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Chernobyl Remembered

By Craig Martelle | April 26, 2006

Although I have not been to Chernobyl, I have been to other northern areas of the Ukraine. Chernobyl is the elephant in the living room that no one wants to talk about, but when they start talking, you can see that they felt it was not safe - they were well aware of shoddy Soviet construction (almost like slave labor). They all know people who died miserable deaths from the radiation sickness. After the Northridge Earthquake in California, I worked in North Hollywood as an interpreter - one of the main areas affected by the quake was the Russian community.

These folks immigrated to the U.S. as soon as possible after the wall fell. They formed a tight community where they had no need to learn English. Everything they needed was provided by other bilingual immigrants. After the earthquake, they had to deal directly with FEMA themselves. So FEMA temporarily employed me as an interpreter (yes, I was simply reassigned from my USMC duties for a couple weeks). I met a couple Chernobyl survivors. One elderly woman, who had nothing, lost even that and was now homeless. The Social Security Administration (most of the immigrants were drawing SSI) had given her a card describing her complete disability due to complications from radiation exposure. She was a proud woman, but defeated. I remember hugging her and crying (yes, as a Marine 2nd Lieutenant). I walked her to the front of the lines and through the process in order to get her food and shelter as quickly as possible. I made sure that she always had a chair to sit on. She could not thank me enough in the end, but that's not why I took care of her - she was truly a victim of a government's failure to protect its people. That's why I have a problem with self-proclaimed "victim" groups here in the United States.

If you want some modern-day pictures of what's become of the area surrounding the Chernobyl reactor, go to this photo expose. The author at this site later admitted that much of her motorcycle trip ruminations were fabricated and declared them to be "poetry," however the pictures are all actual photos of the area around Chernobyl. They are chilling, to say the least.

Today is 20 years since the Chernobyl disaster. The survivors of the disaster still gather in remembrance.

Olexy Barankevich, a journalist who grew up in the town next to the plant, remembers how the group of children he was with when news spread decided to run down towards the plant to “have a look at the fire”. “I’m very glad I didn’t go,” he says.

Chernobyl stands as a monument to the failure of communism and to protect its people from the failures within.