Sunday, May 1, 2016

Chernobyl-Hit Regions in Russian Federation Get Little Attention and Ever Less Support

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 1 – Most people in Russia and the West link the Chernobyl tragedy to Belarus and Ukraine, the two republics hardest-hit by the 1986 nuclear disaster, forgetting that adjoining regions of the Russian Federation were also affected and that 1.3 million of the five million people still living in contaminated areas are Russian citizens.

            Gennady Sharipkin, an RFI correspondent, says such forgetfulness has made it easier for Russian officials to do even less than their Belarusian and Ukrainian counterparts to protect the population and clean up the region, leaving the southwestern portion of Bryansk oblast “simply terra incognita” as far as Chernobyl is concerned (

                What is striking, the journalist continues, in comparison with Ukraine and Belarus, there are “practically no signs warning about radiation dangers” in contaminated parts of the Russian Federation. As a result, what should remain an exclusion zone is completely open for anyone who wants to come and go, picnic, fish, collect mushrooms and so on.

            Initially, the Soviet authorities declared two-thirds of the districts of Bryansk oblast to have been contaminated and made plans to resettle residents, including all 40,000 people in the city of Novozybkov. “But after calculating the cost, they decided that it would be simper to remove the top and most contaminated later of the ground.”

            Even at that time, Greenpeace says, Soviet officials evacuated Russians from these places only when there were much higher levels of cesium-137 than those that led Belarusian and Ukrainian officials to act.  As a result, Russians living in contaminated areas were and still are exposed to more radiation than those in the neighboring countries.

            The situation became worse, Sharipkin says, last October when the Russian government reclassified most of the cities and villages in Bryansk that had been “zones of resettlement” into “zones with the right to resettle,” a downshifting that meant there was less money and less support available to those who seek to move out of this area.

            At the same time, the Russian government eliminated many of the benefits it had earlier offered Russians in the contaminated areas, including free admission to universities, supplements to pay and pensions, longer vacations, and earlier retirement ages for both men and women. Residents wanted to protest but were talked out of it by officials.

            One local activist says that he and others will turn to the courts to seek a return of these benefits to at least those who have been living permanently in Bryansk oblast since 1986. At present, they have launched a petition drive in support of that goal.

            The Russians in Bryansk oblast are motivated both by the findings of outside experts like Greenpeace that radiation levels are still well above those deemed safe even by Russian officials who continue to insist that now “everything is normal” and by higher than average rates of cancer and other diseases among the population.

            And they are also agitated by the fact that the cutbacks in government subsidies mean that they will be forced to eat more locally produced food, much of which is radioactive. That in turn means that for the Russian victims of Chernobyl, the next 30 years may be even worse than the last.


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