Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Nuclear Memories

Ever since the nuclear crisis in Japan first unfolded, neighbors and friends have been asking me: “Does this bring back memories?”

A Wiki picture

the Chernobyl nuclear reactor after the explosions

I was an unsuspecting eight-year-old Soviet citizen living in the Ukraine when on April 26, 1986, a nuclear reactor ruptured in a series of explosions in the small city of Chernobyl some 155 miles away from my home, leading to the worst nuclear disaster in human history. Even days later — after the nearby town of Pripyat was evacuated and the Western media started raising alarm, many of us ordinary Soviets were unaware. A mere week later we were, in fact, encouraged to attend a May 1st International Day of Labor parade under a light, spring rain, laced with radioactive fallout.

For the record, I didn’t go. My mama, who lived in Moscow at the time and knew some big people through her connections with the prestigious theater arts university she was attending, called my grandmother and me and told us to stay home that day.

Later, of course, the news leaked out, as sure as the radiation that spread throughout the Soviet Union, Western and Eastern Europe, and even the rest of the world. The Republics of Belarus and Ukraine, where I was born and lived at the time, were most affected. Still, news or not, I remember caring very little. The teachers gave us mild warnings: wear head coverings and keep your windows closed. Most kids dismissed the advice —  I was among them. I don’t remember much other than just living my eight-year-old life. Trading calendars with my girlfriends. Playing war out in the yard with the boys.

The following year my mama whisked me away to Moscow Region. Through bribes and connections, she settled me in a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, nestled in the pine woods beyond Moscow. Though I never suffered from TB, my health could have certainly used some of that fresh air and medical care.

In the months and years that followed, things started happening to me — strange things. I started getting sick. One problem followed by another kept landing me in children’s hospitals for weeks, sometimes months at a time. Migraines intensified. They stayed with me, pretty much the rest of my life (though I am doing MUCH better now with long walks that seem to really help, and acupuncture). The best doctors in Moscow, and later on the other side of the Atlantic, tried to make sense of my headaches and hormonal irregularities. Not one of them could give an answer. Of course, we’ll never know for sure how much of it was due to the nuclear fallout. We can only guess.

Today, I am doing well. I have two relatively healthy and VERY beautiful children, for which I am grateful.

Today, I join the world in praying for Japan. I AM thankful that as bad as their crisis is, they are working hard to contain it, and are being much smarter, more efficient and more open about it all, compared to my former compatriots.*

*(Even as I say this, I cannot fail to mention the firefighters and the nuclear reactor workers that were on the ground on that fateful day — and in the terrible days that followed — risking their lives, some unsuspecting, but others knowing, in order to deal with a level 7 nuclear disaster — the kind that so far has never been repeated anywhere in the world — and I hope never will be. Those people died — or survived, some of the lucky ones — as heroes, doing the best they could while dealing with humanity’s worst nightmare. No one could criticize them. No one would want to.)

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March 23, 2011 Posted by | Personal Mirror, Politics and Religion, The U.S.S.R. | , , , , , | 9 Comments