Chornobyl Union International
On April 26th, 1986 the accident at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, resulted in wide spread nuclear contamination throughout the territories of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. Eight hundred thousand (800,000) cleanup workers were recruited in the first 18 months from all of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union., to abate the immediate effects of the accident. In 1988 and 1989 additional cleanup workers were brought in as replacements. Entire towns and villages were evacuated, displacing a large segment of the population from their homes. In the "zone of exclusion," the cities of Pripyat, Chornobyl, and 76 villages were abandoned, in total upwards of 150,000 people were permanently resettled out of the area.
It is estimated that the radiation from the Chornobyl accident effected as many as 5 million people. The extent and the seriousness of the accident was kept secret, even from those living within a few miles from the exploded reactor. The clean up workers were given minimal protective clothing and many were not aware of the deadly levels that they were working under.
Evacuation was not implemented until 36 hours after the explosion, and residents in adjacent population centers were not instructed to stay indoors. It was one of the first warm days of spring, and people were outside gardening, jogging and enjoying the sunshine. Cleanup workers, wearing gas masks were attempting to decontaminate buildings and streets by washing them, while children, a few hundred feet away watched them work, playing in the puddles.
On May 1st, in the city of Kiev, less then 80 miles from Chornobyl, school children and workers marched in the May Day parade to celebrate the Progress of Communism, with highly elevated levels of radiation in the air around them. Iodine was never administered to protect the thyroid - not even to children.
When it became apparent that those evacuated, could never return to their homes the Soviet government provided housing and compensation for necessary personal possessions such as clothing, furniture, cars, and household items all of which were left behind. People had been told to take only what was needed for three days of evacuation. Chornobyl evacuees were given preference over those who had waited for years on housing waiting lists and consequently encountered hostility and resentment, as it was not commonly understood why they were being given preferential treatment.
In addition to the immediate health, economic, and social problems the Chornobyl victims faced the Soviet governments efforts to cover up the severity of the accident. As a result, many experienced great difficulties in obtaining timely housing, compensation for their possessions, medical treatment, and jobs to support their families in a new and often hostile environment. In many ways they felt abandoned and left completely on their own to deal with the distress, fear and uncertainties with which they were faced.
In 1989, out of frustration and helplessness, the victims themselves formed a grass roots organization that would bring them together giving them a power base from which to establish a support system, provide them with a measure of control over their own destiny, and establish hope for the future of their families. The organization was established by group of courageous and daring clean up workers who dared challenge the Soviet system with such a bold action.
They organized clean up workers, fire fighters, engineers, atomic workers, military participants and the evacuees now scattered throughout all of the republics of the Soviet Union. In every republic, oblast and population center where "Chornobyl people" lived they organized groups to provide support, collectively demanded medical treatment for themselves and their children and virtually developed their own social services agencies to help cut through the red tape. Within the first year the grass roots organization had grown to a membership of more then a million and a half people, and was publishing a an independent newspaper.
It became apparent, that in order for the government to acknowledge the people who had risked their lives protecting the Soviet Union, and the world from the Chornobyl disaster a formal lobbying effort had to be undertaken, an illegal and previously unheard of activity under the then Soviet system.
At the first all Republic convention, in 1989, the Chornobyl victims elected Volodymyr F. Shovkoshytny as president. Shovkoshytny, was a nuclear engineer who had worked in the chemical department at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power plant before the accident. He worked as a clean up worker, after the accident was one of the organizers of Chornobyl Union, and as a result, became one of a "new breed" -- the first grass roots politicians within the Soviet system.
Chornobyl Union successfully elected several members to the parliaments of the Republics to represent their interests and spearheaded legislation to be presented to guarantee medical treatment, compensation and pensions for those unable to work as a result of their exposure to radiation.
In 1990, Shovkoshytny was elected by the Chornobyl evacuees, to represent them in Ukraine's SSR soviet assembly (parliament), and with his colleagues, elected to parliaments in other Republics he began speaking out for Chornobyl victims all over the Soviet Union. A charismatic speaker, and an accomplished poet -- he began demanding the truth be told. Truth that would validate -- those who had risked their lives in the Chornobyl inferno.
Collectively, they demanded that a commission be formed to investigate the Chornobyl accident, outline the effects of radiation to the impacted population, and to create an agency that would be responsible to handle the issues surrounding the Chornobyl problem.
But, while Chornobyl Union was in the process of organizing, and gaining support in each republic, the Soviet Union politically disintegrated, and suddenly there were 15 separate countries with independent governments to contend with. As a result, in 1991, Chornobyl Union became an international organization.
With the restrictions of the former Soviet government no longer present, the organization not only continued its legislative lobbying efforts but also intitated an outreach to the outside world for humanitarian and medical assistance - primarily for children. Today there are 13 humanitarian organizations that are members of and affiliated with Chornobyl Union International, around the world, including Western Europe, Australia, Canada, the US, Israel, Japan and others.
Since then Chornobyl Union International has brought in upwards of 50 million dollars in medical assistance to the victims living all over the former Soviet republics. In Ukraine, Chornobyl Union International initiated, funded and implemented a program to test the radiation levels of food products, organized and runs a visiting nurse program to assist children who have difficulties getting to hospitals and clinics.
In Kiev, Chornobyl Union maintains and stocks a pharmacy, where difficult to acquire and cost prohibitive medications can be obtained for children from any of the former republics, directly by prescription, and with no cost to the family. Often the pharmacy makes requests for medications required by a specific child and unavailable in the newly independent countries, from its western affiliates. In the last three years Chornobyl Union International has sent more then 9,000 children out side the borders of the former Soviet Union for medical treatment.
The organization initiates contacts with organizations to provide medical technology, equipment, supplies and medications directly to hospitals treating Chornobyl victims. They facilitate the programs providing, coordination, cross cultural liaisons, interpretation services and monitoring that the hospitals subsequently use the aid received in the treatment and care of those with the greatest needs.
The organization has also been involved in initiating and facilitating technical exchange programs and research programs. It is building a data base of childrens medical histories, assisting the national organizations in becoming computerized and computer literate so that more accurate information and statistical data may be available, has co-produced the documentary. "Chornobyl Tragedy and Hope" with Time/Warner Communications, supports the work of artists, writers and film makers preserving the Chornobyl legacy for future generations, and spearheaded the building of this bridge so that the people of the world may learn from one another and in that manner benefit from each others experiences -- both the joyful and the painful.
Chornobyl Union International
Chornobyl Union International is a confederate organization. Member organizations are united by common goals, but are independent entities which function independently under the statues and guidelines of the international charter. Conventions are held every three years and conferences annually. The president's council meets quarterly to determine direction and outline collective programs and projects.
The Chornobyl Union International has headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine that serves as a the center for all member organizations and affiliates. International facilitates four ongoing programs:
The Children's Fund
The Humanitarian Aid Division
The Invalids Fund
HTML by Chris Cochems. Last updated 11/25/98.