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Ask me about … the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster and its lingering effects

PATRICIA SABATINI, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, psabatini@post-gazette.com 2 May 22,

Olga Klimova-Magnotta is a lecturer and director of the Russian program at the University of Pittsburgh who teaches a humanities course on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

A native of Belarus, she was 7 years old when a massive explosion at the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) resulted in a fire and the uncontrolled release of radioactive contamination. Ms. Klimova — who moved to the U.S. in her early 20s ,was living in the Belarus capital of Minsk at the time of the accident, about 200 miles north of the explosion — or about the distance from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg. 

She believes her heart problems stem from radiation exposure. “Many children born or growing up during this time had heart diseases,” she said.

“We all had different health issues. … The doctors connected it to the radiation.”

Talk about the course you teach on Chernobyl. What is the goal?

2021 marked the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl. That’s when I decided to develop the course and draw attention to the Chernobyl tragedy. I wanted students to be aware of the disaster and specifically about its continued effects on the ecosystem and the social, economic, political and cultural lives of people in the area.

Many in the United States didn’t know much about the explosion of the Chernobyl plant before the popular 2019 HBO miniseries [“Chernobyl”]. At least half of my students registered because they watched the miniseries and wanted to learn more.

What stands out in your mind about the catastrophe?

I think it’s the fact that none of us who were living in this area knew the real impact of the disaster. Because radiation is invisible … many of us didn’t know. We were not informed by the government about the negative effects of radiation. There was a lack of information.

When I was growing up after 1986 and in the early 1990s, the disaster affected a lot of people in terms of health. A lot of people started to suffer from [cancer and other health issues]. The numbers of these diseases grew dramatically. Doctors would explain it was because you were a child of Chernobyl.

What are some things about the Chernobyl disaster that you think people would be surprised to know?

I think people would be surprised that the government refused to acknowledge that radiation had a big impact on people’s health.

A lot of volunteers went to Ukraine to do cleanup. It was the Soviet Union. A lot of people in Belarus [also formerly part of the Soviet Union] and Russia and also Ukrainians were sent there. People didn’t get disability or special help with their health issues.

People living in the area were severely affected. Many had long battles with the government trying to get support and get treatment at the hospital. The government denied that the health issues people were having were directly connected to the nuclear disaster.

…………..  The radiation hasn’t disappeared. It has a constant effect on people’s health………………………………..  https://www.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2022/05/02/1986-chernobyl-nuclear-disaster-ukraine-olga-kilmova-magnotta-university-of-pittsburgh/stories/202205010040.

May 3, 2022 - Posted by | health, Ukraine

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