At 1.23am on 26 April 1986, reactor no 4 of the Chernobyl nuclear plant blew up, spewing immense amounts of radioactive material into the air. A major event of the 20th century had occurred. The Chernobyl explosion, 30 years ago this month, arguably played a key role in the demise of the Soviet Union – if only because it crushed whatever credibility remained of a system of authority whose claims included the safe mastery of technology. For those countries most affected, the road to stable democracy has not been easy; for some it’s not even guaranteed. The territories worst hit by the disaster were Ukraine and Belarus. Today we tend to watch the political turmoil in Ukraine, including this week’s appointment of a new prime minister, as solely the result of recent crises – but that can be short-sighted. Belarus rarely makes headlines – except perhaps when sanctions again st the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko are discussed. But understanding these countries’ travails requires going further back in time. The then Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, had launched his policy of glasnost, or openness, not long before the Chernobyl disaster – which then acted as a catalyst for change because of the lies it exposed. It was the final straw after a long list of atrocities suffered by nations that had endured the worst of Europe’s 20th-century bloodbaths. It is estimated, for example, that Belarus lost a third of its population in the second world war. Recovering from the cumulative effect of these ordeals was never going to be simple. Indeed, many of the consequences of Chernobyl are yet to be explored. Three decades on, how does one even begin to describe what it is like to live with an invisible radioactive enemy? How does one convey what it was like to experience an event of that magnitude, when the skies darkened and the apocalypse seemed to be unfolding?
Guardian 16th April 2016 read more »
This is not a book on Chernobyl,” writes Svetlana Alexievich, “but on the world of Chernobyl.” It is not about what happened on 26 April 1986, when a nuclear reactor exploded near the border between Ukraine and Belarus. It is about an epoch that will last, like the radioactive material inside the reactor’s leaking ruin, for tens of thousands of years. Alexievich writes that, before the accident, “War was the yardstick of horror”, but at Chernobyl “the history of dis¬asters began”.
New Statesman 16th April 2016 read more »