A few weeks ago, I attended a full-day symposium in the Beaird Lounge of the Oklahoma Memorial Union. The topic was the Chernobyl disaster that occurred in Pripyat, Ukraine, in 1986. My Spanish professor, an Austria native, presented a roughly 20-minute story about her life before, during, and after the disaster. She recalled growing up in her home city, brave and excited and happy. She was mostly unaffected by the explosion, but she believes that her grandfather passed away from cancer as a result of radioactive poisoning (he lived nearer to the disaster).
My professor recalled that she and her classmates (and most young people) began a fervent advocacy for environmental protection after the explosion, urging their parents and other family members to ride bicycles instead of using vehicles or to recycle and purchase unpackaged food. She recalled the valiance with which she and her friends responded to the Chernobyl disaster. Rather than being fearful and upset, my professor said that she and her companions were optimistic and excited to improve Austria after the devastation. In particular, when she was very young and first learning about the event, she remembers that her family warned her against going outside. They explained to her that the rain was “sour” (she was unable to understand the meaning of “acid rain”), and because she loved sour candy and the taste of lemon, she wanted to go outside and taste it.
In her closing, my professor said that she saw a major improvement in her country and the surrounding regions after the Chernobyl accident. People rebuilt their communities with the environment in mind, and those that were (thankfully) unaffected by the radiation were able to help those that were.
Events like Chernobyl are scary. Hearing my professor’s first-hand account of the event was pacifying, honestly, because I’ve always seen the more catastrophic repercussions – deformed babies, extreme pollution, and the horrific sickness of the people that were most affected by the radiation. Unfortunately, I do not have a more intellectual analysis of this event, but I will say that Chernobyl was an indescribably unfortunate happening, and I grieve for the people who suffered because of it.