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Life for Survivors of Chernobyl in Belarus

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Posted on 6/19/2013

The Chernobyl disaster, which occurred on April 26, 1986, was one of the worst nuclear catastrophes in history. Caused by a power surge that overloaded the plant's core reactors, the resulting explosions released radioactive particles that spread over much of Europe and the western parts of the former Soviet Union. Today, the effects of this terrible accident are still being felt in Belarus.

Conflicting Evidence

There has been much speculation about the connection between the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and serious medical conditions such as cancer and birth defects. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), aside from the 30 initial fatalities caused by the explosions and subsequent fires, few deaths in Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia can be directly attributed to the Chernobyl disaster. However, given the WNA's role as an advocate for nuclear power, these figures have been disputed by some scientists, including the authors of "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment."

Following extensive investigations by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), apart from a marked increase in reported cases of thyroid cancer, there was a significantly lower impact on human health in the region than initially believed. The full extent of the tragedy, however, may not be understood for many years.

Enduring Scars

However, one aspect of the catastrophe that was, and is, a serious problem in Belarus and neighboring countries is the psychological harm felt by people living in the area surrounding Chernobyl. Fearing radioactive contamination of the areas surrounding their homes, many people suffer from prolonged emotional trauma that survivors of natural disasters often experience. In addition, alcohol abuse and other harmful behaviors have increased in many parts of Eastern Europe, including Belarus, a country ChildFund serves.

Another major problem caused by the Chernobyl disaster was population displacement. Around 116,000 people were evacuated from the area following the disaster, and the anxiety that stems from the uncertainty about potential exposure to radiation takes a toll on the mental health of survivors. The government of Belarus is currently engaged in a major relocation project to return families displaced by the catastrophe back to their homes, with the goal of rehousing more than 137,000 people from the Gomel and Mogilev areas.

Today, 27 years after the catastrophe, the people of Belarus are learning to rebuild. In the meantime, ChildFund will be there to help children and families.