Build Ukraine

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COMMENTARY By Ihor Gawdiak, President
Ukrainian American Coordinating Council (UCCA)
Washington, D.C., New York, NY, Monday, April 26, 2004

Every year at this time, Ukrainians the world over recall and mourn the epic tragedy of the Chornobyl disaster. For those in Ukraine who were directly affected, Chornobyl is not just a sad anniversary, but an ever-present shadow that continues to loom over their lives because of its devastating, long-lasting effects.

The world has basically forgiven or forgotten about Mykhail Gorbachev, who chose not to inform the public about the meltdown until it was detected by sources outside the Soviet Union. The West seems content to gloss over Gorbachev's culpability and to allow the much-vaunted mantle of his glasnost legacy to settle comfortably about the man's well tailored shoulders.

Instead of a wakeup call concerning the tremendous dangers of nuclear power stations, Chornobyl has become for the West an afterthought. Instead of thoroughly investigating and reporting on accurate health, social, ecological, and financial effects of the Chornobyl disaster and its aftermath, the Soviet authorities covered up the subject and farmed out the investigation to the International Atomic Energy Agency which produced shamelessly shallow, incomplete, and dismissive findings in its report.

A file picture shows an aerial view of the ruined fourth reactor of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Photo taken April 1986
(REUTERS/Vladimir Repik)

We in the diaspora can hold memorial services, erect monuments, and give speeches about Chornobyl, but to truly honor and memorialize the victims of Chornobyl and those who continue to suffer, we need to continue helping not only with material resources, but we should strive to see to it that:

    ---the history of what happened at Chornobyl is not only dealt with but accurately described in school and university textbooks around the world,
    ---humankind learns the lesson of Chornobyl, i.e. that nuclear power plants--no matter how "clean" the energy they provide in the meantime--present colossal dangers which we are unable to completely and forever prevent, and
    ---Ukraine becomes a truly free, open, and democratic society where accidents and disasters are not covered up, where people can vote freely, where diversity of opinion is not punished and freedom of expression is a right everyone shares.

The horrific explosion at Chornobyl spelled the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union. There is no better way for the leaders of the Ukrainian people to commemorate the many victims of that disaster than to truly commit themselves to complete the process of desovietization and to help Ukraine reach its democratic potential so that 2004 will go down in history as the beginning of a new era in the life of Ukraine, a turning point to be celebrated and not mourned in the future.


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