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The affected community

How clearly can the community affected by Chernobyl be identified? Initially, it was confined to evacuees from a zone within 30 kilometres around the damaged reactor, as well as people who worked to decontaminate the area. As more information has been acquired, the sizes of the impact zone and the impacted population have increased. If one includes all the 1993 population living in the territory contaminated with over 1 curie (=3.7 x 1010 Bq) of caesium per kilometre in the soil (the figure most commonly used to indicate a serious problem), the size of the impacted community has been estimated at 2.2 million in Belarus, 1.6 million in Ukraine, and 700,000 in Russia (Charnobylski sled na Belarusi 1992: 7), i.e. a total of 4.5 million persons.

The clean-up crews, whose numbers have been estimated at around 600,000, may have been the group most affected physically by Chernobyl but, strictly speaking they cannot be considered part of the local community. Many were young military reservists, often from distant regions, and very few had any ties with the places in which they worked. It is also important to distinguish among several other groups: these comprise those who were evacuated initially; those who were evacuated but chose to return to their homes (mainly the elderly); the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant; those who were evacuated in subsequent waves; and - by far the largest group today - those who are living in areas that are designated as contaminated zones.

Among people who were initially removed, the largest single group was the population of Pripyat. Despite official optimism and statements such as that of Hans Blix, by late 1986 it was clear that the city of Pripyat could not be repopulated. Soviet authorities therefore ordered the construction of a new city for plant employees and their families, about 65 kilometres to the northeast of the Chernobyl plant, in Chernigov Oblast, to be called Slavutich.18 By 1989, the only remaining activity in Pripyat was at a hothouse (which had been transformed into an experiment station for comparing the growth of non-irradiated and irradiated plants) and a swimming pool, which was used by the hothouse workers and by officials at the Kombinat Association (later Pripyat Industrial and Research Association) based at Chernobyl to coordinate the clean-up operation.

Residents of Pripyat were moved in different directions: some nuclear plant operators were transferred to other Soviet nuclear power stations; others were moved to apartment blocks in Kiev or Chernigov that were made available for them on a priority basis; others were eventually transferred to Slavutich. Pripyat thus remains today a ghost town, its buildings intact but without a population. By contrast, there are still some personnel at Chernobyl itself. The former Kombinat Association was disbanded by the independent Ukrainian government after decontamination efforts in the 30 kilometre zone had ended, but personnel were still required to monitor the state of the covered fourth reactor, and especially to check the concrete covering (the "sarcophagus"), which by 1992 was revealed as unstable (Marples 1992a: 57).

Evacuees from the 30 kilometre zone are also unlikely to return to their former homes in the foreseeable future. Some have been employed on collective and state farms in other regions. The radioactive isotope caesium-137 has been the most damaging to livelihood. At first, scientists were optimistic about the ability of humans to withstand increased radiation, but the question soon gave rise to furious disputes between the central authorities in Moscow and non-government organizations and critics in Kiev. What may have distinguished Chernobyl from other international accidents was the complete rift that occurred as a result of conflicting interpretations of the event in Moscow (the centre) and the two (periphery) republics most affected Belarus and Ukraine. This conflict culminated in a ferocious argument about radiation tolerance (Marples 1993c).

The details of this conflict have been covered elsewhere (Marples 1989). Suffice it to say that, by the early 1990s, both the Ukrainian and Belarusian governments had lowered the tolerance limits for those living in zones affected by Chernobyl from 35 additional rems over a natural life-span (cited as 70 years), or an additional 0.5 rems annually, to only 7 rems, or 0.1 annually. As radiation levels in the atmosphere have decreased significantly since the accident, this tolerance is monitored through the amount of caesium, strontium, and plutonium that is contained in the soil. It should be added that the most harmful and plentiful element released initially was iodine-131, which was especially damaging in a region of iodine deficiency. Radioactive iodine was quickly ingested by the thyroid glands of the population, and of the children in particular. But the half-life of iodine-131 is only 8 days; that of caesium-137 is 30 years.

Concern was initially expressed about places with a caesium uptake in the soil of over 15 curies per square kilometre. The reduction of tolerance levels, however, meant that even at 1-5 curies per square kilometre the ground should be subject to constant monitoring.19 At 5-15 curies, the population, in theory, had the right to be evacuated. New laws were issued after the publication of maps in the early spring of 1989, which indicated that areas of radiation fallout were much more extensive than had at first been revealed.20 They also indicated that the Republic of Belarus was the most severely contaminated as a result of the accident, while the most extensive - but not the most dangerous - fallout had occurred in the Russian Republic. The communities most affected lay in the oblasts of Gomel and Mogilev (Belarus); in Bryansk (Russia); and in Kiev, Chernigov, and Zhitomir (Ukraine).

It should be stressed, however, that the pattern of fallout was uneven. Not all regions of the oblasts were contaminated. Radiation levels could vary by 10-100 times merely on crossing a street or a field. Areas of peat and sandy soil and of woodland, such as those prevalent in southern Belarus, proved to be particularly susceptible to radiation penetration. Many remote villages could not be provided with clean supplies of food and water by the respective governments. In some cases, especially among elderly people, families continued to live off the products of the land long after the accident and even after the publication of the radiation maps in 1989. Further, the psychological impacts of Chernobyl were much more difficult to define than the medical impacts.

Since 1986, local residents have become increasingly mistrustful of the central authorities. An initial period of governmental silence, followed by reassuring comments, appears to have had the opposite effect to that which was intended. In 1989, for example, individual investigators in the Narodichi Raion of Zhitomir Oblast (Ukraine) discovered that radiation levels there were higher than in most areas of the evacuated zone. The discovery fuelled existing fears of radiation and prompted an acute distrust of the Soviet government among all sectors of society, from local doctors to party officials.21 In the Ukrainian case, events in Narodichi provided a further incentive to activists in Kiev, who considered that the central government had concealed the real effects of Chernobyl. In Belarus, which did not possess the same degree of national consciousness as Ukraine, popular reaction to the secrecy that surrounded Chernobyl was much slower to develop.

As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union towards the end of 1991, the republics inherited the responsibility of dealing with communities affected by Chernobyl. This herculean task was beyond the capabilities of the Soviet government, but the newly emerged independent states were additionally hampered by severe financial and economic problems. The USSR Ministry of Nuclear Power and Industry, which operated the Chernobyl station, was replaced by a Ukrainian Nuclear Safety Inspectorate, under the leadership of the director of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Mikhail Umanets. The USSR Ministry of Health was replaced by Ukrainian and Belarusian equivalents. After Ukraine's declaration of sovereignty on 16 July 1990, the Ukrainian health authorities took over the Centre for Radiation Medicine in Kiev, which had formerly been administered by the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences. Essentially, the dismantling of the USSR had both a positive and negative side. Beneficially, the republics' governments could now formulate their own plans for the affected communities without constant interference from Moscow. But now there were three separate state campaigns to deal with the effects of Chernobyl, rather than one, and none took account of the fact that radiation did not stop at state borders.

The dissolution of the USSR also has complicated the task of international organizations that offered aid to the impacted communities through a single set of authorities in Moscow. Further, local republics have faced a shortage of expertise - of qualified doctors and scientists to deal with Chernobyl victims. The Soviet system, with its Russocentric and Moscow-dominated professional class, is being replaced only piecemeal, in stages. The situation has been further complicated by the role of the respective governments. Both Belarus and Ukraine are drastically short of funds and increasingly reliant on international aid to deal with the effects of Chernobyl.22 Both are authoritarian states with strong tendencies toward apathy and corruption. In addition, the immediate problems of statehood have taken priority over those of an apparently receding disaster, despite the fact that the real impact of that disaster began to materialize only in the early 1990s. In the spring of 1993, for example, the governments of Belarus and Ukraine were both facing new political crises. In Belarus, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, Stanislav Shushkevich, was involved in a bitter dispute with his rival, Premier Vyacheslav Kebich, after the latter precipitated a parliamentary vote on the notion of a military union that would unite Belarus with Russia and Kazakhstan on security issues (see, for example, Narodnaya hazeta, 7 April 1993; Zvyazda, 15 April 1993). In Ukraine, both the Prime Minister and President sought an increase of power over the parliament in order to press forward with privatization of the ailing economy (Reuters, 23 May 1993; UPI, 23 May 1993).

It has been estimated that 2.2 million people are living in contaminated zones of Belarus, including more than 660,000 children.23 Twenty-two settlements with an aggregate population of 77,000 currently have radiation levels in excess of 40 curies of caesium per square kilometre of soil. There are no similarly affected settlements in Ukraine, and only eight in the Bryansk Oblast of Russia. A further 373 Belarus communities are located in areas with soil contamination of over 5 curies of caesium per square kilometre. People who live in these areas can be assumed to have consumed contaminated food and to have inhaled radioactive particles shortly after the accident (Konoplya 1992a). Today, the major community of concern is located to the north and north-east of the damaged reactor, for this is the area where fallout, soils, hydrology, and vegetation have combined to produce the most serious hazards. Poorly coordinated and belated action on the part of the government of Belarus has also hindered recovery (see below).

The number of casualties from Chernobyl has become a question of intense debate. Official determination to stick with a death toll of 31 people has aroused the ire of many citizens in affected communities. They are convinced that a surge in unusual sicknesses, especially among children, is connected with the Chernobyl accident (Belarusian Charitable Fund for the Children of Chernobyl 1992; Konoplya 1992b). One Chernobyl official, questioned in September 1990 by the author about direct casualties of the disaster, stated the following:

Last year, when the Chernobyl' Union[24] convened for its inaugural conference, some information was revealed about this question. The figure of 256 was announced for the first tune. We at Chernobyl' did not know the precise number of deaths, though from my own experience I know many people whose friends died subsequently, mostly from heart attacks. These men were in their late twenties or thirties... The most recent figure was cited by Shcherbak at a session of "Zelenyi svit" (Green World); he declared that 5,000 people had now died. The figure is not corroborated and is considered to be unofficial, but I admit that it is not unrealistic. More than 500,000 people were exposed to radiation, so it is a plausible percentage. (Marples 1992b: 148)

According to Ukraine's Minister for Chernobyl, Georgii Gotovchits, by April 1992 between 6,000 and 8,000 people had died in Ukraine as a result of the Chernobyl disaster, i.e. six years after the event (Itar-Tass, 22 April 1992). Individual spokespersons have maintained that the actual number is even higher.25 These figures pertain only to Ukraine. In Belarus, the health consequences from Chernobyl not only are serious but are directly linked with the areas of radiation fallout. In particular, the radioactive iodine that pervaded the republic in the first days after the accident has resulted in an unprecedented rise in thyroid tumours among children (Belarusian Charitable Fund for the Children of Chernobyl 1992). This has occurred predominantly in Gomel Oblast and to a lesser extent in Brest Oblast. Figures compiled by Dr. E.P. Demidchik, Head of the Thyroid Tumour Clinic in Minsk, are illustrative. In 1986, only two cases of thyroid tumours among children were diagnosed in the entire republic; in 1988, the figure was five, rising to eight in 1989. According to Demidchik, none of these figures caused undue alarm. Rather, they reflected a gradual rise in cases throughout Europe, including among adults. In 1990, however, the total among children was 29 and in 1991, 59. In April 1993, the clinic was dealing with over 200 such cases. One child had died, and the tumours were reported to be aggressive, requiring very early detection and surgery.26 Of the 200, more than 50 per cent occurred in the Gomel region and 17 per cent in Brest. Mogilev Oblast, the other area contaminated seriously after Chernobyl, had produced only 3.5 per cent of the total thyroid cancers among children. Demidchik noted that, in Mogilev, a grass-roots campaign had been mounted to provide potassium iodide tablets for children; elsewhere, this was not done.

Research on the health effects of Chernobyl is only in its infancy. Increased numbers of leukaemias were being detected during the spring of 1993 in Belarus, but not at catastrophic levels.27 It will be some time yet before the significance of these trends can be established. A host of ostensibly unrelated diseases have seen marked rises. For example, diabetes among children was being detected as early as 10 months of age and, once again, was most prevalent in areas of high contamination.28 A Minsk doctor pointed out that, often, although a disease appears to be linked to the accident at Chernobyl, it is also necessary to take account of other factors that may have exacerbated its penetration (e.g. poor nutrition, stress, an unhealthy lifestyle, lack of drugs).29

Regeneration and recovery

Victim action groups
International aid

What are the possibilities that the affected population will recover during the next 10-15 years? Can the stricken communities of Belarus and Ukraine absorb the effects of Chernobyl? The answer is difficult to provide because of the scope of recent societal changes and the uncertainties that pervade the region's future. Many observers have pointed to the resilience of these same communities during and after the German invasion of 1941-1944: within 10 years of the war's end, the region had fully recovered from massive losses. But Chernobyl raises a different type of challenge. As was pointed out by the authorities, politicians, and journalists, the invisible threat posed by radiation was more dangerous than the average German soldier. Moreover, it was the now-defunct Soviet community, led ostensibly by the Communist Party,30 which mounted the recovery campaign against the nuclear disaster. The future of its successors is cloudy.

Moreover, no country and no industry in history has experienced anything similar to Chernobyl, an accident whose principal effects will occur in the future. Comparisons with previous events are difficult and may be specious. The psychological impact is particularly hard to evaluate because it must be measured against a background of fundamental political and economic upheaval. The resolution of Chernobyl-related problems now involves three governments rather than one, and each state is lacking in political stability. Nevertheless, some trends can be postulated.

First, the locally resident community is likely to shrink because of out-migration. A substantial outflow of population from the villages to the towns was evident since the early 1970s throughout the USSR, and that movement is unlikely to cease during the present period of economic hardship. This will increase the difficulty of monitoring people affected by Chernobyl. It may lead to the creation of ghost towns in rural Belarus and Ukraine. Moreover, the demographic make-up of village communities is generally older than that of the towns, so the loss of younger village residents will soon impose severe burdens on rural areas. There has already been an alarming drop in the birth rates of Belarus and Ukraine, to levels below the replacement rate. In other words, the national populations are declining. Moreover, the mortality rate in Belarus is rising. Total deaths in 1992 rose to 106,040, compared with 104,910 in 1991, while the birth rate dropped from 122,952 (1991) to 116,943 (Mikhaylov 1993: 6).31 Similar trends have been evident in all three Slavic republics of the former Soviet Union. Medical equipment is also decades out of date, compared with Western Europe (see Moscow News No. 5, 1993; Marples 1993a).

These problems were evident before the Chernobyl accident occurred and are not necessarily related to its effects. They exist in other former Soviet areas that were not contaminated by radioactivity. Nevertheless, they exacerbate the region's predicament.

What is being done to cope with the impacts of Chernobyl? Officially, the Ukrainian and Belarusian governments gave high priority to the elimination of Chernobyl's consequences. Ukraine, for example, created a Ministry specifically for such a mission, while both the Ukrainians and Belarusians established State Chernobyl Committees. There was also a plethora of other bodies at lower governmental levels, including Children of Chernobyl organizations (the largest of these is based in Moscow). In Belarus, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs set up a special section for Chernobyl. The governments of all three states also put forward very similar programmes to deal with the disaster and to ensure the safety of those citizens compelled or resolved to live in areas that had been contaminated. Largely as a result of financial problems, such programmes proved much easier to design than to put into practice.

The initial actions taken by Belarusian authorities provide a clear picture of the efforts and limitations of government aid. Seven types of emergency actions occurred:

1. Evacuation of up to 24,700 people from the worst-affected regions (Begin, Narovlia, and Khoiniki of Gomel Oblast) and rapid resettlement, complete with compensation funds and new careers.

2. Construction of new apartments, and service and cultural facilities for the evacuees. Eventually this included secondary schools, kindergartens, and day-care centres for 8,500 children.

3. Construction of roads and upgrading of existing roads.

4. Decontamination of settlements, including 450 in Gomel region, 189 in Mogilev region, 214 cattle-breeding farms and 96 machine stations. About 4,600 dilapidated buildings were destroyed, and 254,000 hectares of land "were subject to double-dose high hydrolithic acidity liming" to prevent the spread of radiation.

5. Dispatch of "clean" food to contaminated areas by various trading organizations.

6. Purification of the water supply in May-June 1986 by cleaning over 3,000 pit wells, connecting some artesian pools to city networks' and building new pumping stations.

7. Creation of an all-Union (later National) Register, which by 1990 had 173,000 names of people under regular care from health establishments (Chernobylskaya katastrofa i tragediya Belorussii 1990: 6-10). These figures pertain only to those areas of Belarus that were designated as badly contaminated. In fact, they encompassed only a small fraction of the total areas and numbers of people affected.

In 1991, on the fifth anniversary of Chernobyl, Konstantin Masyk, then the first Deputy Premier of Ukraine, issued an impassioned appeal for international aid for the victims of Chernobyl, because the government of Ukraine was unable to provide funds.32 The situation was no better in Belarus, where the government was believed to have disbursed only a fraction of the funds originally allocated for Chernobyl, because these were needed to meet the general economic and financial crisis that beset the country in late 1992 (Gomelskaya pravda, 3 December 1992). According to the Belarusian Minister of Finance, Stepan Yanchuk, the laws adopted by the government to deal with Chernobyl in early 1993 anticipated an expenditure of US$865 million, of which only $450 million could be raised (IPS, 3 February 1993). In short, the unforeseen effects of the disintegration of the Soviet Union have left the new governments financially incapable of dealing with the consequences of a major disasters As a result, two other categories of response have became important - victim action groups and international humanitarian aid.

Victim action groups

The appearance of victim action groups in the USSR was a much slower process than it would have been in the West, because there was no established tradition of citizen organizations unrelated to either the government or the Communist Party. By and large, such groups were more successful in the Ukraine than in Belarus because nascent opposition movements already existed in Ukraine. Ukrainian opposition began with the Writers' Union, members of which were largely responsible for the establishment of the Popular Movement for Perestroika (Rukh) early in 1989. One facet of the Rukh, which eventually operated as an independent force, was the Green World ecological association (Zelenyi Svit), founded by Chernobyl activists under the leadership of Yurii Nikolaevich Shcherbak, a writer and doctor. Shcherbak had visited Chernobyl shortly after the accident and interviewed many of the leading figures involved in the aftermath. The Green World began as a non-political association committed to the cessation of Ukraine's nuclear power programme, especially the Chernobyl station.

Chernobyl was featured at the First Congress of the Rukh in 1989. Indeed, the founders of Rukh were the most eloquent in drawing attention to the secrecy surrounding the event and the reported failure of central authorities to take effective action. The leadership of the organization in this period was dominated by former Communists Ivan Drach, its Chairman; Volodymyr Yavorivsky, another student of the Chernobyl event and renowned writer; and Dmytro Pavlychko, a poet and Chairman of the Shevchenko Ukrainian Language Society. Disaffected Communists were effective because they were acquainted with the old power structure from the first, and maintained contacts within the Communist Party of Ukraine and with the more radical sections of Rukh. Shcherbak, a non-Communist, maintained close ties with the Rukh leaders.

Political events in Ukraine since 1989 cannot be dealt with in detail here.33 Suffice it to say that the victim action programme in Ukraine was effective in drawing attention to the plight of Ukrainians who suffered from Chernobyl. In 1989-1991, many of its leaders visited the West and stimulated the creation of new organizations that channelled aid to Chernobyl victims in Ukraine. By 1990, the existing ruling structure in Ukraine was being eroded. Shcherbytsky, the old party leader, was retired with honour in September 1989, and died the following January. His successor, Volodymyr Ivashko, remained in office for only a few months before accepting an offer to become a deputy vicepresident to Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow, an action that was regarded as a betrayal in Ukrainian political circles. Ivashko's replacement, Stanislav Hurenko, was a hard-line Communist leader in the Shcherbytsky mould. Consequently, the effective leadership of Ukrainian Communists devolved on the parliamentary group, led by Leonid Kravchuk, a politician who was ultrasensitive to the vacillations of public opinion.

For our purposes, the significance of these events is that, once the country's leadership and impetus had devolved on the parliament, the voice of the opposition was always heard and became influential. Long discussions on Chernobyl occurred in sessions; laws were enacted; demonstrations were held outside the parliament; and the opposition deputies - albeit a small group of 87 out of 400 - were very vocal. Yet the main impact of the Rukh and Green World was to curtail the Ukrainian nuclear power programme and to focus on questions of environmental degradation rather than to resolve questions relating to Chernobyl. The Rukh had a strong voice but was not a political party and did not attempt to take power for itself. In 1992, the Green World and the newly created Green Party was "beheaded" when Shcherbak (Ukraine's Minister of the Environment) took on ambassadorial duties in Israel.

In Belarus, the Popular Front (BPF) had placed Chernobyl at the very top of its agenda, but found it much more difficult to make progress because the government and parliament in 1992-1993 were dominated by Communists. After BPF was founded in the fall of 1988, the authorities tried to suppress its activities with a combination of force and harassment. They were incensed with BPF's campaign to boycott spring elections to the Congress of People's Deputies (Vechernii Minsk, 22 March 1989). They also resorted to the crudest of propaganda to brand the members of the Front Nazi as collaborators.34 In June 1989, the BPF held its founding congress outside the republic, in Vilnius, Lithuania, and advocated a multi-party system in the republic as well as full sovereignty (Zvyazda, 14 July 1989). However, the organization did not match the progress of the Sajudis in Lithuania or the Popular Front of Estonia. It remained relatively small and, in 1993, possessed only 32 deputies in the Belarusian parliament under the leadership of archaeologist Zenon Poznyak.

Late in 1992, Poznyak, an outspoken nationalist, declared that the BPF has been the only impediment to complete domination by the old "nomenklatura" in the republic. In his view, this latter group has "appropriated" private property. Prime Minister Kebich has, he states, relied on the former-ruling elite in a close alliance with Russia. In fact, in the fall of 1992, all strategic forces on Belarusian territory had been transferred to the jurisdiction of Russia, but without compensation for the use of Belarus as a testing ground and for its airfields. The picture provided is a bleak one, of a centralized and very authoritarian regime and one, moreover, without any national leaders of the stature of Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk (Moscow News No. 48, 29 November-6 December 1992: 8). The BPF has remained an isolated voice in support of democracy. The importance of such intransigence in the republic that faces the most acute consequences of Chernobyl cannot be underestimated.35

Some of the BPF members have been active in the Belarusian Charitable Fund for the Children of Chernobyl, which is led by Deputy Gennadii Grushevoi. The Fund was the most effective of the various non-government organizations in Ukraine that sought to aid young victims. It has cooperated particularly closely with German organizations (see, for example, Znamya yunosti, 27 July 1991). By late 1992, the scope of the Fund went well beyond its initial role, which was to send children from the contaminated regions for periods of recuperation abroad. Instead, it had taken on the role of disseminator of information about Belarus and Belarusian culture, and published two journals - a magazine called Demos, which appeared in Germany and Russia, and an independent women's newspaper, Milo. It had also created an International Humanitarian Association, oriented to resolving problems associated with Chernobyl.36

The Fund and Association, while only at the beginning of their operations, represent singular examples of how victim action groups responded to a disaster, not merely without government aid but in the face of constant government harassment.37 They have continued to highlight inadequacies of the official programme for dealing with Chernobyl and they have focused on individuals within the government - rather than ministries - who might offer aid on a personal basis. At the same time, their leadership is realistic enough to recognize the limitations of operating within Belarus, and they have developed particularly close relations with charitable groups in Germany. Herein lies a general lesson for victim action groups. In a totalitarian or authoritarian state, such groups can develop a wide network of contacts and pursue goals that go beyond those of simply aiding the victims: they can become foci for quasi-opposition movements. In Minsk during 1992-1993, the Children of Chernobyl Fund was a unique example of an operation that was both effective and thriving and, through its actions, supplementing official aid.

International aid

The Chernobyl disaster has resulted in a substantial campaign of international aid to the former Slavic republics of the USSR. Aid has been offered by foreign governments; the international scientific community; independent activist groups, such as Greenpeace International; the International Red Cross; and scores of individual organizations of a humanitarian nature, some of which developed in the Ukrainian diaspora. Most of the funding that is currently used to deal with effects of Chernobyl comes from such sources. Though enduring and vital, this kind of support suffers from certain drawbacks and restrictions that are discussed below.

Organizational constraints
The question has often been raised by external humanitarian groups: with whom should we deal in offering aid? Between 1986 and 1990, the most substantial assistance was offered through the central authorities (and, correspondingly, the Soviet Bank) in Moscow. This development was resented in the republics, especially by those people who were trying to divert attention from the centre of the USSR to their own areas. It signified that, after the surprising collapse of the USSR, many aid groups were left without a known contact when administration of Chernobyl problems was transferred from Moscow to the republics. Russia, though widely affected by Chernobyl, was not as seriously damaged as Belarus and Ukraine, and yet most of the central ministries were readapted as purely Russian variants. Conversely, many international groups had no wish to deal with organizations based in the republics that, before 1991, had little or no decision-making experience or authority.

International aid groups
In both Ukraine and Belarus, the ending of Soviet hegemony has not made it easier for grass-roots organizations to aid Chernobyl's victims. True, the dominant political systems are less oppressive than in the past, but they are often staffed by the same individuals. Moreover, independent associations face severe financial handicaps that preclude large-scale action. A plethora of such groups vies for public support and the ear of decision makers. In Belarus, it has been speculated that the government has deliberately tried to organize groups with independent-sounding names to facilitate the diversion of funds away from charitable associations. In mid-1991, for example, there were 13 officially registered charitable Chernobyl funds (as listed in Narodnaya hazeta, 20 July 1991), namely:

1. The Belarusian Social-Ecological Union "Chernobyl," founded on 16 November 1990 to protect the rights of citizens suffering from the catastrophe;

2. The Belarusian-Japanese Society "Chernobyl-Hiroshima," formed on 19 November 1990 as a technological provision programme for the "liquidation of the accident";

3. The Charitable Center "Otklik" (Response), founded on 19 November 1990 to offer charitable aid to those "suffering from the catastrophe";

4. The Belarusian Charitable Fund for the Children of Chernobyl, registered on 20 November 1990 and described above;

5. The Belarusian Committee "Children of Chernobyl," founded on 21 November 1990 to give aid to those suffering from the disaster;

6. The Belarusian Action Committee "Echo of Chernobyl," formed on 23 November 1990 for the same purpose;

7. The Belarusian Union of Participants in the Liquidation of the Consequences of the Catastrophe at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, created on 6 December 1990 to provide social, material, and medical aid to those in need;

8. The Fund of International Cooperation for Social Protection "Byelorussian," founded on 20 December 1990, whose mission is described in its title;

9. The Belarusian Union of the Participants in the Liquidation of the Consequences of the Chernobyl Catastrophe "Pripyat," formed on 24 December 1990 to protect the interests of the clean-up crews;

10. The "Chernobyl" Union of the Belarusian SSR, founded on 6 February 1991 - a state and government organization aimed at protecting the rights of those affected by Chernobyl;

11. The Young Ecological Movement of the Belarusian SSR "Belarus," formed on 30 April 1991, which was involved in the state programme to eliminate Chernobyl's consequences;

12. The Belarusian Society of Radiobiologists, created on 30 April 1991 to study the results of the disaster;

13. The Belarusian Homeopathic Association, which dates from 28 March 1991 and was devoted to medical assistance for the victims of Chernobyl.

With so many apparently praiseworthy competitors it has been difficult for any single fund to receive the scale of aid that is required to make real inroads on the problems engendered by Chernobyl. Moreover, the fact that the government itself has organized several of the associations named above may have precluded "fair competition" between them. Almost all newspapers in the republic are funded by state and government organs and can draw attention to official rather than to privately run charitable bodies.

Information problems
A third problem, and perhaps the major one to date, has been the lack of accurate information about radiation fallout and the health effects of the disaster. We have seen that the first maps of the fallout were released only in the spring of 1989, and the overall picture has emerged only since that time. It is still not clearly defined. There is not even an accurate tally of deaths. There is no single and complete data bank that encompasses those affected by Chernobyl, and may never be.38 The effects of low-level radiation on the population are not known. On the one hand, some scientists maintain that there have been no discernible effects; others state that the results are already being seen and that even very small rises in background radiation can cause changes to the human organism. We do not know the precise area of all radiation fallout, particularly hotspots of plutonium, caesium, and strontium fallout in parts of Russia and the Baltic republics. Ultimately establishing the effects of Chernobyl radiation may come down to mundane questions (such as what people were doing at the time of the accident) and to matters of general health (such as how healthy were such people in April 1986; did they smoke; did they have access to clean food?). All these factors render Chernobyl one of the most difficult disasters about which to offer definitive statements.

Towards a model for nuclear and industrial accidents

Stages of crisis management
Three Mile Island, 1979
The international nuclear energy industry's response to Chernobyl

In the paragraphs that follow I have endeavoured to construct a general model of large-scale industrial accidents with international implications that is based on the Chernobyl experience. This might be a useful explanatory tool for several different types of accidents - those whose effects transcend national boundaries (e.g. spillage of chemicals into transnational rivers like the Rhine or the Danube); accidents whose effects are restricted to one country but involve one or more international actors (e.g. Bhopal 1984); and accidents with localized effects that are the responsibility of a national (governmental) actor (e.g. Three Mile Island 1979; Kyshtym 1957; Windscale/Sellafield 1957). As befits a historian of institutional behaviour, I have placed the emphasis of this model on organizational responses of a predominantly political and legal nature.

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