Thursday, May 25, 2006

the chernobyl museum

after the uk, the contrast that ukraine offered in some ways was all the more striking and stark. for starters, there we were, gleefully drinking tapwater in uk. in ukraine i guess youd have to be pretty much crazy to try anything like that. chernobyls terrible legacy is still with them.

our hostess was telling us how she bought supplies only from certain supermarkets because she was worried about ground contamination post-chernobyl. she admitted that it certainly made life more expensive; but considering that she actually went and saw the ghost villages and towns around reactor 4, i dont blame her at all for being so worried. because of mom's penchant for feeding people we took 15 kilos of veggies for them when we went, but really, all the jokes that we all cracked apart, those veggies were "loaded" (pun unintended for once).

though we saw and admired kiev's several beautiful churches i didnt expect to see the chernobyl museum designed almost like another one. as soon as you walk up to the museum's entrance, there's this very simple figure to the left. it about sets the tone for the rest of the tour.

you walk in and see the reception hall's walls covered with black and white photographs. each is a story related to the disaster. there are scenes from the contaminated zones, children's wards in the hospitals that deal especially with the chernobyl related health complications, from cancer hospitals, from deserted villages and houses.

the museum is like a memorial. it has simply hundreds of photographs of the personnel who worked in the reactor, the army staff who patrolled and guarded the area, the scientists who were associated with it, and the villagers who lived nearby. there are quaint photographs of young couples garbed in wedding clothes, holding hands and smiling shyly at the camera. of young men and women proudly receiving awards and medals.

there are glass boxes elaborately filled with military coats, epaulets and badges, handwritten log books, change of shift records, letters, press clippings. theres no mention of whats happening under the sarcophagus built around the 4th phase. the museum doesnt discuss the subject of the sarcophagus now cracking and the reactor still throwing off immense heat. it doesnt mention how even if you walk into the ghost villages, its not a great idea to handle anything there.

it doesnt speak of how some old people decided they had nothing left and would return to die in their hometowns. we dont know what happened to them, or how long they suffered the effects of radioactivity.

when my hostess went to the inner zones two years back, people were mechanically scanned before and after approaching the reactor although the geiger counters couldnt register anything because of the massive large scale contamination.

the museum isnt about the spirit of scientific enquiry. its about being almost numb with shock. the kind of sorrow that the disaster brought about, its as if people feel so drained that even their grief is gentle and still. theres no rage, no railing against the authorities or fate, no savage rejection of everything associated with the power plant... nothing. the museum seemed to simply be a symbol of the sad sepia world of the survivors amidst normal hustling-bustling life.



Blogger Sea and Sky said...

i once came across this poem on chernobyl by this woman who herself was a survivor... it's called "radiophobia"... searched for it on the net and found it! (god bless internet!!)...

Is this only--a fear of radiation?
Perhaps rather--a fear of wars?
Perhaps--the dread of betrayal,
cowardice, stupidity, lawlessness?
The time has come to sort out
what is--radiophobia.
It is--
when those who've gone through the Chernobyl drama
refuse to submit
to the truth meted out by government ministers
("Here, you swallow exactly this much today!")
We will not be resigned
to falsified ciphers,
base thoughts,
however you brand us!
We don't wish--and don't you suggest it!--
to view the world through bureaucratic glasses!
We're too suspicious!
And, understand, we remember
each victim just like a brother! . . .
Now we look out at a fragile Earth
through the panes of abandoned buildings.
These glasses no longer deceive us!--
These glasses show us more clearly--
believe me--
the shrinking rivers,
poisoned forests,
children born not to survive . . .
Mighty uncles, what have you dished out
beyond bravado on television?
How marvelously the children have absorbed
radiation, once believed so hazardous! . . .
(It's adults who suffer radiophobia--
for kids is it still adaptation?)
What has become of the world
if the most humane of professions
has also turned bureaucratic?
may you be omnipresent!
Not waiting until additional jolts,
new tragedies,
have transformed more thousands
who survived the inferno
into seers--
Radiophobia might cure
the world
of carelessness, satiety, greed,
bureaucratism and lack of spirituality,
so that we don't, through someone's good will
mutate into non-humankind.

i sometimes wonder... why can't we be introduced to these poems at school!!!... but then, that's the matter of another discussion altogether.

1:55 am  
Blogger Anurag said...

Very well written piece. Impressive!

5:05 am  
Blogger m. said...

sea and sky: WOW. that was really powerful writing. thanks for digging it out :)

anurag: eh? oh! how nice! thanksh :D

12:12 am  
Blogger Sriram K said...

What do people think of the wildlife in the exclusion zone?

(Sources: - under "Mutation fears")

Some information on the atomic bombings

I am sure they will mostly be under a shock, but anyone asking questions and wanting better answers.

There are lots of issues with radioactivity, not the least of it being politics. And the waste definitely needs better containment.

But scienctific research still doesn't seem to understand effects of radioactivity completely. We are either missing underlying changes in the wildlife out there, or maybe we are over-estimating the long-term effects of radiation, most importantly the fears of mutation and generational defect propogation.

8:29 pm  
Blogger Sriram K said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:29 pm  
Blogger Rabin said...

hmm...first time i'm reading a human angle on life after chernobyl...very touching!

4:34 am  
Anonymous Saale said...

wondering if there can be an non-human angle to life after chernobyl: rebellious cinders et al. :)

On a more serious note, I would be quite willing to discuss the morality of allowing people to live in that area from the point of view of the zeroeth law of robotics.

7:51 am  
Anonymous b. said...

nice. fyi,

6:36 pm  
Blogger Anurag said...

Time for a new post, don't you think?

12:01 am  
Blogger m. said...

sriram: hey, nice to see youre still around!

rabin: :)

saale: bah, never mind the zeroeth law! :D but yes, the thing is fraught with political interests and ethical implications. fascinating to say the least.

b.: thanks. trust the bbc to have something like that! :)

anurag: how id love to. the thing im trying to say next is being utterly obnoxious! you shall see ze post as soon as i have bullied it into submission :))

10:20 pm  

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