By Byron Crawford, The Courier-Journal
Louisville, Kentucky, Friday, April 16, 2004
LOUISVILLE - Leonid Dayen, a masterful wordsmith, still searches after 18
years for adequate words to describe the Chernobyl catastrophe.
Dayen, who is now 74 and a U.S. citizen living in Louisville, has published
20 books of poetry and prose in Russian and Ukrainian, and he wrote the
1988 narrative "Chernobyl - Bitter Grass."
He worked 42 years as a journalist in the former Soviet Union, and many
years for the newspaper Democratic Ukraine in Kiev, from which he was
dispatched to cover the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown on April 26,
"Chernobyl, in my view and in my mind, doesn't have the age; the first
anniversary or the 18th anniversary - or in 2086, the 100th anniversary -
the memory will be the same," Dayen said. "I'm not sure in what time it
will continue, not only in memory but in reality. The influence of radiation
was very, very deep, and we don't know what will be the future."
"Chernobyl for me was, is and will be the topic of pain. ... Not
only for me, but a lesson for humanity," Leonid Dayen said
Crawford, The C-J)
Dayen, who was aboard a helicopter that circled at low level over the
burned-out reactor soon after the accident, was hospitalized with radiation
poisoning for one month, temporarily lost sight in one eye and may have
permanently damaged his immune system.
"THE FIREFIGHTERS who worked against the fire died during two weeks in
May -from May 9th to May 26th - and there is a statistic that probably
4 million people in some areas of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia were victims
in bigger or smaller levels, but thousands of people died," Dayen said.
He described as a "dead zone" the 30-kilometer radius of extreme
contamination, from which most cities and settlements had been abandoned by
their entire populations of hundreds of thousands. But by some estimates as
many as 3 million people still live in contaminated areas. Dayen laments
censorship of many stories he wrote about the Chernobyl catastrophe
prevented critical information from reaching those directly affected.
"Censorship threw out not only sentences, not only some paragraphs, but
sometimes the pages, too," he said. "Chernobyl for me was, is and will be
the topic of pain. Physical pain in my life, and moral, human pain - not
only for me, but a lesson for humanity."
DAYEN'S WIFE, Anna, a teacher, and his 4-year-old grandson, Max Chopovsky
and his parents, were evacuated from Kiev, about 90 miles from Chernobyl,
after the disaster. The families moved to Louisville in 1994.
Max, who is now 21 and a senior at Miami University of Ohio, recently
translated Leonid Dayen's latest booklet of poems, "Voice of the Soul,"
(Richard's Printery) into the first English publication of his poetry.
Many of his poems, while not specifically about the Chernobyl tragedy,
are tinted by Dayen's continuing sorrow for his homeland. And his poem
"Zones" compares the disasters visited upon Chernobyl and Manhattan:
"... Unforgiving connections of tragedy
Cruelly keep all the continents tied.
On Kreschatik (Kiev's main street) as well as on Wall Street
All the grief - will it ever subside?"
Dayen's grandson said he spent about two years editing and translating the
more than 30 poems from Russian to English for "Voice of the Soul."
"The reason it took me so long was because I tried to keep three things
constant within the poetry - the rhyme, the meaning and the meter, and that
was very difficult to do," Max Chopovsky said. "The challenge lay not in
literally translating the poetry, but in preserving its true meaning and the
heart originally put into it":
"Indulge our earth, oh kindness, grace us all
Protect our hearts from malice, from aggression
So we can all from magic pages read
The lines that speak of happiness and passion"
- from Dayen's "Indulge."
Byron Crawford's column appears on the Metro page Sundays, Wednesdays and
Fridays. You can reach him at (502) 582-4791 or e-mail him at
email@example.com. You can also read his columns at
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