The Chernobyl Reconnaissance
During the Summer of 1995 Peter Kingsley-Ducane of International Children's Medical Aid wrote a short report on The Suffering Legacy of the Forgotten Children of Chernobyl. I knew what I had to do.
The Chernobyl Reconnaissance was blessed by a chance meeting in October, 1995 with Victor Kubik, an American who spoke fluent Ukrainian and Russian, although he would deny this. What is chance other than an unseen hand, for from then on all doors opened with ease. I came to be profoundly grateful to Victor for his untiring and patient translating and his persistence in transmitting this diary on his laptop at all hours along the brittle telephone lines. As a result of his warm and caring personality the Ukrainian people opened their hearts to him and through Victor I was able to enter into their minds.
This diary is the result and it speaks for itself.
Maurice J.N. Frohn
Honorary Consultant Surgeon
Oakwood House, Woodchurch
Kent, England. TN26 3QD
Telephone and fax No. 01233 861359
(outside the UK: 44 1233 861359)
Dr. Vasily Pasechnik
Dr. Anna Yakubova
Dr. Natalya Zenchenko
...and all those others who did not run away
It is one decade since the Chernobyl disaster. The nuclear power plant lies in the flat woodlands of the Ukraine close to the border of Belorussia. The reactor fuel was rods of uranium dioxide moderated with graphite. Water cooling circuits raised steam to the turbines. The engineers were testing the ability of the generator, while freewheeling, to power the cooling pumps after its steam supply had been cut off, as might happen during a power failure. The test on Unit 4 started at 01 00 hours on 25th April. At 01 23.40 on the 26th April the reactor became super prompt critical. At 01 23.48 a steam explosion dislodged the 1000 ton steel and concrete cover plate, three seconds later the reactor exploded and ejected molten fuel. The exposed graphite caught fire releasing radionuclides into the atmosphere for ten days covering the whole of Europe to a wide range of radionuclides irregularly distributed by the rainfall. At the plant, emergency personnel and fire-fighters received high doses of beta and gamma radiation and thermal burns. 21 "liquidators" who received doses over 600 rad were dead within 28 days. The plant workers' town Pripyat, one mile away, was evacuated on the 27th April in good order within 3 hours with no time to pack. 135,000 people were evacuated from a 30 km zone. Offers of homes, clothes, money and blood revealed the common bond of the Soviet people in misfortune.
Of the many radionuclides distributed by the plume, the most dominant were isotopes of iodine, caesium, strontium and plutonium, associated with highly radioactive fuel particles and dust. The external exposure to radioactivity in most of Europe was less than would be experienced by a London-Spain jet return flight. It was the internal exposure which was significant, the highest doses being received by children drinking fresh milk from herds grazing contaminated pastures. Green leaf vegetables, lamb, fruit and rainwater were further sources of internal exposure. The effect of the iodine isotope was short having a half life of 8 days but the caesium isotope has a half life of 14 years, contamination being greatest where rainfall was greatest. The incorporation of isotopes into the food chain remains a source of internal exposure but it is expected that the increase of cancers in non-Soviet Europe will be barely detectable.
In March 1991 the International Chernobyl Project produced a technical report which was subject to limitations of time, the vast area covered, some inadequate data and a limited number of experts available for the study. However, it was noted that the high level of stress was linked to socio-economic, political and relocation changes rather than to radiophobia.
In 1990 the children were generally healthy. Up to 15% of adults required medical care which is similar to non-contaminated areas. Growth rates for children were unaffected and there were no thyroid biochemical changes. Immune systems were competent and blood examinations revealed no change. The incidence of cancer was rising before 1986 and there was no increase in leukaemia or thyroid cancer associated with the disaster. There was no change in the incidence of congenital abnormalities. The observation was made that the benefit of evacuating from a contaminated area could be marginal compared to the reduced longevity as a result of the emotional disturbance and difficulties of relocation.
Since 1995 relief agencies and the news media have reported that the full effects of the disaster are only now beginning to emerge with a sudden increase to hitherto unknown high levels in childhood malignancies, especially of the thyroid and leukaemia. Personal communication has revealed that the problem is compounded by the prevailing social and economic conditions leading to failure of the medical services to provide definitive or palliative care, not because of lack of will but because of lack of essential resources.
It is proposed to visit the Ukraine for a reconnaissance of the condition of the people, their hospitals and staff. It is not intended to interfere or wallow in tragedy but to estimate the need where required and wanted. Individuals do not have the authority of impressive committees but individuals can move and reconnoitre faster and wider and be less intrusive and intimidating, without the burden of schedules and protocol of committees.
On return it is proposed to inform and mobilise the charitable foundations and individuals in the UK and to utilise the resources offered in the USA. The Chernobyl disaster has been overshadowed by more European wars. This visit will not solve the overwhelming problems but it will show the Ukrainian people suffering as a result of the world's greatest nuclear accident, that they have not been forgotten.
Radiation and Health. R.R. Jones and R. Southwood. 1987
Chernobyl. The Real Story. R.F. Mould. 1988
The International Chernobyl Project. An Overview. 1991
Friday evening 12th April, 1996.
Meeting at Polyclinic No. 2, Chernigev with Dr. Vasily Ivanovich Pasechnik, Dr. Anna Yakubova (Director) and Dr. Natalya Zenchenko (nervous diseases). The five of us gathered around a coffee table laden with open sandwiches of sardines, cheese and sausage seated in very comfortable arm chairs. First, Dr. Pasechnik toasted us as visitors with vodka. We all touched glasses and drank. The meeting had begun. I introduced myself and explained the purpose of this visit. Victor translated fluently and at speed. I think he was enjoying himself. From Polyclinic No. 2 children will be referred to the Centre for Medical and Social Rehabilitation due to open in June, 1996 under the care of Dr. Vasily Pasechnik. The building is not finished, it is not fully equipped and it is in debt.
The Polyclinic serves 33,000 children. 160 doctors including specialists, will attend the clinic. Some doctors will be responsible for 600-800 children. The clinic is necessary because the incidence of disease among children has increased by a factor of three since 1986. Of all children aged up to 15 years old only one percent are healthy, 99 % have a malady of some sort. Also, the onset of disease occurs at a younger age. The first effect of the radiation is to reduce the competence of the immune system leading initially to respiratory and middle ear infections followed by diseases of the nervous system such as paralysis and epilepsy. There is much neurosis and psychosis, it is emphasised that these are directly attributable to the effect of radiation on the brain and not due to radiophobia. Then are followed diseases of the endocrine, renal and gastro-enterological systems.
It is children who were most affected by the radiation in 1986 and especially those entering puberty at 12-13 years old. The girls are now mothers, only 3 percent of their children are born without abnormalities. All pregnant women are anaemic at 80-65 g/l (Normal 140 g/l). The nutrition of mothers is poor living largely on bread and potatoes. Many babies show jaundice and anaemia and many are premature. 70% of babies have central nervous system diseases. Spina bifida has not increased.
The sperm of fathers who were nuclear plant workers show chromosomal damage and give rise to children with malignancies and congenital abnormalities. Boys entering puberty are impotent, have deformed spermatozoa and are of a weak physique.
Cancer of the thyroid in children was unknown in Chernigev before 1986, the first appeared in 1989. In Nagasaki the first case of thyroid cancer appeared after 8 years. Chernigev has the highest incidence of cancer of the thyroid in children in the world. They are sent to Kiev for therapy. There is an increase in thyroiditis (Hashimoto disease) and thyroid cysts.
Status asthmaticus is believed to be due to genetic alteration. Of the renal diseases glomerular nephritis and Wilms tumours (neuroblastoma) are seen. Grawitz tumours (adenocarcinoma) are not seen. Adrenal tumours have increased.
There are 60,000 emotionally disturbed children treated by two doctors using psychotherapy and antidepressants. A girl whose mother was evacuated from Pripyat, has cancer of the pancreas.
The Ukrainian Economy
After independence in 1991, Ukraine lost contact with the Russian manufacturing centres. The Ukrainian economy was based on a military industrial complex which has now gone. Natural resources were squandered and are exhausted. Now there is no money to purchase essential medical equipment and drugs.
The Ukrainian soil is black and fertile and represents 30% of the world's food producing soil. In the past fertilisers were used heavily, leaching the soil of nutrients, now they have no fertilisers and the soil cannot produce the yield required and there are many weeds. The people do not wish to return to the socialism of the past. Their only hope is in the people who will pull through.
Manufacturing has been falling since the 1970's leading to inevitable collapse. Ukrainians live on outside help. The stockpile of medical resources of three years ago have been used. In Chernigev the death rate is higher than the birth rate and the population of the oblast of Chernigev is falling. The population of the city of Chernigev was 320,000 in 1986. There is no help even from their fellow doctors outside Chernigev. In the 1970's there was a nuclear reactor accident in the Urals where whole villages were wiped out. This accident was covered up by the government and doctors.
The problem of Chernobyl is not only a problem of Ukraine, it is a problem of mankind. The Ukraine is now independent but it is also alone.
Saturday 13th April, 1996
Breakfast conversation with Dr. Vasily Pasechnik and Dr. Anna Yakubova.
The Polyclinic No. 2 was designed to serve 15,000 children but now serves 33,000. Under socialism everyone was born perfect and so no calculation was made for abnormalities. When Ukrainian society became open it had to face the facts. In 1991 it was decreed by the Council of Ministers of Ukraine that every town should have a centre for rehabilitation including children but this has not been fulfilled. It is expected that the people should do it themselves with international help. Only 6 capital cities of the 25 oblasts have established rehabilitation centres.
In 1985 there were 275 children in the Chernigev area who were invalided. In 1996 there are 851 children who are invalided. Half are psychologically disturbed and requiring social help and half have physical problems such as orthopaedic deformities and spasms requiring intensive physiotherapy, medical help and social rehabilitation. Therapy for 25-30 days costs 71 million Coupons (191,000=1 dollar). Dr. Vasily Pasechnik is in charge of children's rehabilitation in the oblast of Chernigev. In 1988 he was 2nd in charge of the care of mothers and children for the County. He received the honour of a government award as a doctor of distinction in Ukraine. In 1992 he supported the proposal to open to the people a hospital which was for Communist Party workers only. The Communist privileges were stopped but the Communist City Council demoted him to his present job. In the past he had appointed the present Director of Polyclinic No. 2, Dr. Anna Yakubova, to her job. They appeared to be good friends despite the change in positions.
The level of radiation in Chernigev is 13-15 microrads per hour, the upper limit of normal is taken as 20 microrads per hour. Around the railway station the radiation had been 2800 microrads per hour. After the accident on April 26, 1986 the radiation in Chernigev fell to below 20 microrads per hour by September 1986.
The population of the Chernigev oblast is 1.4 million and it is declining at the rate of 20-30,000 per year. The death rate is 30-40,000 per year. The birth rate is 15,000 per year. In Ukraine a child is by definition 0-15 years old, an adolescent is 16-18 years old. The Chernigev oblast has 262,000 children The City of Chernigev has 62,000. Before 1986 there were 68,000 children.
The family structure in Chernigev is poor with many single parent families. There are now more divorces than marriage. Women work mainly in factories while the men move out in search of work. Children are put into the once free nurseries or are in school which have a longer day and provide meals for the children while the mother works. Now nutrition in the nurseries is poor and the nurseries are expensive. They are only half full when at one time there was a waiting list to get in.
Of the 62,000 children in Chernigev, two thirds have the status of affected by radiation, that is, 40,000. Only 1% are considered to be perfectly normal.
The oblast of Chernigev is divided in 22 areas or rayons. Seven out of 22 rayons have been designated disaster areas and 140,000 children have been affected by radiation. Each effected child has a Certificate of Radiation Risk which enables it to receive special benefits and to be studied until the age of 40 years. Every child should have three months sanatorium treatment but only 3000 went to a sanatorium last year because of a lack of money. The whole Ukraine pays a 12% tax for the Chernobyl accident but as income is so low, there is little money coming in.
Very few women in Ukraine have leadership roles. It would be better if they did as they would be more caring.
When radiated children are travelling they are obvious. They are thin, gaunt and with small bones. They are hyperactive, cannot concentrate and cry easily. They complain of headaches, insomnia and socialise poorly. Before 1986 5% of children had central nervous system (CNS) disturbances. Now 30% have CNS disturbances. In addition there is an increase in sexual problems, promiscuity and drug addiction. There are 2 to 3 suicides per year among children and 20-30 attempted suicides in Chernigev. The Polyclinic has a hotline for children to get help.
All medical and social services are working to their limits with the result that many children end up a alone. Alcoholism among children is increasing. The legacy of the Soviet Union is abundant and cheap vodka which can also be made at home. Children start drinking at a very young age and ten year olds have presented at the Polyclinic with alcohol poisoning.
A bottle of vodka costs one third of the price of one kg of meat which costs about 700,000 Coupons. A doctor's salary is $40-50 or 10 million coupons a month. In 1994 a doctor's salary was $12 a month. Dr. Anna Yakubova's mother lives in a village just outside the Dead Zone and she grows all her own vegetables. This way people survive.
1000 people with their children have moved back into the restricted zone which is a 20 miles radius around the nuclear plant. The levels of radiation in the restricted zone are not publicised. The level of radiation is irregularly distributed even in local areas. Radiation zones are classified as follows:
1. Restricted or Dead Zone 30 km radius
2. Relocation Zone 15-30 Curies per sq km of caesium and strontium
3. Voluntary relocation zone 5-15 Curies per sq km of caesium and strontium
4. No relocation 1-5 Curies per sq km of caesium and strontium
Zones 1-3 are eligible for financial help if possible
An area is considered clear if it is below 0.9 curies per sq. km
Families with small children and/or sick children are relocated.
The regional edition of Pravda for 1986 was studied. The front page is a national page. The first announcements from TASS of the Chernobyl accident was on the 6th May, one third down on the right side of the front page. The short article expressed thanks for all the help offered but stated that it was not needed. The article declared that the accident had been blown out of proportion It had caused distress, but trust us, it said.
On the 11th May a short article at the bottom of page three emphasised that the situation was stabilizing. The main news was about the spring planting. No mention was made in the news media about the blocking of the thyroid with potassium iodide until 17th May, 1986.
Presentation of clinical cases by Dr. Natalya Zenchenko and Dr. Vasily Pasechnik.
1. Olga M. (silent one) Date of birth 19th December, 1983, daughter of Nicolai and Larissa.
No family history of malignancy. Now 13 years old and interested in ballet, dancing and gymnastics. This patent was in Chernigev and 2.5 years old at the time of accident.
On 23rd June, 1995 she fell off her bicycle and developed abdominal pain. A surgeon considered she had acute appendicitis but a laparotomy revealed blood in the peritoneal cavity. Examination revealed a friable tumour of the pancreas which had ruptured. The patient was sent to the gastroenterology unit in Kiev and an operation was performed on the 25th July, 1995. The pancreatic tumour was excised and histology confirmed a carcinoma. The patient had a fistula which healed spontaneously after six months. Two courses of Sandostatin were of no benefit. Each injection cost $100 for a father who earned $50 a month. The patient did not have radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
At present the patient is asymptomatic. Abdominal ultrasound on 13th April, 1996 confirmed no evidence of recurrence.
Weight 39 kg (lowest post operation weight 29 kg) Eating well. Haemoglobin 110 g/l, leukocytes 7.6 x 10 to the power 9 per litre. On examination the abdomen showed a 20 cm long well healed mid-line abdominal scar.
Therapy needed - vitamins and minerals.
Question: Which drugs can be given to stabilize and/or stimulate the immune system?
The Commission considered that carcinoma of the pancreas in a 12 year girl was a direct result of the Chernobyl accident.
2. Vitaly K. Date of birth 4th October, 1986, now nine years old.
The mother Nina was in Pripyat one mile from the nuclear reactor. The mother was 16 weeks pregnant on the day of the accident. The parents were healthy and there was no family history of genetic disease.
A small quiet boy presented. Weight 23 kg, height just over one metre.
He was unable to walk or use his arms. He was paralysed due to complete atrophy of the muscles of the upper and lower limbs. The hands were deformed with contractures similar to Volkmanns. It was discussed how radiation affects the brain to destroy the motor nerves leading to muscle atrophy and paralysis. The eyesight was poor, not due to cataract, but due to retinal damage. There were no hearing or heart defects.
Therapy needed - physiotherapy including hydrotherapy. The Centre for Rehabilitation was urgently needed. The Commission considered the this boy's defects were due to embryonic radiation, that is, radiation while in his mother's womb.
3. Lena Z. Date of birth 23rd August, 1982 accompanied by her grandmother. Her mother committed suicide in 1993. The father has since remarried. The patient was in Chernigev and 4 .5 years old on the day of the accident. Now 13.5 years old. The menarche was unaffected.
During a routine health check at school, a nodule was palpated in the left thyroid and confirmed on thyroid scan and ultrasound. Biopsy confirmed carcinoma of the thyroid.
The patient was admitted to Kiev Hospital and a total thyroidectomy performed 25th May, 1993. The patient is on Eltroxin 150 micrograms daily.
The patient is asymptomatic and has no difficulty with swallowing or hoarseness.
Therapy needed - vitamins and minerals. Also psychological support. The patient is easily distressed and tearful. The Commission considered that the carcinoma of the thyroid in this girl was caused by radiation and she was eligible for financial support but this cannot be paid until 1998.
Sixteen children in the city of Chernigev alone have had total thyroidectomies performed. There are many more children with thyroid cancer outside Chernigev.
Easter Sunday (Eastern Orthodox) 14th April, 1996. Morning.
Conversation with Dr. Natalya Zenchenko.
Radiation can stimulate (or upset) the vomiting centre in the medulla oblongata causing vomiting up to 30 times daily resulting in a coma. This condition is treated with intravenous fluid therapy and sedation.
With an average IQ radiation can cause some IQ's to increase or decrease. It is in effect disturbing the norms. In Korosten the mental health status of School No. 5 was remarkably higher despite being one of the most contaminated towns in the region. The reason for this high status was thought to be due to good dietary supplementation, sanatorium rest programs and supporting therapy which appears to mitigate the adverse chronic effects of radiation. (precis of paper by V.S. Podkorytov, Kiev Conference May 24-28, 1995 Ukrainian Institute for Chemical and Experimental Neurology and Psychiatry).
Very intelligent children develop strange behaviour and become ostracized, drug addicted and suicidal. Only Polyclinic No. 2 has a hot line for children in distress to telephone for help. Last night Dr. Natalya Zenchenko was on duty. A seven year old child telephoned because it was alone in the flat. This occurs often because parent(s) cannot afford a baby sitter. Children wear their house keys around their neck to let themselves into their empty home. There are no family support services. Children are trained to live on "enthusiasm" because there is nothing else.
The city is divided into territorial units of 600-800 children who come under one doctor at the Polyclinic. About 20% of patients are referred to specialists either within the Polyclinic or to a hospital in a major city for surgery or special therapy. In the past, the respect for life has been low, for example the transportation of people to Siberia had a 60% death rate. Today the dignity of life is becoming more respected. The release of serfs was in 1861; the release of slaves in USA was also in 1861.
On Friday 26th April, 1986 Dr. Zenchenko went to her dacha 65 km from the nuclear plant. She saw many helicopters and thought they were on a military exercise. The radio was silent about the accident. On Monday there were rumours about the nuclear plant explosion from wives of the firemen. Still nothing on the radio. Tomatoes were exceptionally good and beautiful in 1986 but it might have been the hot summer. It was thought that a skull X-ray would protect against the effects of radiation. The explosion was not loud because it was a rupture of the steam pipes, not a nuclear explosion. People fishing nearby saw the roof on fire and went to see out of interest. Chernigev was affected largely by radioactive iodine, while Belarus (White Russia) was affected by radioactive caesium and strontium.
One project leader of the nuclear power station shot himself one year later. The Director of the station was imprisoned. The fail-save mechanisms which would have prevented the accident had been switched off.
The nuclear power plant had much more uranium than was needed because it was a breeder reactor producing uranium for military purposes.
Much effort has gone into separating radiation induced diseases from natural causes induced diseases by a study of pre and post-accident statistics by the Institute of Radiology, Kiev. Other ecological factors which reduce immunity are calculated and considered. The effects of radiation are more measurable with children than with adults with a background of illness. Also, the incidence of disease in contaminated areas is compared to non-contaminated areas.
Radiation of pregnant women produces smaller foetal head measurements.
The hypothalamus is the regulatory centre for temperature, sleep, sexual activity, blood pressure, hormone cycles and immunity status. It is the vital centre of the control of multiple functions. It regulates all variable sensory input but radiation has been stable for millions of years at 12-15 microrads per hour and so there is no regulatory mechanism for radiation. The central position of the hypothalamus makes it anatomically a highly protected organ but it is readily penetrated by radiation which disturbs the vital centres, resulting in physical and psychological diseases and unsociable behaviour. Not all diseases in this region are due to radiation but the accident could not have happened in a more fragile society than Ukraine because of its many other social, economic and political struggles. All these factors have been compounded to produce the present state of extreme distress, but the fact remains that the radiation has been the overwhelming disaster.
Drugs of addiction are grown in the central Asian republics and are illegally distributed. Poppy seeds are grown in the home and used for seasoning.
Many societies are now so critically balanced, that all that is needed is a nuclear explosion of this type for their final destruction.
It is not true that seeds are not germinating in the region of the accident and many plots outside the Dead Zone are clean (less than 0.9 curies /sq km of Cs and Sr.) Everything is grown except pineapples! A greater problem is insects and infection of plants due to total lack of pesticides and herbicides.
Dr. Natalya Zenchenko is Russian and grew up in Omsk, Siberia until 1980. Her family have been in Siberia for 200 years. Her mother was a doctor specializing in epilepsy. Natalya stays in Chernigev because her mother and job are here and this is her home. Where does one go where there are no problems? Natalya grew up only 200 miles from the atomic trials zones and 150 miles from the Urals nuclear power plant accident in 1957. Her father died of gastric cancer, her grandmother died of brain cancer, her grandfather died of skin cancer, a neighbour died of kidney cancer.
When the Commission checked all the school children they found that 99% had an illness. Of the 30,000 children, 20,000 will come to the Polyclinic with symptoms such as abdominal pain or fever. Very few ask for psychiatric help. Some ask for help but do not need it; some need help but do not ask for it. An effort has been made to examine school children before the onset of symptoms. The urine, blood and stools are examined but only 5,000 kits were sent for 30,000 children. There is no funding. 70% of children with thyroid cancer and 50% in Chernigev present with metastases in the regional lymph nodes, hence the need for routine school examinations.
Polyclinic No. 2 had its first ultrasound machine in 1994, although there were ultrasound machines in the city hospitals long before. 80% of children attending the Polyclinic No. 2 are treated in the Polyclinic. The whole system needs streamlining.
There is a good department of theoretical genetics in Chernigev but it is impractical for clinical use. In 1937 to 1939 genetics was considered to be a capitalist prostitution and scientists were went to prison and some were shot. Lysenko did not recognize genetics and taught that an improved environment would result in improved human behaviour. Children were separated from their siblings and parents and collected according to ability. Eugenics was practised under Lenin. It appears that a high IQ is often associated with physical problems, for example Dostoevski, Napoleon and Peter I all had epilepsy. It is said that Nature relaxes with children of geniuses, that is, they are not so bright as their parents.
Psychologists teach that for a strong and stable society 90% of the people of a nation should be healthy, have average intelligence and be cared for according to Biblical principles. Lenin was highly intelligent and very theoretical but when he applied his theories to politics he became a maniac.
Medial care in Ukraine is free with the result that it is abused. 60% of doctors need training in psychology because 90% of patients are neurotic. On the other hand, many patients die just for a lack of antibiotics.
When a hen lays an egg, there is no trauma. Human birth is traumatic, it would be better if humans could lay an egg! Women are dying in delivery from haemorrhage and sepsis. Once the genetically weaker would die, but now the policy is to save everyone. Some children who were weak and frequently ill were sent for holiday in Cuba. Good western medicine is practised in Cuba and many children improved.
In Ukraine orthodox medicine is practised. Homeopathy in not practised, it's effect is not due to the homeopathy but due to the human contact. Acupuncture is used but not understood. The Japanese are observing and measuring one village to learn more about the effects of radiation.
Lunch at Dr. Anna Yakubova's home, 6th floor of tower block with Dr. Vasily Pasechnik and Dr. Natalya L. Zenchenko. Also Alise, a long-haired grey kitten.
It is confirmed that 70% of children with thyroid cancer present with lymph node metastases. In Chernigev it is 50% At the time of the accident the Health Minister evacuated his own children and grandchildren while he told the people that everything was under control. The concerned doctors gathered together but the City Council told them to mind their own business even as late as 6th May, 1986. Dr. Pasechnik went to a village called Dnepropetrovskaya on the edge of the Dead Zone and he measured the radiation with a Geiger counter. There was a very high level of radiation, the counter was crackling with radioactivity, yet children were running and playing around. He reported his findings but he was told, "You do your job, and we will figure out the dose that these kids can take." They added that the dose was not all that bad. Everywhere the radioactivity was high. The head of a collective farm did not know what to tell the people, so he gathered an action committee and asked Dr. Pasechnik to tell them what to do. He told them to bathe and change their clothes, but there were no baths in the village. He told them not to drink the milk and to use powered milk instead, but there was no powdered milk. Some people panicked, while others contemplated. Some drove 50 km to Chernigev and asked for powdered milk at a farm. They were told that Dr. Pasechnik was causing a panic and other towns would not let him in.
Dr. Pasechnik's findings were confirmed by a woman doctor. The City Fathers told the doctors that they were not doing their job properly. Dr. Pasechnik wrote a report dated 6th May, 1986 to the City Council and kept a copy. Dr. Pasechnik also recommended potassium iodide for the children . The report was hidden and denied. The order for potassium iodide to be distributed was given only by 17th May.
Steps which should be taken for a nuclear reactor meltdown by Dr. Vasily Pasechnik:
1. All homes and buildings within 100 km should have the windows closed and curtains drawn.
2. Everyone, but especially children within 100 km, should take potassium iodide tablets IMMEDIATELY. Potassium iodide tablets should be readily available in every family medicine cabinet, school and hospital. Potassium iodide is to block the uptake of radioactive iodine, it is not a treatment for a radioactive thyroid.
3. All food eaten must be clear of radioactivity. No milk, meat or vegetables should be eaten which has been produced within a radius proportional to the size of the accident.
4. Geiger counters should be readily available for each family. Regular checks should ensure that the batteries are charged and the instrument functioning properly. Past experience has shown that when needed instruments had flat batteries and/or were defective.
The radioactive zones should be allocated according to the Geiger counter readings and evacuation commence immediately. Pripyat, one mile from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, was evacuated one day after the accident, even this was too late. The level of radioactivity at which relocation is indicated should be authoritatively determined before an accident and the level made known to the public as general civic knowledge. Some authorities may consider that evacuation should commence when 10 rads per year is reached. Chernobyl initiated evacuation at 25 rads per year and later raised it to 50 rads per year. The internationally accepted figure is 7 rads per year. These figures should be publicly known and understood, then panic will not occur and radiation induced diseases can be limited. The public should be mentally prepared to where they would relocate beyond 100 km of their local nuclear reactor before an accident occurs.
5. In the event of a nuclear plant accident, the effected public should study the meteorology reports on wind direction, plume direction and rainfall.
6. Everyone subjected to radioactive fallout should bath or shower and put on fresh clothes. Buildings and cars should be hosed down.
It is ignorance and the unknown which causes panic. A civic and personal plan of action is the responsibility and duty of all members of the public BEFORE the rare eventuality of a nuclear power plant accident.
The Chernobyl "liquidators." were given documents which stated that they had received 25 rads even though they had received 200-300 rads. The radiation fall out at Chernobyl was 400 times greater than at Hiroshima. The Italians have a national plan for radioactive fallout and the public are informed. We are not.
We are in the nuclear age. Without nuclear power there is insufficient energy. There must be a moratorium on the building of new nuclear power stations until all safety aspects have been reconsidered. There was far too much uranium fuel in Chernobyl because it was as breeder plant for military purposes. It would cost $4 billion to provide alternative energy for Chernobyl alone. Totally safe nuclear power reactors do not exist because a reactor can be struck by a plane, a meteorite or terrorists. The public needs to know what to do BEFORE an accident occurs.
Risk factors must be reduced even further. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant was built by Moscow and now they have walked away from the responsibility. Ukraine has 11 nuclear power plants and even sold energy to western Europe. The Russian army was concentrated in Ukraine. Ukraine has only 10% of the natural gas it needs, the rest comes from Russia. At present Ukraine is undecided whether to turn towards NATO or towards Russia. If the West showed more willingness to help with the Chernobyl accident, then Ukraine would turn to the West for trade. It already leans to the West but is economically bound to Russia with whom it is disenchanted.
The Ukrainian people are greatly concerned at the way its own government turned on its own people and especially its children. During May, 1986 top government officials, who had evacuated their own children, were on the parade route by the Lenin Monument in Chernigev, some wearing protective clothing while they accepted garlands of flowers from scantily clad young girls to prove that conditions were safe.
When the rain came down as a yellow foam, the people were told it was due to the flowering poplar trees.
Monday 15th April, 1996.
Conversation with Dr.Vasily Pasechnic at the Intourist Hotel.
Dr. Pasechnik informed Victor and me that there would be television interviews on Tuesday 15th April. He said that many investigators and journalists came here and used the information for their own use and profit. We assured him this was not our object. Everyone enters the room declaring "Christ is risen" - "Christos bochrec". The chambermaid told Victor he was wrong to wash his shirt on Easter Sunday. I was told by a "verger" yesterday while visiting an Eastern Orthodox church to take my hand out of my pocket as it was not done - and this is supposed to have been an atheist and communist nation! The Jehovah Witnesses and Baptists have a strong foothold here.
We always wondered in the West why Russian and Ukrainian portraits were so stern. It is because it is considered vulgar to show the teeth, hence the unsmiling pictures.
Politics in Ukraine:
In 1986 Ukraine was one of 15 republics of USSR. Politicians do not understand the democratic system, while the people think that democracy is to do what you want. The laws do not allow democracy to work, they encourage anarchy. No one accepts responsibility and there is no accountability to each other. The mind set is dependence. There are 400 deputies but each one wants to run the country his own way and many want to return to the old ways of the USSR.
There is a wide spectrum of parties ranging from the Communists and Socialists to the Centrists to the Democrats and there is lack of co-operation between the groups. At present it is the President's proposed constitution versus the Communist's proposed constitution and the deadlock has become a political crisis. Efforts are being made to find a solution. The President is in charge of the government and weapons. A strong leader is needed and called for and he may have to become a dictator.
On 17th April the Rada or Council start working on a Constitution which could be blocked by the Communists who want their plan to return to the old system. The President may have a referendum. The village women will vote Communist. People want food and security rather than independence with no food and insecurity. A Constitution and good laws are needed. In the present political uncertainty, there is no investment and money is flowing out into foreign banks.
Went to Polyclinic No. 2 and studied their mortality statistics prepared by Dr. Natalya Zenchenko. A graph showed that the increase in the death rate is proportional to the intensity of radiation not only of Chernobyl but worldwide. Other scientists have published papers on this subject, E.J. Sternglass 1982, G. Ferrari et al 1988.
Uri S. Date of birth 16th January, 1985. Now 11 years old.
The patient was in Chernigev at the time of the accident.
A clinical examination performed at school in December 1991 revealed a 14 mm diameter nodule in the right lobe of the thyroid close to the midline. The patient was referred to Kiev Hospital and a total thyroidectomy and excision of right regional lymph nodes was performed on 3rd March, 1992. Histology confirmed follicular carcinoma and lymph node metastases. The patient has a right Horner's syndrome or constriction of the pupil, following surgical clearance of malignant nodes from the sympathetic nerves in the neck and which, of necessity, were divided.
At present he is asymptomatic and has a fair appetite. He is on Eltroxin 125 micrograms alternating daily with 100 micrograms.
On examination, there is no evidence of recurrence. There is a well healed collar incision extending to the right pinna (ear). He is in need of vitamins and minerals. His mother is on a pension of $ 10 per month resulting in poor nutrition.
Classification of Radiated Children: Group 1 Embryonic (in utero) radiation in 1986. Childhood radiation born before 1986 (subject to radioactive iodine). Group 2 Child of a radiated father ) ) born after 1986 Child of a radiated mother ) Group 3 Child living in radiated area born before or after 1986 (subject to radioactive caesium and strontium).
Today is a quiet day, probably because it is National Recovery From Vodka Day.
Slavutich is a new settlement in the 3rd Zone 35 km from the nuclear power plant for the engineers and administrators. The workers come from all parts of the former USSR and each republic is represented by its own block of architecture. Over the entrance to the Hospital is a meter counting the caesium radioactivity which reads 15-16 microrads per hour on 15th April , 1996.
We stopped the car and spoke to the Chief Engineer of the nitrogen and helium plant, Yuri Michaylovich Zorin and his wife Olga and daughter Lillian. The nitrogen and helium displaces oxygen around the graphite moderators preventing them from catching fire. He has worked daily in the nuclear power plant since 1991 and appeared to be confident and at ease. Nice family.
Then onto the village of Pakul also in the 3rd zone where Maria Borisko, mother of Dr. Anna Yakubova has lived for 50 years. Her husband died in November 1995 and she is tearful about her acre because she cannot cultivate it as her husband did. She has a goat for milk, hens for eggs, rabbits for meat, apple trees, bee hives, and a vegetable plot as well as a black cat and a little dog. Far too much for her to manage alone. She makes her own bread in a great oven fired with wood. The home is humble, but spotless and inviting.
She speaks how she suffered under Stalin's collectivisation when children were taken from their parents and distributed elsewhere. Then in WW2 she watched as the Germans forced her family into their home and burnt it down. Her husband was a war hero with seven medals which she showed us with pride. She brought up three children, two daughters and a son, one of whom became the Director of Polyclinic No.2.
Then came the Chernobyl disaster and she has not relocated. She receives a pension of $10 per month and as compensation for the war she received a once only payment of 73,000 coupons, just enough to buy a loaf of bread.
The meal was the produce of the acre. Potatoes baked in cabbage in a blackened earthenware pot with birch tree sap to drink and multiple small glasses of vodka and beer followed by coffee. Also home baked bread and passover cake and cream. An abundant feast. On leaving, she presented a traditionally embroidered runner as a gift, then more embroidery which had to be refused. Out of such great suffering and lack of material wealth came a spirit of generosity which was overwhelming, an example never to be forgotten.
10.30 am Tuesday 16th April, 1996.
Dr. Vasily Pasechnik took Victor and I to The Young Childrens' Nursery No. 25, which is adjoining his unfinished Chernigev Centre for Medical Social Rehabilitation for Disabled Children in Rokossovsky Street. We were introduced to Valentina Dvornicova, Director of the Nursery and Natalia Vaseleonova who performed the mental assessments. Children attend the Nursery from 2.5 years to 7 years old then they are entered into a school.
We walked around the Nursery and watched groups of children dancing in circles with a teacher or sitting at their tables drawing. I shook hands with the children who would step forward and give me their names - Igor, Androushke, Tania, Katuschka, Roma and Shenya - and introduce their soft toys to me. There were two groups, those with orthopaedic problems such as scoliosis and those with cerebral problems such as mental retardation and brain damage. Although most came from stable homes, the nutrition was poor, even in the Nursery.
There are chronic shortages of most foods. There are no apples or oranges because they are too expensive and not affordable by the majority. Relief was expressed because a delivery of flour had arrived at the Nursery this morning. The Director said that Ukraine may have 30% of the world's fertile soil but it had 80% of the world's problems. There was discussion on how Ukrainian soil had been leached by nitrates and the ecology damaged by widespread draining programs of swamps and lakes. The benchmark year was 1964 when Kruschev died and the following year grain was imported from Canada. In 1996 30% of the land in Ukraine will not be sown because of lack of petrol and machinery. The area around Chernobyl was both the most beautiful and richest of the oblasts (counties) in Ukraine. Meanwhile politicians cannot agree on what to do and continue to argue among themselves. They do not understand the concept of a coalition government in a time of crisis. Leonid Kuchma is the President of Ukraine and he comes from the oblast of Chernigev. Ukraine has oil fields but these supply only 10% of its demand for oil. There are plans to lay a pipeline from Iraq and develop the oil terminal at Odessa. Coal production near the Don basin is down and coal is now imported from Poland and Russia. The feeling is that Ukraine has been dumped and it is very vulnerable.
In the afternoon we returned to Polyclinic No. 2 and visited a subdivision on the opposite side of the street, where we were introduced to Dr. Katerina Ivanova, Head of the Division; a tall, fair, middle aged woman who spoke beautiful Russian like a musical instrument. She described the clinical problems of the children which attended her Clinic. The classification differs from Anglo-American style of describing disease patterns but it is no doubt just as effective. Children presented with congenital birth defects; hypothalamic damage causing dystonia resulting in circulatory diseases such as hypertension in up to 2% and hypotension in 20%; 1,500 children were diagnosed with hyperkinesia; also endocrine diseases especially goitres and thyroiditis; over half of all children seen presented with chronic gastric diseases, dyskinesia and functional disorders. Once, the clinic only saw a few children with such disorders but now they are commonplace and Dr. Ivanova is convinced that the great increase in multiple diseases of the pulmonary, nervous, cardiac, renal and gastro-enterological systems is multifactorial, that is the unclean environment, poor social conditions, poor nutrition all made worse by the radiation. Therapy is co-ordinated with the schools and she has observed that children from strong family units can be greatly helped.
Although there is inadequate data conditions are not improving. The health of children in the villages is worse than in the city because of the slower medical help. The object of the staff of the Clinic is to give reliable psycho-social support in a stressed population - a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear. Their needs are simple. Dried milk, milk drinks, chocolate type drinks and fruit juices. Their children love the pictures in books about the Bible. Wherever one goes the request for multivitamins and minerals is paramount, also non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antacids, antibiotics and, of course, thyroid extract tablets.
We were then escorted by Dr. Ivanova through the therapy departments of the Clinic. The overall therapy is designed to calm the disturbed vital centres of the hypothalamus, an unusual therapy for Anglo-American orthodox medicine and one about which, after study, we could afford to learn much. First, a detailed history of the child is taken followed by a clinical examination and recording of the temperature and weight. A specific program for the child is designed. This may consist of massage followed by dance and gymnastics. This may be followed by a selection of a wide range of physiotherapy techniques involving electrical and fluorescent apparatus and inhalation of warmed eucalyptus oils and other herbs. The child will then have one hour of electronically induced sleep, after which the child is examined by a dental surgeon. Those children who have mild to moderately severe asthma or other pulmonary difficulties undergo powdered salt therapy. This unit was designed by Dr. Anna Yakubova because it had been observed that some pulmonary conditions, especially asthma, improved in the dusty conditions of the salt mines which became therapy centres. The salt mine atmosphere was simulated in a tiled room in which about 3 children would sit for half an hour each day for between 23 to 50 days. In an adjacent room a powerful motor reduced salt to a fine powder which was blown into vents of the ceiling of the therapy room producing a salt fog which was inhaled with reputed much benefit. This salt therapy unit was in operation in three shifts from 8 am until 6 pm.
There were rooms where children would play games or with toys and there was a comfortable cheerful social room for talking or resting. The atmosphere of the clinic and the therapy induced a calming effect with a success rate of 80% in disturbed children. What might be missing in the latest technology or decor was more than made up by the caring personalities of the doctors and nurses we met. An impressive unit.
This evening Victor and I invited our three host doctors to a thank you dinner at "The Restaurant". It was a memorable evening held in the white and gold private room, while we watched Victor on television. The toasts of vodka went round and round. I gave a toast to Ukraine and the need for a strong hand from somewhere, whereupon I heard Dr. Pasechnik say to himself "God".
Victor and I have been to hell and back, but we also found heaven. We found that the human spirit can survive in the most evil of environments. When we argue among ourselves and grumble among our comforts, we should say the names of the radiated children: Olga, Vitaly, Lena and Yuri and tens of thousands more.
The Chernobyl reconnaissance is over. Our findings are true. Thank you for reading this report. Over and out. Over to you.
Maurice and Victor
If you the reader of this diary would like to send a donation to relieve this suffering please send to:
Chernobyl Childrens' Account,
6 High Street,
Kent. TN30 6AJ
In the United States:
The Chernobyl Fund
P.O. Box 476
Greencastle, Indiana 46135
Victor Kubik and I will personally see that it reaches those in need.