політика з позиції сили 10/05/2011Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures, Bienvenue à la Semaine de Fonctionnement.
Tags: chernobyl, chornobyl, druzhby narodiv, eec bankwatch, journalism, kiev, kyiv, necu, nuclear power, politics, travel, ukraine, urban
Steaming streets on the wrong side of Bul’v. Lesi Ukrainsky as we exited the Druzhby Narodiv station. The 12th century settlement of Pechers’k, formed around the famous labyrinthine cave monastery and long since absorbed into the capital, lies across the street. There people flock to administrative buildings, parks and monuments. Outside the metro Janice and I are surrounded by defeated street hawkers, doorway lurkers, hourly girlfriends and black-market racketeers.
We risked being lost to affect a navigational familiarity. Through Janice’s painstakingly transcribed Cyrillic alphabet cheatsheet Nimans’ka emerged, branching of the main drag. Turning a corner swept the warren of three million desperate souls from the sidewalk and revealed an empty street lined by trees sucking drizzle from the sky.
The brick and concrete apartment blocks failed to observe a traditional numeric order. Instinct or blind luck took us between units to stumble over broken asphalt, torn apart by neglect and nature’s return. Grime and graffiti streaked a metal door hanging from its hinges, beneath a broken window. If a basket was hanging from an upper floor you’d drop twenty bucks, watch it ascend, wait for the balloon to drop. I hammered on the buzzer and convinced the burst of Ukrainian static I spoke English. Come to the first floor.
It was not the first floor but they found us in the hallway.
A Brussels-based Greenpeace worker had given my collaborator the name of a former coworker. Olexi had since left the organization– and Greenpeace had left Ukraine– for the CEE Bankwatch Network which operated out of the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine’s offices. It had taken a couple phone calls to get a couple hours notice for an impromptu meeting.
Olexi’s office turned out to be a desk in a converted apartment, legs raised by piles of books to accommodate his almost seven foot height. Starry-eyed progressives of NECU worked around him in cramped confines, trapped by sagging, improvised bookshelves and towering stacks of papers. Some SFSU law student in town for a couple weeks sat bemused by our appearance.
We sat in the kitchen while Janice hovered around snapping pictures. Bankwatch is more concerned with funding and corruption but Olexi’s years as a hippie-for-hire had imbued in him a deep understanding of Ukraine’s history of power politics. He broke down the relationship between the government and nuclear industry; shared critical opinions on the IAEA and WHO; laughed at the pathetic efforts to convert Soviet factories into manufacturing hubs of alternative energy; tied together the disparate threads from French company Areva, Russian natural gas, Finnish reactors, UN funding and Ukrainian officials.
For the gravity of what was discussed he was a wise-cracking cynic. Olexi was a kid when Chornobyl exploded and he recounted his family’s evacuation from Kyiv to the Black Sea. Years following the accident water flooded the streets to keep dust down and public gatherings in parks were unofficially forbidden. His aunt from the north had grown sick over time but no one could directly attribute her health to radiation.
Irina got dragged into the kitchen. Her father had been a liquidator– the Russian draftees and Ukrainian emergency workers who battled the initial fires and who fought cesium and strontium to construct Chornobyl’s now crumbling sarcophagus. She was going to visit her folks the next day and promised to ask if I could interview her father, volunteering to bring us home and act as translator.
Scientific papers have been drafted in Ukrainian, Russian, Belorussian and English. Proponents of nuclear power dismiss all but the immediate impact of Iodine-131 with its brief half-life; skeptics release hospital records suggesting the impact of long-term, low-level exposure to the heavier elements which remain. No one knows how well the USSR documented what happened and how much of what’s available has been released. Olexi laughed when I told him that I hadn’t brought a flash drive. You work for Wired?
He was also shocked that we had no functioning cell. We walked back to the metro while he told us of his wife’s Italian furniture import business, how nice it was to be able to bike to work, cracking iPhones, and snapshots of life in Kyiv. Olexi found a rough looking man hugging a satchel on the corner. Some negotiation took place, the bag opened to reveal fistfuls of SIM chips, I handed the hyrvnia over.
We thanked him for meeting with us, for all his help finding old documents and lists of potential contacts. Please understand if I don’t write you, he said. The he lumbered off back to his desk in a converted apartment and we crept past the street’s denizens to return underground.