
Replace bulbs with energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights.
Choose energy-saving devices.
Turn off devices, because waiting mode takes up to 7% of energy.
Close tap while brushing teeth.

If you reach this point of my story, I will appreciate it if you will do the same things. Remember: think globally, act locally!
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the famous Russian writer, once wrote: “Contact with nature is the last word of any progress, science, reason, common sense, good taste and excellent manners.”

Every time I breathe the pure pine air of Crimean forest, I know he was right!

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Airview of Chernobyl nuclear power station three days after the explosion in 1986. Photo by AP Photo
The government did not disclose the accident immediately and started evacuating people a few days later without giving them full information. Foreign media started to cover the issue. Photo from: fearnotfukushima.blogspot.com
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (in the center) and his wife during his first visit to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the accident, February 1989. Photo by AFP PHOTO / TASS
Abandoned schoolroom in the city Prypiat near Chernobyl. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Toys and a gas mask in the dust of former school in Prypiat. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Cemetery of irradiated equipment near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, November 10, 2000. About 1,350 Soviet military helicopters, buses, fire engines and ambulances were used to combat the disaster in Chernobyl. Photo by AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
Every Ukrainian of my generation knows not only how to wear such mask, but also how to make it at home. Photo by AP Photo/Oded Balilty
Every year thousands of people come to Chernobyl. The guide makes the dosimeter measurements on which the radiation level is 12 times higher than regular. Photo GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images
Crying 67-year old Nastasiya Vasilieva near her house in the village 45 km from Chernobyl nuclear power plant. She came back home even it will stay radioactive 900 years more. Photo by AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev
“Farewell to All-Union health resort!” Lilia Levchenko on the protest against of building of the Crimean nuclear power station, 1988. Photo courtesy by CRA “Ecology and Peace”
Ukrainian police hold back activists from the women's rights organization "Femen" during a protest close to the site of the international donors conference to clean up the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site in Kiev, Ukraine, 2011. Photo by Ukrafoto
Me in 1986
We still have time to change our thinking on nuclear weapons and stop the drift toward catastrophe. Photo from Internet.

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Comments

bitani's picture

awesome!

Dear Iryna,

this is a master piece!

I never thought i will be so thrilled when reading a 2000 words piece. Your style of writing is so beautiful so is the humanitarian choice of topic. I love your choice of topic, how you relate to it, and, honestly, i like most that your message is to save the whole humanity and not just a specific subgroup of people. Almost anyone can familiarize with the issue since we are living in a global war zone (whether virtually or actually).

The sad part is that after such disasters everyone stops talking about what happened to the people and to the country; media outlets are busy with the newer disasters.

lots of love,

Bayan

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."
—Judy Garland

Iryna's picture

No more Chernobyls

My dear Bayan, your words are precious for me!
This is my past, present and future. Even 27 years after Chernobyl we still worry for the radioation levels. We really need to change the attitude of people about this issue.
Our needs in elecricity increases with the amount of new devices that appear in our houses. The amounts of electricity the power plants need to produce also increase. We need to change this consumer attitude to nature, turning into saving of water, energy and other resources.
We need to save our planet for the future generations!

Warmest wishes from Ukraine to Lebanon,
Iryna

Greengirl's picture

Nice One Iryna

I have been busy lately and not had the time to read recent posts on WorldPulse. So, you can imagine how grateful I am to Bitani for leading me to your post. It is eye opening! It is just not right that people's right to health, and to a safe and healthy environment remains jeopardized by the very authorities that should protect it. I enjoyed reading your piece and I learnt a lot from it.

I am particularly inspired by Lilia Levchenko's commitment and resilience. Very much so, I am glad she was heard.
You also are already the change you want to see and I know you will be heard as you forge ahead! We are together in fighting for a GREENER future and I already heard you clear and loud .

The story resonates with my piece "www.worldpulse.com/node/75931" in so many ways, and I am hopeful that as we continue in our drive to advocate for environmental sustainability, change will come to stay.

Thank you for sharing from your wealth of experience and knowledge.I enjoyed reading and learnt a lot from it.

In solidarity,
Greengirl

Iryna's picture

Protecting the future

Thank you for your response, Greengirl. You said very wise thing: it's not right that people's right for healthy environment is ignored by the very authorities whose role is the opposite - to protect and take care about people.
I appreciate you too that you wrote about another problematic thing which harms the whole planet - flaring gases.
All these actions make me feel angry and force to shout to let people know and understand what is happening on real, how dangerous such experiments are for us and for our children! Who if not we can protect the future and change people's attitudes?!
With the warmest greetings,
Iryna

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby's picture

SO STRONG & POWERFUL!

Dear Iryna,

This piece is so strong and powerful it really makes the reader hold her breath! (I did.) These nuclear disasters are so life-altering, nightmarish, frightening, completely out of our control they sound like science fiction. But of course, they are not. Your Voice is the perfect one to get this information out, and your professional writing skill adds to the impact.

When I had breast cancer, my former husband - professor at a medical college in NY -- introduced me to something called The Tumor Registry. Sounds strange, doesn't it?! If you'd had cancer, you could input the areas where you'd lived and during what years, and the Registry could tell you where you might, just possibly, have gotten cancer from -- although of course there would be no way to have proof.

Although I had lived in Connecticut, I had not lived there during the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania. However, I had lived in Los Angeles during the Chernobyl disaster and, because radiation clouds traveled across the ocean to North America, as you point out, there was a remote possibility that I'd been exposed to that radiation, and had developed breast cancer because of that. I'll never know, nor do I need to, but what a bizarre thought! The knowledge that we often don't know to what toxins we are exposed -- or are loved ones, children! -- are exposed is so odd in this day and age of such advanced science, medicine, etc. But I agree with you and with Einstein -- fiddling with the atom is dangerous beyond description, no matter how efficient nuclear energy may be.

At any rate, thank you for this tremendously informative, compelling piece, Iryna.

I wish you and all your loved ones and your country people good health,

- Sarah

Sarah Whitten-Grigsby

Iryna's picture

Speak and change

Sarah, thank you so much for your comments and for your story. You are right, sometimes only years later we have a chance to understand in what circumstances we lived in that or other period of our lives. Sometimes we don't have even this chance.

The sad thing is that nuclear experiments made by governments are paid by our taxes, so saying literally, we are paying for our jeopardies. What is good, when we understand we can speak about it and step by step, word by word, change people's attitude.

Sending to you, Sarah, my warmest wishes of a healthy and peaceful future,
Iryna

Hana's picture

Wow.

Iryna, the way you described your feelings toward the disaster as a child really transported me. I think we can all remember times in our childhoods when a global disaster occurred that was beyond our comprehension. The small details like how children used to tease each other in the acid rain and how your mother would wash the floors a dozen times a day really make this piece evocative. Thank you so much for writing this and I look forward to reading more from you!

Iryna's picture

Concerning for the safe future

Thank you, Hana, for your words! You are rights, sometimes we begin to understand the meaning of some event after years. But every time we have a chance to learn from it. I believe that with the time the amount of women participating in politics will grow, and decisions taken on the national and internation levels will be more often humanistic and with concern for the safe future.

Warm greetings,
Iryna

jap21's picture

Hi Iryna

You managed to get my attention, powerfully, vividly. I wish this never happened. I wish it was just a story of sci fi as you said. But I totally agree with you that knowing what happened, is the first step to deciding the kind of work we need to face so that politicians will accept the will of people who do not want harmful atomic energy anymore.

The first step is taken, You have risen your voice and we hear you loud and clear.-

Let us do this. I will also talk about this in my works, because you made aware of its importance.

Love,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

Iryna's picture

Safe future is our common goal!

Jackie, I appreciate so much your attention to this problem! Again, after two years and half, in Fukushima about 300 tonnes of highly toxic water had leaked from a storage tank. Danger level at nuclear plant jumps to 'serious'. Medical tests conducted in Fukushima Prefecture have revealed that 18 children have developed thyroid cancer.
For hundred years nuclear disasters will stay extremely dangerous for people.
We don't need such risks! We need to change world's attitude.
Thank you for your support, Jackie, it's our common goal - safe future.

Warmest regards,
Iryna

Y's picture

Masterful, engaging story

Masterful, engaging story telling! Bravo!

"Only three weeks later we understood that the history of the world was divided into two parts: before and after Chernobyl." My husband and I lost our community and home because of Hurricane Katrina. We, in this area, define our lives pre and post Katrina; New Yorkers pre and post 9/11. Your activism seems to be born of grief. May the power of your passion bring positive action around the world.

Blessings, Iryna.
Yvette

Yvette

Iryna's picture

Decisions of our lives

Dear Yvette, such horrible things really change our lives and the way we see the world. And in such moments we take some decisions for ourselves. After Chernobyl I know that nothing in this world will force me to support nuclear experiments, and I will never stop saying that there are safe alternatives. Money and international agreements is one thing, but the safety of our future must be above all this.

Thank you so much for your support!

Warm greetings,
Iryna

delphine criscenzo's picture

Dear Iryna, Thank you for

Dear Iryna,

Thank you for this great piece about living at the frontlines of the Chernobyl incident, then and now! When I grew up in France, there was a lot of talks about how the radiation was getting to us and we were also told to stay away from the rain in the years that followed the incident. My mother is convinced that it is the reason why rates of cancer have increased in our country. I think she is right.

Like you, I am a strong advocate for a move from nuclear power to renewable energy like wind or solar. I am aware that these technologies are not the most high performance yet, but I wish all the resources and money spent on nuclear power was spent on increasing the performance of renewable technologies.
I try hard in my household everyday to reduce what I consume and be thoughtful about what I buy. I know that this is only one drop in a huge ocean and I really would like for governments to start doing the same things I do in my house and consider what they use and how.

Thank you again for this thought provoking piece.
Good job!

Delphine Criscenzo

Iryna's picture

Dear Delphine, It can seem

Dear Delphine,

It can seem that saving energy at home is a drop in the ocean, but the reality is that there are a lot of people who do the same. Together, I believe this, we do a lot to protect our planet. Yes, I want to leave a track after me but I prefer something less matherial.

Delphine, you say you lived in France. Maybe you know that this country takes the first place by the nuclear share of electricity production (about 75%). I believe that one day France and Ukraine, together with the most of European countries, will change priorities and at least increase the share of renewable energy. We live in 21st century. Nuclear energy must stay at 20th. We have much safier technologies. I am sure when the part of women will increase in the government political strategies will turn to more humane!

Thank you for the comment and for taking care about the planet!

Warmest regards,
Iryna

Heidi's picture

Wonderfully written frontline

Wonderfully written frontline journal Iryna! Your voice is strong and I think you could add sharing information and ideas in both your work and here at World Pulse to your "what I do every day to use less energy" list :) as your piece is a great reminder once again to be aware of the energy we're using every day. I agree with you that together we do a lot to protect our planet but we have a long way to go. Reading about your experience here is such a powerful call to action. I'm interested in hearing more about the work that you do for green energy!

Lots of love,
Heidi

Iryna's picture

Dear Heidi, Thank you for

Dear Heidi,
Thank you for your words and your support!

you know, this issue worries me because it's about the safety of our future. And I am always happy to hear that people and governments change their attitude and refuse from nuclear energy. Yesterday I've heard by euronews that "powering the future, Germany opens its ‘largest’ wind farm". Germany now gets approximately 12% of its electricity from wind and solar, and plans to increase that proportion to 35% by 2020. Angela Merkel said that with the time we should refuse from nuclear energy because it's too dangerous. To me it gives a big hope that finally the nuclear danger will stay in past.

Warmest greetings,
Iryna

Maura Bogue's picture

Great piece

You describe this dramatic happening and its consequences powerfully. Your sentence, "When an arrow on the device was moving to critical numbers I could feel how my heart was beating. So close, so silent, so invisible and so real was the threat!" is a perfect example. You state that women "are the strongest fighters against anything that threatens our children’s future and health" and your title refers to the power of women. In the future maybe you could elaborate on why you feel this way.

Iryna's picture

Thank you, Maura, for the

Thank you, Maura, for the feedback! I'm glad that you've caught my idea and observation about the role of the women fighting for the safe future. Preparing this piece I noticed that women are really those who fight the strongest against the nuclear danger, doesn't matter if it happens in Ukraine or in Japan. Just a quick google search for "nucelar energy protest" will show 9 from 10 women's faces. This deep maternal instinct empowers a lot. Of course I am the same, and for me is very important that my children grow in safe environment.

Warm regards,
Iryna

BUHENDWA NEEMA's picture

bien

je suis telement reureuse de lire cette article
Prend toujour courage de partager les informentions avec les autres femmes et filles du monde,tu me marque avec cette article
courage à vous!!!!

neema weza

Iryna's picture

Lessons we learn

Dear Neema,
This is the story of my country. This is the story of the threats that nuclear power brings. We need to learn lessons from this and move to the safer technologies and safer future.
Thanks again for your support!
Warmest greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

Eileen Page's picture

Well done Iryna! Your title

Well done Iryna!
Your title "Women's Power vs Nuclear Power" really captured my imagination; as did your curiosity and wonder how something as beautiful as rain could hold something dangerous.

You have raised awareness about important decisions made by each of us as well as corporations and our governments.

I wish you well in your vision!

Kind regards
Eileen

Eileen

Iryna's picture

Lessons of life

You said very right things, Eileen, all the time in our lives we make a choice, and sometimes this choice influences not only on us but also on people around. When you are politician you have a huge responsibility, because almost every your choice or decision has significant consequences, and not always you have a chance to rewind and change it. In such cases we need to learn lessons given by life and don't repeat the same mistakes.
It's about so many things, including nuclear power danger and Chernobyl catastrophe.

Thank you for your beautiful words, Eileen!
Greetings from Ukraine,
Iryna

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