Echoes of Chornobyl in Canada, 30 Years After the Tragedy

Alexander Belyakov for New Pathway, Toronto.

The Chornobyl disaster on April 26, 1986, was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, by the number of casualties, and by the devastating contamination. The explosion and fire released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR, Europe and even Northern Canada and the USA. “Chornobyl is a word we would all like to erase from our memory. But more than seven million of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened…The exact number of victims can never be known,” said the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Scientists confirm that the consequences of this tragedy clearly exceeded those of the Fukushima accident. More information about both disasters is available at the website: fromchernobyltofukushima.com

“Three decades after Chornobyl, the people of Ukraine continue to suffer from its effects. We must never forget this terrible tragedy, which changed Ukraine and the world forever. We gather in our communities to grieve for the victims, and to pray for all those that suffered and continue to suffer the aftermath of this awful disaster,” said Paul Grod, National President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, in his address. Vigils, services and solemn commemorative events of this terrible tragedy were held in communities across Canada: in Ottawa, Montréal, St. Catharines, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and other cities. One of the largest events, which included singing and storytelling, called “Echoes of Chornobyl: 30 Years Later”, was held at St. Vladimir Institute in Toronto on April 22, 2016.

Bozena Hrycyna from Kosa Kolektiv, one of the main organizers of the evening, said: “The echo from the disaster in Chornobyl continues to reverberate 30 years later, and send a warning signal around the world. We hosted this event on Earth Day to bring awareness to the issue of nuclear power and its human consequences through remembrance and education. Although our collective is primarily an arts-focused group, because we know several people personally affected by the event’s aftermath, and try to champion community health and well-being through our work (and are connected to Ukraine through our ancestry), we have decided to host the event that brings together remembrance of Chornobyl, concern for our Toronto community, and appreciation for land, as expressed through traditional folk song. The main things that Kosa as a collective focuses on are community, remembrance, and the traditions tied to the land that have been passed down to us through folk tradition. So our event aims to use this focus as a theme connecting the Chornobyl anniversary to our community in Toronto, to make it less about what happened there to how we are connected to it here.”

The vocal ensemble Ukrainian Village Voices from New York City performed authentic repertoire from the Chornobyl region, which some of the members recorded as part of the Chernobyl Songs Project. The songs – ancient and powerful sung in the authentic Polissyan polyphony – were presented for the first time in Toronto. Other performers from the Ukrainian-Canadian and Belarussian-Canadian Toronto communities (ensembles KalynDar and Javarovy Ludzi) also shared songs from Ukraine and Belarus, their ancestral homelands, as a way of paying tribute to the people who suffered the Chornobyl aftermath. There were also many stories told connected to Chornobyl.

Marichka Marczyk (Kudriavtseva) and Alena Liavonchanka, two women from Ukraine and Belarus respectively, who lived in the region at the time of the disaster, spoke about their personal memories of that time, as well as memories of the communities they came from.
The author of this article spoke about the current state of the Chornobyl research and life in the 30-km Zone and surrounding areas. Jose Etcheverry, Ph.D. (York University) and Angela Bischoff (Ontario Clean Air Alliance) shared their knowledge about nuclear energy in Ontario. The performances and presentations were followed by a reception which provided an opportunity for the public to discuss the topics with the speakers, and find out more about nuclear power in Ontario.

As a follow-up of this event, 56 performers (including 23 singers) from Kosa Kolektiv and the Lemon Bucket Orkestra hosted a singing workshop “Songs of Chornobyl” the following week, where people learned some beautiful Ukrainian songs from the villages from the 30-km Zone.

To mark the 30-th anniversary of the Chornobyl tragedy, community activists in the Greater Toronto Area also organised several screenings of the 2014 Japanese documentary ‘Children of Chernobyl 28 Years Later: A report on low-level, long-term radiation exposure’ translated by Kyoko Yokoma. Yokoma and Alex Pereklita offered a great opportunity to discuss the similarities of the two largest nuclear disasters with the Ukrainian and Japanese communities at the Tao Sangha Healing Centre in Toronto. The film is very informative and explains how the second generation children of Chornobyl are suffering in Ukraine. Durham Nuclear Awareness organised a similar event at the Trent University campus in Oshawa. Angela Bischoff and Janet McNeill showed the same film, and organised a discussion, at Beit Zatoun in Toronto.