Belarus: The Contaminated Zone

Sarah Grundmeyer

On April 26,1986, a malfunction occurred at a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. This caused the release of over 50 million curies of radioactive material into the Soviet air. The Soviet republic of Belarus, which was the least equipped financially and medically to weather the consequences of nuclear fallout, received 70% of this radiation (Zaprudnik, 1993).

As a result, nearly 200,000 people were removed from their homes within a 30 kilometer radius of Chernobyl. Financially speaking, total damage caused was estimated at 206 billion rubles. This sum does not begin, however, to entertain the emotional stress that has been inflicted on the Belarussian people as a result of this disaster. Not everyone who owns a home in the contaminated zone has moved. Despite ambitious aid programs passed over from Moscow, many Belarussians have not the means nor the will to relocate. The dangers for those who remain in Belarus result not so much from particles in the air as from radiation in the soil. Lab equipment was delivered to collective farms at the time in order to test the soil for unacceptable levels of radiation, but even these efforts cannot be considered reliable (Marples, 19%).

Most frightening are the medical horrors that have resulted from the Chernobyl crisis. Since 1989, there have been annual conferences devoted to the discussion of health repercussions in areas affected by radiation fallout. Some problems that have been observed are complete immuno-deficiency disorders, as well as an unusually high frequency of leukemia in children. These phenomena would be difficult to treat in the West, let alone in Belarus, which is 30 years behind the United States in terms of equipment in hospitals (Marples, 1996).

Also immeasurable is the level of psychological distress that plagues citizens who remain in Belarus. Because Moscow was unwilling to admit that such a disaster could occur on Soviet soil, a truthful assessment of damages was not received until 1989. At this time, the Soviet state created a clean food and financial aid program that was little more than ambitious. The Chernobyl crisis forced citizens to realize the Communist government's inability to improve the living conditions of its people. As a result, these people became distrustful of official structures and lost faith in their government. Often they suffer constant mental stress resulting from fear of the impact of radiation on the health of family members, particularly on children who have developed cancer (Zaprudnik, 1993).

Since 1989, nations all around the world have rushed to lend aid to the victims of Chernobyl. Of most immediate concern is the future of Belarus--the children. One particularly effective endeavor called "Chernobyl Kids" has a branch in Massachusetts. This program invites Belarussian children who suffer from some sort of cancer to live with an American family for a month and reap the benefits of western medical care. The health of these children inevitably improves during their stay, but the long-term prognosis seems bleak. The most stable solution for Chernobyl's victims is perhaps a permanent relocation. However, obstacles will always, it seems, lie in the path of residents of the contaminated zone.


Marples, David R. BELARUS: FROM SOVIET RULE TO NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE. St. Martin's Press, New York. 1996.

Zaprudnik, Jan. BELARUS: AT A CROSSROADS IN HISTORY. Westview, San Francisco. l99




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