The Heroes Of Chernobyl Would Do It Again

The Heroes Of Chernobyl Would Do It Again

Much like Japanese workers brought in to fight the Fukushima nuclear emergency, the so-called liquidators were called on to put out the fires after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Despite subsequent health consequences, many say they'd do it again.

Chernobyl monument to firefighters (Andrzej Karon)

Like thousands of other Soviet citizens, Lew Falkowsky risked his life to work in Chernobyl. It was June of 1986, six weeks after the number four reactor had exploded, with a radioactive cloud moving towards Europe, and Falkowsky was one of the so-called "liquidators' sent to the contaminated area at the Soviet nuclear power plant.

Since the crisis, Falkowsky, now 73, has fought serious health problems. But, like many other liquidators who survived Chernobyl, he says that he would expose himself to the danger again.

"I do not regret that I went there," he says. "I regret that I sacrificed my health, but it was my job, and I don't regret doing it." Falkowsky has had heart problems ever since his time as a liquidator.

His doctors believe that many of his health problems resulted from the strong medications he was given to protect him from high radiation exposure. "At Chernobyl, the liquidators were exposed to a radiation dose that was far above the normal value," says Falkowsky.

Following the most serious nuclear disaster in history, Falkowsky and the other workers were faced with an impossible task: they were to "liquidate" the radioactive material released through the explosion. To do this, they were asked to build a protective shell around the radiating block of the plant and decontaminate the surrounding region of Ukraine, much of which is still cordoned off today.

For their selfless efforts, the Likwidatori (as they are called in Russian) are celebrated as heroes. But they have also had to fight for the financial aid needed to pay for their medical costs. On Wednesday, March 16, dozens of people demonstrated in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev against the government's plans to cut benefits for liquidators. Though precise numbers are not available, experts estimate that tens of thousands of relief workers have already died as a direct result of their work at the plant.

In Japan, the hope of an entire nation rests on the more than 50 technicians currently struggling against the power plant disaster at the Fukushima plant. It is noteworthy that this new nuclear accident comes just weeks before the 25th Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Unlike the Soviet liquidators, the Japanese workers at least have a chance to save their own lives. But of course, wherever a technical device fails because of high radiation exposure, the health risks to the technicians will become greater. What harm the radiation will cause to the workers can only be guessed.

But there are still more Japanese citizens that are willing to put themselves in danger. The Japanese operating company of the plant is desperately seeking 20 volunteers to help manage the crisis. And some applications have already been received, according to the news agency Jiji..

Among them is a 59-year-old who is about to retire. His daughter wrote on Twitter: "I fought back tears when I heard that my father, who is to retire in six months, declared himself ready to assist."

Igor Ostrezow understands very well this desire to help. "Of course I would return," says the 72-year-old, who, like Falkowsky, was a liquidator at Chernobyl. He says that he was well aware of the high radiation exposure that he was exposing himself at the time.

"Before I went there, I read everything I could about the subject and tried to take all possible precautions," he says. He still retains the small laminated card that granted him entry to the restricted zone. He also was diagnosed with cancer. "I regret nothing," he declares. "I'm proud of everything. "

One thing did change with the disaster, however, was his view of nuclear energy. "Nuclear energy should not exist in the modern world," says Ostrezow. "I hope that the events in Japan will shake people awake and make them realize the true dangers of this technology."

Read the original article in German

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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