Ukrainians are today gathering to mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy, which remains the worst nuclear disaster in history. In the early hours of the morning of 26th April 1986, reactor no. 4 exploded, unleashing radioactive material into the air over the Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republics before spreading across the continent. Despite considerable attempts to mask the scale of the disaster, the Soviet government were forced to admit the awful truth and magnitude of the calamity.
Students of History, and of Russian, should note the importance of Chernobyl in paving the way for Gorbachev’s glasnost’ reforms. They should also consider the symbolism of Chernobyl and its role as a contributing factor to the eventual collapse of a system riddled by inefficiency and condemned by the low value it placed on human safety and life.
Students applying for Geography should consider the long-term impacts of the disaster on the demographics of the areas affected, including the nostalgia felt by many for their former, purpose-built, hometown of Pripyat’. Some inhabitants even moved back, seeking the sense of community that the government failed to recreate in Slavutych and other resettlement sites.
Those studying Politics should look at the political legacy of the two countries most affected by the disaster. Despite the recent lifting of sanctions, Lukashenka’s Belarus remains a dictatorship. In Ukraine, the Communist Party of Russia (without a hint of irony) raised the issue of safety around atomic reactors as a reason to invade Ukraine after the Maidan protests. How have both the Chernobyl disaster and the wider Soviet legacy prevented such countries from developing into stable democratic members of the global community?
Those wishing to study Psychology or HSPS should consider the importance of commemoration in building communities and developing a sense of shared values and collective memory, particularly in times of war and conflict, given the constant threat of insurgency in Eastern Ukraine.