How Stubbornness and Ignorance of the Soviet Union sentenced thousands of Ukrainians to death

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In April 1986 something happened behind the iron curtain which had never happened on planet earth before; a nuclear reactor exploded. The building four reactor at Chernobyl Power plant caught fire and for almost two weeks poured deadly radioactive material into the environment for hundreds of miles around. The nearby town of Pripyat was evacuated after the disaster, and it has remained abandoned ever since.

The truth of what happened Chernobyl came out in the months and years following the disaster, that the reactor had a flawed design and the staff employed at the plant were under qualified. The isolation from the Cold War and unwillingness to work with any nation outside of the USSR, the consequential lack of safety protocol resulted in deaths of workers, firefighters in the following weeks and thousands more people being affected by radiation for months after.

The initial response to the disaster from the Soviet Union was of frustration when efforts to keep news of Chernobyl from reaching the outside world failed. Just days after the disaster, the news and images of the rubble strewn plant were plastered over newspapers across the globe.

It was the reaction from the Soviet Union which has been identified as cruel in the decades following Chernobyl. The hours after the initial explosion saw a scramble to put the fire out, but the state was more concerned with keeping the disaster a secret rather than warning and then evacuating the surrounding area. The Communist Party had a blatant disregard for the lives of their own people through their determination to sweep Chernobyl under the carpet. It was not the first time the party had actively endangered its own people.

The first real signs of the coverup job from Soviet Russia came just over 2 days after the explosion. At the Forsmark Nuclear Power Station in Sweden, an alarm sounded when high amounts of radiation were detected. The workers were evacuated and soon after the same high levels of radiation were detected in Denmark, Finland and Norway. The radiation was traced back to Soviet Ukraine, yet when the Kremlin was questioned they denied all involvement and even denied any explosion had happened.

It was three days later when the Kremlin finally started to genuinely acknowledge that something big had happened at Chernobyl, by which time millions of tons of radiation had poured into the air around the Ukraine. This was when American satellite images showed the fires within the reactor still burning despite aircraft dumping sand to try and extinguish them.

On April 30th the state news in Ukraine was led with stories of the upcoming Mayday holiday, with the first Chernobyl story coming half way down the running. This proved once again that the Soviet Union was determined to play down Chernobyl as much as possible, regardless of the impact on life. The blocking of western media outlets was strategic, with the Kremlin telling American media that the issues with receiving news stories was down to technical problems.

The Ukrainian people were exposed to deadly radiation for no reason. If the soviet leaders had listened to the experts at Chernobyl then they would have evacuated more citizens much sooner, perhaps saving hundreds of lives. Yet this would also have potentially required them to admit to the world about what had happened at Chernobyl, something which the Communist state was not prepared to do.

Gradually, the area around Chernobyl has become safer. It is open for limited tourism and it is right that it is. The disaster was and still is the worst civil nuclear catastrophe in history, keeping the area untouched is a perfect reminder of the dangers posed by nuclear energy when it is not properly maintained.

Pripyat remains abandoned, and this town and the surrounding area will stay this way for hundreds of years. people will one day live in the area again, and only then will the recovery from Chernobyl be complete.

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I am a journalist with an honours degree from Coventry University. Passionate writing about politics, culture, sport, society and more

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