Monday, November 26, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Corruption, Official Neglect Mean People in Russia’s Bryansk Oblast Still Suffer from 1986 Chernobyl Accident

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 –Bryansk Oblast was exposed to more radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl accident than any other region of Russia, but 26 years later, more than 330,000 of its residents are still living in heavily contaminated areas because corruption has diverted resources intended for them, according to an expert on nuclear ecology.

            Alla Yaroshinskaya, a specialist who has written numerous books on nuclear accidents including Chernobyl, says that corruption and the failure of officials to follow the law mean that many in Bryansk oblast still “cannot leave their radioactive homes” and are suffering from cancer and other diseases as a result (

            “Chernobyl will remain with us forever,” she writes, especially in the 16 oblasts of the Russian Federation near the border with Ukraine and Belarus that were affected most profoundly.  And among these, Bryansk has suffered more than any other. Twenty-one of its districts were contaminated, and only five are considered entirely safe.

            Lyudmila Komogortseva, the head of the Rights Defense Association NGO in Bryansk, told the nuclear ecology expert that 330,000 people still live in the exclusion zone where radiation is dangerously high, including 15,000 children. In addition, much of the agricultural land in the oblast is too radioactive to be used safely.

            Initially, Yaroshinskaya continues, people were not moved away by the Soviet authorities because there was no housing for them anywhere else. But even when the Russian Federation allocated funds to move people, this money was not used to do so in many cases but rather enriched criminals who engaged in fraud – and then were protected by the courts.

            According to Komogortseva, certain “’biznessmeny’ exploited human suffering for their own profit. The fraud worked in the following way: Entrepreneurs bought up old huts” and then demanded astronomically excessive compensation for them because these “houses” were in the exclusion zone.

            The oblast commission responsible for helping Chernobyl victims protested, but the fraudsters went to court, “and the courts supported” not the victims but the perpetrators of such frauds.  As a result, Moscow could and did point to the enormous sums of money it was spending to “help” the victims, but little of this reached them.

            More than that, Yaroshinskaya  says, for the last “quarter of a century, neither the federal nor the local authorities have found even two kopecks for moving children’s homes and hospitals out of the dangerously radioactive regions of Bryansk. Sometimes officials have remodeled them but then effectively left the patients to die.

            Medical officials in the region say that the level of illness of children in these homes is overall twice as high as elsewhere in Russia and that some of the illnesses have rates in Bryansk Oblast that are order of magnitude higher. Much if not all of this pattern is a result of radioactive contamination of the area.

            “How many years yet will be required for the Russian state to fulfill its obligations before these entirely innocent people and resettle them in ecologically secure places?” Yaroshinskaya asks plaintively. “An entire post-Chernobyl generation has already grown up,” and still the authorities are not protecting people from radioactivity and greedy businessmen.

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