The legacy of Chernobyl – part 1

Cher_heart_poster_194 Kathy Ryan, of the Chernobyl Children’s Project International (CCPI) opened my eyes to the lasting legacy of Chernobyl.

Many children are being born every day with genetic defects in the areas around Chernobyl. This is also the area that has been hardest hit financially. Once the bread basket of Eastern Europe, this radiation- contaminated region has been brought to its knees economically.

"In the city of Gomel, fifty miles from Chernobyl, only 15 to 20% of the babies are born healthy", from a Russian doctor interviewed in the film, Chernobyl Heart.

The incidence of thyroid cancer is 10,000 times what is was before the Chernobyl incident. According to another interview I watched, genetic damage is still increasing.

The high levels of radiation produce both physical and mental damage. I saw a five-year-old child the size of a four month old baby and other children whose deformities beggar description. These children are being given improved care and better living conditions through the efforts of Chernobyl Children’s Project International.

Chernobyl Children’s Project International started in Ireland and most of the work is done by dedicated doctors and building professionals who volunteer their time to rebuild orphanages and operate on sick children who have no hope otherwise.

If you can get HBO on Demand, see Chernobyl Heart. This is an incredibly moving documentary and it is only available until March 13. The care Adi Roche, Founder and Director of CCP International, showed for these children brought tears to my eyes.

Watching the surgeon, who performed a heart operation on a little girl, try to cope with the gratitude of the girl’s parents was an education in itself.

There is a great deal more to tell about this organization and its work. I will be covering it in future posts. Meanwhile, you should visit their sites.

One very important point:
Although this organization works with the United Nations and has achieved official United Nations NGO status, it does not share the shabby reputation that the UN has earned for itself around the world.

These people actually do something to help. Check them out.

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0 Responses to The legacy of Chernobyl – part 1

  1. Kathy Ryan says:

    Kathy Ryan here , executive director/USA of Chernobyl Children’s Project International. In that role (in which I am only a volunteer, like many others), I am very careful about what we post on our website. Visitors come to learn about Chernobyl, and about what they can do to help.

    We try to (responsibly) post the most widely accepted facts about the Chernobyl disaster, as well as a concise listing of the programs we run to help children in the affected region. Facts, news, program listings, accomplishments – I suppose it is the web equivalent of a corporate brochure, but it serves a purpose.

    Now I am learning about “blogs” – and I welcome this opportunity to post not just facts, but my observations as a person who has been there. And further than my observations, how those observations made me feel, and how they changed my view of the Chernobyl disaster and my responsibility as an eyewitness to share what I have seen and learned since getting involved as a volunteer two years ago.

    In his posting, David notes an interview with a maternity doctor in Gomel, who estimated that 15 to 20% of babies born in his hospital are “born healthy.” Part of this interview was documented in the film Chernobyl Heart, and I was there, at this hospital, while that doctor was being interviewed by filmmaker Maryann DeLeo.

    I’m not an expert in maternal health care around the world, nor am I any more an expert on radiation and health than readers of these words would be if they took a couple hours to review research that is available on the Internet, and then took a week or two to evaluate what they read. I’ve just had more time to think about it than some.

    I know that many maternity hospitals in the world offer a lesser standard of care than what I observed at the maternity hospital in Gomel. Perhaps some hospitals in the United States offer a standard of care not much different? I don’t know. I realize that in many parts of the world, giving birth is dangerous for both mothers and children.

    The children I saw born in Gomel on that day were born in a stark environment that has nothing to do with cozy maternity wards that I have seen in the United States. I was a bit appalled to see the lack of privacy, the room with half naked women (no partners present) with spread legs facing the back of the room, facing a row of doctors and nurses watching the labor progress with little interaction. But what really struck me in that maternity ward was the atmosphere of uncertainty. It seemed to me – but maybe I imagined it – that a mother strained to see her child being born with less joyful anticipation and more fear than I would expect to see.

    Gomel is possibly the most toxic place on planet earth. Throughout Belarus, people will be exposed to various “low” levels of radiation for decades to come. Rapidly developing cells – like the cells of an embryo – are more vulnerable to radiation. (This is not controversial.) According to the Otto Hug Strahleninstitut , the ministry of health in Ukraine recorded an increased number of miscarriages, premature births and still births, and three times the normal rate of deformities and developmental abnormalities in newborns in the years following the Chernobyl disaster.

    If these facts were running through my head as I watched the mothers at the maternity hospital in Gomel, I can only imagine that they were thinking the same thing as they watched their children coming into the world.

    But surely these women had the peace of mind of an ultrasound examination during their pregnancies? The doctor led my travel partner and Chernobyl Children’s Project International volunteer Sherrie Douglas and I into another room to examine an ultra sound machine – broken and useless for some time.

    Shortly after our return to the United States, and remembering so clearly what we saw in Gomel, we contacted SIEMENS Medical Corporation – this company sent a ultrasound machine to the Gomel maternity hospital, and I would like to thank them publicly for removing a measure of fear from these mothers’ lives.

    I don’t know what it is like to live in this kind of fear and uncertainty. I tasted it though, traveling in contaminated regions of Belarus, for a brief period of time, and I know it was silly and unreasonable, but there it was, even though I feel spoiled even mentioning it – I don’t want to trivialize what is going on there:

    Giving my food a funny look, then eating a PowerBar instead. Wanting a cold beer, and wondering where it was brewed (can’t read Russian). Carrying my own water. Being offered a hot cup of tea by a kind woman at a home in Gomel – afraid to taste it and pretending to, so as not to offend. Washing my hair and body with baby wipes. Cracking nervous jokes at docimeter readings – starting to feel “ironic” all the time. It all disappeared when I got home, and friends and family got to tease me – predictably – about glowing the dark.

    While we think about Chernobyl and its ongoing impact almost 20 years on, of course we need to think about radiation – but we also have to imagine the impact on society of lives spent in fear of something that cannot be seen, and something that needs passage of time – decades — and more scientific research to be fully understood.

  2. Jennifer Milano says:

    My husband and I watch documentaries on a regular basis, and last year, we watched “Chernobyl Heart” on HBO. For me, “Chernobyl Heart” was one of the more moving documentaries that I have seen. I was surprised at how widespread and pervasive the effects of the Chernobyl disaster are, appalled at the condition of the children’s institutions, as well as at the long-term health effects of the Chernobyl disaster on the population, especially the children. To me, it is a matter of these children’s basic human rights – the right to quality health care, the right to live their lives relatively free of worry over their future health and opportunity to live, the right to be respected as individuals and treated with kindness and decency no matter their physical state. In my opinion, it is the role and duty of the more fortunate to help those who are less fortunate, and after watching the film, I wanted very much to help, even though I was not sure I had any helpful skills to offer. I have worked in the past on a volunteer and pro bono basis in the human rights field as an attorney, and wrote to Kathy Ryan at CCPI hoping that she could use my help. I was so pleased when Kathy telephoned me to tell me of a human rights project that CCPI is developing, with the aim of integrating disabled children into their communities, training their families to care for them, and helping to reduce the number of children who are sent away to institutions. While speaking with Kathy, I immediately sensed how dedicated Kathy and CCPI are to helping children affected by the Chernobyl disaster, how honest and committed this organization is to its cause. Since my initial conversation with Kathy late last year, I have read a variety of articles on the integration of disabled children into the community, as well as on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster in general, and have only become more interested in trying to help. I have contacted friends and family to make them aware of the situation, and to tell them of the project on which we are working, which needs volunteers in the areas of physical therapy, nursing, and so on. CCPI is moving forward with this much-needed project, and I am very pleased to be a small part of it. I urge everyone who has access to HBO on Demand to watch this film, visit CCPI’s website for information on the variety of projects it conducts, and contact Kathy if you are interested in helping to improve these children’s lives.

  3. salma says:

    I’m doing a writing project on Chernobyl for an University class. I’m looking for anyone who like to share their story on Chernobyl or know where I can find anyone interested that can provide me primary information about the event.


  4. Luke Thomas says:

    I think the UN comment is a little harsh – organisations run explicitly by the United Nations like the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) are the first contact for many of the world’s most deprived and needy children. Without organisations like the UN, which are massivley in debt because the US does not contribute ANY funding to it, much vital aid to those who need it, particularly in war stricken parts of the world where other charitable organisations are unwilling to venture, would not be forthcoming. It should be pointed out that for most of the world, the United Nations is a very respected and prestigious organisation, it is only in the United States that it is in disrepute. But again, since the US doesn’t fund any of its activities (most of which are to help promote equality and peace), I don’t see why there is such animosity?

  5. Luke has not done his homework.

    The U.S. pays the largest single share of the United Nations’ regular and peacekeeping budgets — 25 and 31.2 percent respectively.

    The US is considering cutting UN funding because of the massive corruption at the highest levels of the UN.

    The Oil for Food scandal in which $10 billion was diverted with the complicity of Kofi Annan is only one of many unresolved issues.

    UN Peacekeepers are responsible for committing atrocities in Somalia, DR Congo, Bulgaria, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia, and Burundi, to name a few. Not the kind of record that inspires confidence.
    TITLE: The legacy of Chernobyl
    BLOG NAME: Let Me See You Get Low
    DATE: 03/09/2005 04:50:18 AM
    Link: Ripples: post-corporate adventures: The legacy of Chernobyl – part 1.

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