This spring, the world marked the 34th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster while coping with the coronavirus pandemic. It is worth considering some parallels with Chornobyl as we consider the U.S. government’s response to this current disaster.
The Soviets tried to cover up the scope of the devastation caused by Chornobyl’s massive radiation release. Communist officials delayed evacuations and refused to cancel May Day parades where thousands of adults and children were needlessly exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Over 600,000 clean-up workers were sent to the disaster site. Most were never given basic protective equipment. Years later, there was no systematic effort to track their health.
Western agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also downplayed the disaster, claiming only 36 people died as a result. Instead of investigating birth defects and cancers, the Soviets and the IAEA blamed the Western media, “radiophobia” and hysteria for widespread reports of serious health effects. Eventually, the World Health Organization (WHO) exposed the IAEA’s cover-up by showing that the rate of thyroid cancer among children downwind from Chornobyl was 80 times higher than normal.
The people of Ukraine were outraged by their government’s disinformation which exposed their children to deadly radiation. This inspired the Zelenyi Svit (Green World) environmental movement – a forerunner of Rukh that shook the very foundations of totalitarianism.
The acclaimed HBO series “Chernobyl” offers a grim portrayal of the human cost, and the heroic scientists who sought to reveal the truth.
We can only guess how many people died as a result of Chornobyl. By late May of this year, U.S. deaths from the coronavirus reached 100,000 – nearly twice the U.S. death toll in Vietnam. These deaths occurred in a matter of weeks, while the Vietnam War lasted 10 years.
There are still apologists trying to downplay this disaster. President Donald Trump delayed his response for weeks, dismissing the novel coronavirus as a “hoax” that would disappear like a “miracle.”
During the Ebola crisis in 2014, President Barack Obama acted immediately to keep Ebola from reaching our shores. He sent U.S. medical brigades to West Africa led by health experts like Dr. Boris Lushniak, Chicago’s proud son of Ukrainian immigrants. These efforts limited Ebola’s death toll to 11,300 worldwide. Only two Americans died of Ebola.
Meanwhile, President Trump expects praise for a feckless response that contributed to the loss of nearly 100,000 American lives.
In responding to COVID-19, the leaders of Germany, South Korea, Hong Kong and India relied on scientific expertise. Instead of disinformation and political spin, they implemented protective policies that limited their countries’ death rate to a small fraction of the debacle we’ve witnessed in the U.S.
Ukraine’s Chornobyl survivors were browbeaten by decades of Soviet propaganda. Yet they still mustered enough courage and common sense to denounce Mikhail Gorbachev’s lies.
We in the U.S. should likewise demand the truth and refrain from whitewashing our president’s shameful record on the coronavirus pandemic.
Harwood Heights, Ill.