Thursday, September 17, 2009

Revisiting two Ukrainian holocausts: Chernobyl & Babi Yar 
     Back when I was a Beatnik wannabe living in a suburb of San Francisco in 1958, I would walk all alone through the halls of my high school, dressed all in black and muttering, "I want to suffer! I want to know LIFE!"  And here I am, fifty years later, with a front row seat on true suffering, mass suffering, unbelievable and indescribable suffering.  And all I can think now is, "To hell with suffering.  Suffering is NOT a good thing." 
      This afternoon I went to the Chernobyl museum in Kiev and learned all the horrifying details of when that nuclear power plant exploded in the middle of the night due to carelessness and lack of knowledge on the part of the people who ran the plant.  And if Chernobyl can blow for these reasons, then any nuclear power plant in the world is also vulnerable to human error.   And to make it worse, the old Soviet government tried to cover up the disaster, exposing millions more to fallout and radiation poisoning -- even as far away as the United States and Japan. 
     What are the casualty figures? Let me check my notes.   55 died immediately.  18,000 of the area's residents and first responders died within the first few weeks.  5,000 firefighters and soldiers conscripted to attempt clean-up operations were exposed without adequate protection from radiation.  150,000 people and 70 villages were evacuated.  Chernobyl is still a dead zone and will be for the next 500 years at the least.   The explosion had the power of 500 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs.   18,000 children have been treated for leukemia.  Millions still live in the endangered regions.  
     The nuclear reaction at the original plant is STILL going on.   The blow to the Soviet economy was great.  At least 18 billion dollars have been spent so far -- and that is a very conservative estimate. This tragedy greatly contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union.  Every single radiation survivor still alive still needs at least $100 a month for medication.   I could go on and on about what an incredible disaster this was.  Google it yourself and see.  It will have you in tears too. 
      After learning about Chernobyl, I next drove to the Babi Yar memorial on the outskirts of Kiev.  Two sad and unnecessary holocausts in one day!  According to Nazi records, 33,771 Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies were shot and killed by Nazi soldiers on September 21, 1941 at Babi Yar -- ten at a time.  They were lined up at the edge of a 150-foot-deep ravine and splattered with machine-gun fire while loud music played in order to drown out the victims' screams (They also played loud music to drown out victims' screams at the Killing Fields in Cambodia).  
     The entire killing spree took over 48 hours.  Ten bodies would fall.  Every ten minutes.  Then bring in the next group.   This has been a moving and horrific day for me.  And I say, "Never again!"  No more nuclear plants that can take down a whole region if someone blunders.  And no more genocide.  Ever.  This whole killing thing has GOT TO STOP.  Human beings are not animals.  We are not.  Rending the flesh of women and babies by the thousands is not even something that animals would do.  Never again!  Not in Yemen.  Not in Palestine.  Not in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Not in the AfPak territories.  No.  Just no.  Never again. 
PS: Here's a short video clip of one of the original first responders speaking at the Chernobyl Museum.  Notice that behind the speaker there is a whole wall full of photos of some of the thousands of children who survived chemotherapy after they had been exposed to radiation.  Many of these children were treated by oncologists in Cuba.   
     One of the saddest things I ever saw was when I was in Cuba several years ago and toured an oncology ward for Chernobyl's children.  And even sadder still was the the image implanted forever in my mind of blond-haired young Ukrainian mothers walking along the road near the hospital -- alone, far from home, scared and praying that their children would live.  And many of them did, thanks to Cuba. 
PPS: Here's another sad episode of the Jane Stillwater Show, broadcast live from Babi Yar. Grim. Just grim. 33,771 dead.