29 March 2010

28. Chernobyl: A Russian Journalist's Eyewitness Account

Chernobyl: A Russian Journalist's Eyewitness Account - Andrey Illesh
I have read many books about Chernobyl. They all write extensively about the events of the night of the disaster, the response, the recovery and the investigation. This one gave those same subjects a bit of discussion and then moved in a different direction each time.

This book was published in 1987. It was only one year after the accident. It was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The news was still new and the cleanup was still being accomplished.

This book wrote about the people. It wrote about the firemen, but did not leave of with them. This book wrote about nurses, construction workers, taxi drivers, the families that took in entire relocated families into their homes. It wrote of the doctors in Moscow working to save the injured and the relationship they had with the American and European specialists who came to help. It wrote about how the farmers would plant certain crops to leech different types of radiation from the soil or other crops because they did not absorb other kinds of radiation.

This was a fascinating side of the story that I had only gotten glimpses of from the other books I have read.

The author had me wondering though. He seemed to back the Soviets in all the decisions they made. I understand that we tend to do the same with our own government, usually, and that we have many years of cold war propaganda to dispel to truly be allowed to see Russia for what it is. My problem is that I know the Soviets used the media to control the people. This author was a reporter for Izvestiya, a major daily paper in Moscow. Was he spewing the party line or was he telling the whole truth? I think he leaned toward the “story” as opposed to the truth, but that does no make much difference in the stories of these people’s lives.

As an example of what I mean, here he is writing about “Account No. 904”. This is the name of an account opened in Gosbank (the government bank) for receiving aid funds brought in voluntarily by Soviet citizens and organizations as well as from other countries. He goes on to say “Every resident of the USSR voluntarily contributed one day’s labor without pay. The day’s salary for this day of work was transferred to the fund used to help those who suffered from the accident.”

Really? Every resident did this? Every resident volunteered to do this? Like I said, I am sure there were many that did, but wouldn’t it be more like the Soviet way to tell the world that every citizen volunteered for this? Yeah, right. Sure they did.

No matter if the author was a puppet for the Soviet government spewing propaganda to control the masses or if he was a writer attempting to dispense the truth in some diplomatically acceptable way, this book was an excellent read and provided an insight into a culture that we rarely get to view.

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