Today is the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. 1986 I was 24 years old and Ukraine was just a far away corner of the USSR. But last summer I had the opportunity to travel to Kiev, got to know some of its people and visited the Chernobyl museum among other things.
Our tour guide at the museum skillfully guided us through the exhibits and imagery. There were city signs hanging from the ceiling. As you entered you see the white signs with black letters that are similar to our “Welcome to…” signs. But when you are inside the museum and turn around the signs are black with white letters and red slashes through them. He explained these were all the cities, towns and villages that do not exist any more. They and their people are completely gone.
We stopped at a case that had two newspapers. One was the soviet paper. It was from April 29, three days later. On page three there was a small paragraph that said there was an accident at Chernobyl but they had it under control. Next to it was the New York Times from April 27, the day after. Its front page highlighted the disaster. The guide said while there were other forces at work (economic and political) this was the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union. The people realized that the government did not care about them.
There was a monitor that displayed how the radioactive cloud drifted.
Mostly I will remember a woman named Galina that we had dinner with. She lost her husband because of the meltdown
and continues to care for her daughter who was effected by the radiation. She told us her story of struggle, loss and faith. It can be found here.
Today I am reminded of what happens when we can attach faces to things. It brings disaster close to home. It keeps us from making sweeping generalizations. It gives us pause before we pronounce judgement on a people or issue or cause. Today I am reminded of how easy it is to forget or dismiss the tragedies that happen far away from us, but how they become part of us when we attach faces to them.