I visited Chernobyl from September 24 through October 1. This trip could be almost defined as a trip to see Fukushima 26 years from now. I must admit there was some hesitation on my part about going ahead with the trip. However, as I and my fellow women of the group often talk about applying the lessons learned from Chernobyl in creating a society without nuclear power, I could not refuse this precious opportunity. I stayed in Kiev 4 nights, Ovruch (north of Kiev, closer to Chernobyl) 2 nights, and had one overnight flight. This 8 day trip revealed before my own eyes so vividly the world I only had known based on information on paper and screens. It took 16 hours to Kiev via Moscow. They are 6 hours ahead of Japan. Due to this time difference, or the tension of being in the middle of the worst reality called Chernobyl, I could not sleep very well on the first night.
Children and "Запороyкa "
On September 25, we first visited the office headquarters of the organization called "Запороyкa", which provides support in the cancer treatment for children. We delivered the donation from the “Fund for Safe Food and Living” to them. Then we paid a visit to the paediatric ward of the National Hospital. Some children were lying in bed with their mothers watching them, and others looked fine at a quick glance (many of whom have lost their hair as a result of the treatments). As we had the permission, we took the liberty of taking pictures from outside the door. The children seemed to be accustomed to being the subject of photographs. My thought went to their mothers, wondering what may be going through their mind, as they watched the scene.
A doctor in a managerial position at the hospital briefed us. He provided various statistics, but the main gist of what I heard was: there is not enough funding for doing the necessary research; and in the 1980’s in Ukraine, the diagnostic methods were not adequate, therefore the statistics are only available from the last 10 to 15 years. I asked three questions that have most relevance to the situation in Fukushima; 1) incidents of ailments other than thyroid cancer; 2) the possibility that illness among the children was observed in the first year following the accident, not after 4 years (as claimed by Japanese doctors closer to the government); and 3) the effect of low level radiation on health. However, it seemed that I could not get satisfactory answers. Anywhere you go, you may run into a situation where free speech is not encouraged. This was a "national" hospital in Ukraine. It may be challenging for the doctor to speak openly from an official position. Well, this is what I was told afterward by the organizer of this tour. I got it. It is the same in any country!
A visit to the "Home for the Families". This home is in a village outside of Kiev, in an environment surrounded by abundant apple trees. The building looks like a large Bed and Breakfast. This is a place where families from the countryside with limited resources can come and stay for free while their children receive treatment in the specialized hospitals in Kiev. The "Запороyкa" organisation that I mentioned earlier operates this home. We met a number of children in treatment here as well. Among them was a girl whose mother is 21 years old. There are cases in which children born to parents, who themselves were born several years after the Chernobyl accident, are getting sick. The effect of radiation exposure is clearly passed on, from one generation to next. Another girl appeared to be in good health, but we learned that she was affected by multiple illnesses and was waiting for an operation. Sitting in the sun on a bench outside, I watched the children play games to lift their spirit up. "What is going to happen to the children in Fukushima?" Despite the comfortable breeze on my body, my thought turned that way. I could not help but hear the deep cry of Fukushima here too, though I was far from home. (to be continued)
"It can be deduced from the data that there is a possibility of gene damage among children born to the parents who suffered radiation exposure after the Chernobyl accident."
(a remark by Yevgeniya Spepanova, Ukraine government’s Scientific Centre for Radiation Medicine, in a presentation given in Koriyama, Fukushima on April 11, 2012)
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