From Pain: The Children of Chornobyl
by Joseph Sywenkyj
April 26, 1986, reactor #4 at the Chornobyl* Atomic Energy Station in
northern Ukraine exploded. As a result, an estimated 260 million curies
of radiation were released. This is approximately 200 times more radiation
than was released by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Radiation from Chornobyl
rained down on unsuspecting victims and their unborn children in Ukraine,
Belarus, and Russia contaminating some of the world's richest soil and
condemning millions of people to future illnesses and death.
Recently The New York Times reported that Ukraine's infant mortality
rate stands at 21 deaths per 1000 live births. This is about three times
higher than the European average. In a hospital in Volyn, Ukraine, a
doctor told me that there are regions in Ukraine where the average is
closer to 30 deaths per 1000 live births. In the past five years, Ukraine's
population has declined from 52 million to fewer than 50 million. Currently,
Ukraine and Belarus are the only two nations in the world experiencing
a decline in their overall population. Also, several studies have shown
that since Chornobyl, birth defects due to chromosome damage have doubled.
The Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund (CCRF), a non-profit humanitarian
aid organization, arranged for me to travel to Ukraine last summer to
document the aftereffects of radiation on children and the conditions
in which many of these children live. I traveled for four weeks and
photographed children with cancer and severe birth defects. I was touched
by the courage of children who were undergoing cancer treatment. Many
were only six or seven years old, yet they seemed to carry the weight
of adulthood on their faces.
In several orphanages I witnessed and photographed an absolute nightmare.
Half-naked children in tattered clothing lay on urine soaked wooden
floors. Legs and bodies were contorted in every angle but straight.
If all children are angels, these children had their wings clipped and
were thrown into a living hell.
Chornobyl's last operating reactor (#3) was officially shut down on
December 15, 2000. The 15th anniversary of the disaster was April 26,
2001. The public needs to be informed that exposure to the radioactive
fallout of Chornobyl continues to destroy lives. The total number of
those affected may not be realized for at least another fifteen years.
Today Ukraine is facing a health crisis. The quiet cries for help from
sick children must be heard. Informing the public of the health effects
of Chornobyl will give a voice to these innocent but unfortunate children.
THE WORLD CAN NOT AFFORD TO IGNORE WHAT HAS HAPPENED IN UKRAINE. WE
MUST LEARN FROM THIS NUCLEAR DISASTER.
The US Library of Congress and the National Geographic Society recommend
the Ukrainian spelling of Chornobyl instead of "Chernobyl,"
the spelling used during the Soviet era.
Photographs and text © Joseph Sywenkyj