Nuclear nightmares

Feature Story - 2006-04-26
Elena was playing outside 20 years ago. Not far away the Chernobyl reactor was melting down. Since then both her and her sister have had brain cancer. Facts and figures, scientists and politicians, can't tell you the terrible consquences of nuclear power gone wrong. Only the victims can.

Sisters Irina and Elena live in an area of Belarus contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. Both have had brain tumours removed and now have problems with their thyroid gland.

On April 26, 1986 I was five years old. I can't remember this day very well but it turned out to be a tragedy not only for our family, but also for thousands of people, from many countries. We don't often discuss that day in our family. But I remember what my mum says about it. It was a really nice warm and sunny day. I was outside with my elder brother and my little 13-day-old sister, who was sleeping in a pram under a tree.

Greenpeace statement on the anniversary of Chernobyl, from Executive Director Gerd Leipold

Suddenly dark clouds appeared in the sky and a strong wind started to blow. Our mum told us to come into the house. While we were gathering our toys, she was trying to take the pram inside. It took her a long time. The first drops of rain fell on my little sister. It may have been those few drops that changed our lives.

At first we were not told anything about the accident. They "didn't want people to panic." But the authorities were afraid that the second reactor could blow up.  Trains were made ready to evacuate people from our city.  Gomel is not very far from Chernobyl.

It was only later we found out that the rain was radioactive.

Since then the word radiation has come into our life and dominated its course. Chernobyl deprived me of many joys of my childhood: the feeling of warm sun rays on my skin which I liked so much turned to be radioactive rays and we had to stay in the shadow; the water in the river where we had splashed about was contaminated. Worse of all, I had to refuse all my favourite treats - mushrooms and berries from the forest. As time passed I got used to these restrictions and began to realise they were for our own sake.

Life took its usual course; I grew up and went to school. I studied very well. In 1998 I graduated from high school with honours and dreamed of entering a university. And here again Chernobyl interfered. Instead of an educational establishment I found myself in a medical one. On the day I was diagnosed with a brain tumour, my parents were coming back from Minsk where my sister also had just undergone a brain tumour operation.

I didn't know how to tell my mum that we had to go back to Minsk again for another operation straight after my sisters.

This was how Chernobyl poisoned my youth. It deprived me of my beautiful hair. During the operation they cut my motor nerve so I had to learn to move again.

Mum still remembers that after the operation I was taken to the intensive ward, I had an extensive brain bleeding and it was a matter of life and death. But thanks to the doctors and my parents' care I survived. And I still had the most precious things a person may have - my life and my family. But I learned to appreciate that the hard way.

It was only due to my family's support that I could overcome the ordeal and stand on my feet again. Due to that ordeal when I was on the verge between life and death I learned to appreciate and love my life. Now I realize that you should never give up, you should always hope for the better and enjoy every moment, as these moments make up our happiness. To understand all this at the age of 25 I had to go through intense trauma of brain cancer at 17. During the last eight years I had to work hard not to be confined to the wheel chair and to learn how to walk again, to realise my dream and study at university.

Twenty years later, it angers me to be told that the nuclear industry is attempting to play down the effects of the Chernobyl disaster.  Now they even want to dump nuclear waste in my country.

For those people who like to say nuclear power is the future I can only suggest they come and spend some time in my home town with people who are living with radioactive contamination every day. Perhaps then they will have a different sense of the future?

Nuclear power ruined my life. Don't let it ruin yours.

I'm asking you to speak out and say NO more nuclear power, NO more Chernobyls.

Elena

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The real face of the nuclear industry: Chernobyl death toll grossly underestimated.

Background: More about the disaster and the dangers of nuclear power.

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Our statement on the 20th Anniversary of Chernobyl.

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