Ecology: the public outcry

Ecology continued to be one of the most important and emotional issues for citizens of Ukraine during 1990. In addition to hearing new revelations about the true consequences of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, Ukraine's citizens learned more about just how polluted and unhealthy their environment is.

On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear accident, Ukraine's new Minister of Health Yuriy Spizhenko acknowledged that many of the problems that have arisen are a direct result either of official secrecy or falsehoods uttered by physicians and health authorities. And, in mid-February, the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR held a special session on the ecological situation in Ukraine. At the session, Minister Spizhenko said that 1 million persons, including 250,000 children, were then living under conditions of increased radiation background. (Later in the year, that figure was cited as 1.8 million, including 380,000 children.

In his speech, at that Parliament session Dr. Yuriy Shcherbak, chairman of the Zelenyi Svit (Green World) ecological association, called for a long-range program to eliminate the accident's consequences and demanded that the first reactor of Chornobyl be decommissioned by 1991 and the other two reactors by 1995 at the latest. As well, Dr. Shcherbak called for a halt to construction of new nuclear reactors on Ukrainian territory and the creation of a special parliamentary commission to investigate the post-accident actions of Soviet authorities.

Ukraine has 11 cities among the 65 most polluted in the USSR, and clean supplies of drinking water have become more and more problematic, according to reports released in 1990. As well, ecological activists like Dr. Shcherbak pointed out that many sicknesses, birth defects, "spontaneous abortions" and the like can be related to the serious pollution caused by heavy industry. For example, the cause of the mysterious illness afflicting children in the Chernivtsi region was traced to chemical poisoning - the result of industrial pollution - and similar cases of such sicknesses were reported in other areas of the republic as well.

It was increased public awareness that led to mass protests which early this year closed down two ecologically dangerous projects in western Ukraine: a radar tracking station in Transcarpathia, in the area of Pistrialevo, which would have affected surrounding areas with electromagnetic radiation, used large quantities of scarce water and endangered more than 300 deposits of medicinal mineral waters; and a proposed expansion of the Chlorvinyl petrochemical complex in Kalush, near Ivano-Frankivske, that already was the cause of much pollution in the area.

The fourth anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster was marked in Ukraine with public meetings, rallies, memorial services and scholarly conferences held during "Chornobyl Week." April 26 was observed as a "Day of National Mourning" and 70,000 marchers in Kiev paralyzed the city center to call attention to the continuing Chornobyl tragedy.

In the fall, the Green Party of Ukraine, which evolved out of the Green World Association, held its founding congress in Kiev. The congress adopted a program that describes the party as an ecological party, an anti-war party and a democratic party that "promotes the rebirth of Ukraine as an independent state of free people." The party recognizes that ecology takes precedence over the economy, politics and ideology, and that individual rights are more important than the rights of the state. Dr. Shcherbak was elected leader of the CPU.

Zelenyi Svit, meanwhile, grew in 1990 to encompass several hundred thousand members active in local branches throughout Ukraine. Its newspaper, also called Zelenyi Svit, increased its circulation to 20,000. Also, the ecological association expanded its network of contacts with Green movement activists throughout the world.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 30, 1990, No. 52, Vol. LVIII

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