Where were you on April 26, 1986?

Several participants of the "Rebirth, Renewal and Human Development" conference recalled the moment they learned of the Chornobyl catastrophe. President Viktor Yushchenko offered his comments in an interview on Ukrainian state television.

Viktor Yushchenko, president of Ukraine:

I was in Kyiv then, while my family was in the Sumy Oblast. On April 26, there was information that there was a redness to the sky in the Chornobyl district, that two explosions had occurred. And this information seeped into Kyiv. Until May 2, no information was correct.

I remember how May 1 was a clear spring day, and dandelions had blossomed. I remember my daughter Vitalina had arrived, and we walked along the Dnipro's precipice, gathering them.

Then we went to the Khreschatyk, and there was a bike race where many Kyivans stood. There was a feeling of absolute peace. There wasn't any feeling of alarm that an irreversible tragedy had taken place.

I remember the issue was raised in the bank that we need to remove the bank's property from the Chornobyl zone - bank notes, money, valuables. There was a line to go, and I didn't sign up for it. Only experts were needed, those who knew how to manage cashier operations, work with cash, not economists or financiers.

Kateryna Yushchenko, first lady of Ukraine:

I think many people can remember the moment they first heard about Chornobyl. I remember it well. I was a member of the Ukrainian diaspora, studying at the University of Chicago. On television late at night, there appeared a special report.

And it showed a map of the Soviet Union, in the middle, where Ukraine was, there was a nuclear radiation. And there was radiation coming out of Ukraine, and nobody knew whether it was a bomb or a nuclear plant. Nobody knew.

And when I began calling my family, there were no lines. And what was tragic is that I knew what was happening in Ukraine before my family did. And I think many people will remember those very tragic moments.

John Herbst, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine:

I was at that time working at the American Embassy in Moscow. And I remember getting the reports about what might have been happening in Ukraine.

And, of course, that was the time of the policy of glasnost, of opening up. And that was the very first failure of the policy of glasnost because the Soviet authorities, as always, hid the great tragedy that had unfolded before the eyes of the world.

And, most importantly, while Communist officials were shipping their children out of Ukraine, the people of Chornobyl were living and their children were playing in the fields of Ukraine.

As luck would have it, I was visiting with my wife and children in Kyiv and Chernihiv about two weeks before the Chornobyl disaster. And there but for the grace of God would have been my children.

Paolo Coehlo, world-renowned author:

I remember the day when I heard the news. I was in Brazil. I am a Brazilian. It was quite far away from the disaster itself. But many times, some things that affect one person or a group will affect all of humankind.

On my first visit to Ukraine, I tried to go to Chornobyl but it was impossible. So I went to the museum of Chornobyl. And I was moved to tears when I saw the consequences of the disaster.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

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