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Remembering Chernobyl

Background - March 20, 2006
When I think of Chernobyl ...

... I see "liquidators" running with old-fashioned protection suitsinto a huge pile of rubble and carrying some nuclear fuel parts,graphite or metal parts with their hands from the one side of what hasbeen the roof of a reactor hall to the other side trying to "clean itup". They run for their lives. For a very long 90 seconds. Then thenext group is sent into the rubble.

... I see the journalist Lyubov Kovalevskaya entering an evacuation busin the nuclear workers' city of Pripyat' then. And I hear the thinvoice she has as a consequence of her thyroid problems years later.

... I see helicopters throwing sand into a burning hole.

... I see 16-year-old Katya in Kiev, 90 km south of Chernobyl, scaredto death by a danger she can't see, she can't sense, getting on a trainfor Leningrad to escape from radiation. She has never moved back toKiev. This was the "sudden end of my childhood" as she said yearslater. Katya is my wife.

... I see black-and-white pictures of smiling "pioneer" childrenmarching on the streets on the May 1st demonstration receiving highlevels of radiation - 5 days after the explosion, hardly anyone hadbeen told about what had happened.

... I see black-and-white pictures of the "bicycle race for peace"starting 10 days after the accident from Lenin Square (nowIndependence Square) in the city centre of Kiev with thousands ofspectators along the street.

... I see Gorbachev on a TV screen after a terribly long 18 days ofsilence explaining to the Soviet and international public what happenedat Chernobyl.

... I see water trucks "washing" the streets, soldiers with gas masksand I hear commands over megaphones, voices crying and Geiger countersounds.

... I see hundreds of thousands of people like war refugees carryingall their valuables in their suitcases and hastily leaving their houses andtheir pasts behind.

... I see overcrowded Soviet-style hospitals.

... I see old women carrying wooden buckets with "fresh" water from awell to their homes some 15 km away from the reactor, whom I  metwhen I was on a Greenpeace nuclear campaign excursion to Chernobyl in1996.

... I see thousands of candles at a mourning celebration on Kiev's Independence Square in 1996.

... I see the red face and hear the cynical laugh of Valery Krilkorovfrom the Union of Chernobyl Victims who I met with in 1995 and who wasdead when I contacted his organisation 2 years later.

... I see pale-looking teenagers with worried, big eyes at a child's therapy centre in Kiev queuing up for a health check.

... I see myself being scared when I realised that my Geiger counterdidn't work while I was taking samples from the soil in what theliquidators had called the "red forest" 1 km from the "Sarcophagus" in1998.

... I see the words "Remember Chernobyl" beamed on a wall of the Sarcophagus by Greenpeace  Russia and Greenpeace Ukraine.

--Tobias Muenchmeyer

Tobias is a political analyst forGreenpeace in Germany. He wrote this remembrance on 26 April, 2005,the 19th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.