YURY BANDAZHEVSKY DETAILED CHERNOBYL’S DEVASTATING IMPACT ON PEOPLE’S HEALTH, PARTICULARLY THAT OF CHILDREN, IN BELARUS. NOW HE LIVES IN EXILE WHILE THE GOVERNMENT INSISTS “EVERYTHING’S OK.”
Yury Bandazhevsky, 59, was the first scientist in Belarus to establish an institute to study Chernobyl’s impact on people’s health, particularly children, near the city of Gomel, about 120 miles over the border from Ukraine. He was arrested in Belarus in 1999 and sentenced to eight years in prison for allegedly taking bribes from parents trying to get their children admitted to his Gomel State Medical Institute. He denied the charges.
The National Academy of Sciences and Amnesty International say he was detained for his outspoken criticism of Belarus’ public health policies following the nuclear disaster. He was released in 2005 and given French citizenship, after rights groups took up his case along with the European Union, Britain, France and Germany. He now runs a medical and rehabilitation center outside Kiev dedicated to studying and caring for Chernobyl’s victims.
When I arrived in Ukraine in 2009, I did not find any serious objective source of information about the state of health of the children and people in the Ivankiv and Polesskiy regions (two areas that neighbor Chernobyl). There was no interest. We have now examined about 4,000 second-generation children and most of them have serious problems with their cardiovascular systems. I was starting to see the same thing in Belarus before I left. I am especially disturbed by irregularities I see in teenagers, in particular boys ages 12-17.
Around 80% of them have much too high a level of (an amino acid) called homocysteine, which is a recognized marker of heart disease. We have found very serious changes to the hormone levels of 45% of the children. Some Western scientists don’t agree with this because there is no specific marker to prove that this is an impact from Chernobyl. Yet these scientists come here only in small expeditions and they don’t have access to any sources.
I don’t have any objective information about what is happening now with the health of children in Belarus. Everything is closed. The government says, ‘Everything’s OK, everything’s OK.’ But I get telephone calls from people in Gomel and they tell me that many of the children we were observing before I left have died. They were of different ages: 6, 12, 14. I will never forget appearing on television in Belarus with the president (Alexander Lukashenko). I was saying we were seeing very serious problems in children because of radiation, while he was saying ‘Everything’s OK.’ But I can’t touch this, because I can’t go there, or work there.
For me, the problem of Chernobyl is not finished, it has only just begun.
Also Chernobyl through the eyes of an artist as Mariya Kobylynska interprets the disaster through her beautiful paintings.