Powdered milk and faraway babies

Twenty years ago my grandmother in her broken English, phoned me from her home near Stuttgart in Germany. She sounded tired and was fretting that I would not be home. She called to tell me of the horror of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and made me promise that I would never, ever buy any milk product for at least a decade- be it powdered, UHT, condensed, cheese, yogurt etc. that was not made in Australia.

Long before we, here, in Australia would hear of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, my Oma had not only heard, but assessed that the milk products would be shunned by Europeans and offloaded to unsuspecting, faraway countries.

The girlchild- her Uhrgrosskind- was 8 months old and my Oma wanted me to know what she feared. I remain eternally grateful for her advice. I am also very appreciative that the girlchild and I live in a ‘faraway’ place. Not least of all because twenty years on the situation in the Ukraine is still horrific.


Image from here

Comments spamproofed by Akismet

Trackback disabled until further notice.

26 Responses to “Powdered milk and faraway babies”

  1. Brownie Says:

    How very sad to run the entire length of your link and not find an Australian flag anywhere in the huge list of organisations who care about the children of Belarus.
    Obviously we are so ‘faraway’ it has nothing to do with us.

    And isn’t Lukashenka a steaming river of snot.

  2. Brownie Says:

    Today’s news:
    “BELARUSSIAN opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich and three other opposition figures in the ex-Soviet republic were sentenced today to 15 days in jail after being found guilty of attending an illegal demonstration.”

    shades of Aang Suu Kyi, and Australia heading the same way – squash opposition to injustice.

  3. weez Says:

    Suki, your Oma underestimated the duration of the radiohazard by about 239,090 years.

    Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years– meaning the radioactive emissions will diminish by half in that period. It’ll be 240,000 years before the radioactivity released from Chernobyl diminishes to a level approximating the background radiation.

    And yet some idiots still want nuclear power in Australia.

  4. Graham Bell Says:

    And don’t think that people who lived a lot closer to Chernobyl and were in the path of its fallout aren’t still worried. Your Oma was right about being careful what you buy.

  5. kartar Says:

    Suki – don’t know if you’ve seen these . Your post reminded me of them.

  6. Jozef Imrich Says:

    Hi Suki

    My sister-in-law, Magda was pregnant in 1986, and my nephew Tomas is one of the sad statistics. Out of her four children, Tomas, the youngest was born without hearing and also his sight is very limited. He cannot read at the age of 20 and still needs a full time carer.

    My late and oldest brother, late Vladimir, (named after Lenin during the early euphoria of communism) spent most of his time and money trying to give Tomas a good life. It was not easy for them.

    I wonder how many other pregnant women in 1986 ended up with disabled children. Slovakia, Poland and Hungary are not that far from Chernobyl … I am still to find any stories which investigate the human tragedies of the fall out …

  7. Suki Says:

    Jozef, I wonder how many records are kept of all the questions that we need the answers to:

    – Were miscarriage rates affected?
    – Did fertility drop?
    – What are the effects of radiation exposure on the neonates?
    – What are we seeing in this generation of adults having children?

    And this is just regarding reproductive health and the newborn…what of adults and animals and plants and the environment?
    I also wonder if we will ever know?

  8. weez Says:

    Figures lie and liars figure, Suki. Some pro-nuke jokers are making claims of only 31 fatalities in sum as a result of the Chernobyl meltdown. Of course, this is only a tiny part of the story:

    There were 31 fatalities as of May 1987, all of whom were at the power plant, and most of whom were firemen fighting the blazes following the explosion. 237 persons were “removed to hospitals with acute radiation syndrome. About 500 were hospitalized altogether, including bus drivers who evacuated residents.” An estimated 24,000 of the 116,000 evacuees received fairly serious radiation doses of about 45 rem. Thyroid doses from Iodine-131 as high as 250 rem were measured in children from Lelev, 9 km from reactor.

    Levi gives an estimated long term total exposure is 29 million person rems with an excess of 3000 cancer deaths above the 9.5 million cancer deaths projected in the same population. Largest effect from cesium. The later estimates by Anspaugh, et al. suggest 93 million person rem and a projection of 17000 additional fatal radiogenic cancers out of a total of 123 million cancer deaths. 97% of the health effects are projected to be in the Soviet Union and Europe.

  9. Helen Says:

    I linked to this site on my blog, unlike me I neglected to check snopes.com first. So here’s a disclaimer – there is an element of hoax on it.

    But the hoax is to do with the central character/author, not with the Chernobyl facts.

    To cut a long story short, although it’s very eerie and compelling to read of a woman motorcycling alone through the Chernobyl dead zone, she actually went on a tour and embellished the circumstances.

    However… that doesn’t alter the eeriness and interest of her photoessay on the dead zone. Start here. One of the people debunking her mentioned that people taking the same tour have photographed the same places, so the pictures are the real deal. And people do have ulterior motives for discrediting her (although she’s been her own worst enemy by inventing the motorcycle story.) But I’m actually happy that that part of the story wasn’t true, because I was so horrified by the exposure she’d have had.

    (The motorcycle page is a hoot, too. Whether it happened to her or to a friend, the cucumber story does ring true!)

    Go here to see the terrifying “Elephants foot” – the melted spill of reactor fuel.

    Here’s some more pictures of it.

    And Chernobyl Legacy, by Paul Fusco is a harrowing experience. Jozef, I am so sorry.

  10. Suki Says:

    Helen thank you for the links.
    Paul Fusco’s piece is both harrowing and moving. Each and every experience is disturbing, unthinkable and necessary for us to know of.

    Had you seen kartar’s link to Lyubov Sirota and her poetry?
    It reminded me of the power of one person and a story. It reinforces why we just have to keep honouring these words, personal narratives and images, and pushing them and our gathered rage at a community and its collective conscience.
    The personal will always be political

  11. weez Says:

    Helen, I’m not so sure she invented the motorcycle story. If you look through her site, you do find some images of a motorcycle which could be a Kawasaki Ninja, pictured among the abandoned buildings said to be of the Chernobyl area.

  12. Helen Says:

    Weez, that is interesting – that could have been part of the hoax (e.g. she photographed an old motorcycle that was already in the zone and then reconstructed the story) BUT as she’s said, there are people who have a vested interest in debunking her.

    One of these days I’ll get time to trawl through it all and really make up my mind, there is a lot of argument about it on a lot of web forums.

    Suki, to my shame I didn’t follow the link as I am a bit of a non poetry person – going there now!

  13. weez Says:

    Helen, I’ve looked over Elena’s site rather closely. The motorcycle that appears in the pictures, though often in low light or poor focus, definitely is not a Russian bike. The fairing and windscreen as well as instrument lighting seen in some night time shots are very typical of a Kawasaki Ninja made in the mid-1990s or later. One shot even shows the “1100cc” marking on the rear flank of the bike. Knowing Russian bikes as I do, I can tell you with some confidence that they have yet to make an 1100cc Ural.

    Please see this and this and this and this and this and this.

    I can’t say for sure if there is a prohibition against motorcycles in the ‘dead zone’ or not, but there’s no question that Elena managed to get her Ninja in there- and did get bits of it appearing in her images. Anyone who argues otherwise either doesn’t know what a recent Kwacker Ninja looks like or hasn’t looked very closely at the images.

  14. Helen Says:

    Don’t get me wrong, Weez – I’m not in favour of debunking Elena. I just wanted to point out on the post on my blog that while her motorcycle story is eerie and compelling, the question whether it’s true or false makes no difference to the worth of the pictures taken and the facts of the contamination of the Chernobyl zone. This is for the benefit of people who may choose to come down on the side of “it’s a hoax” (and I can sympathise with that to a great extent, given the number of hoaxes that ARE out there – I’m sure like me you get a lot of emails from concerned relatives re. exploding mobile phones, syringes in cinemas and the like, which have been around the block quite a few times!)

  15. weez Says:

    Helen, I had seen Elena’s site a couple of years ago and until now wasn’t aware that anyone had questioned the veracity of her tale. Having been a touring motorcyclist myself for around 360,000 miles (~500,000km) over three continents, I find a bikie’s happysnaps always seem to include one’s trusty steed in one way or another. Elena’s no different. In fact, perhaps as a result of her tale being queried, she’s added a few pics including the bike since I first saw the site, specifically the one that includes the bike’s number plate ‘KIA.’ Indeed, the pictures of Chernobyl and Ukraine after the fact were much more important to Elena than the bragging rights to having ridden through the zone.

    Helen, I didn’t think you specifically were suggesting that Elena was stretching the truth, but should anyone else stumble upon this discussion, the links to pics of her bike in the zone should silence any doubt. That’s a Kawasaki Ninja and the scene could be no place other than Chernobyl.

  16. Graham Bell Says:

    A week later and everyone seems to have forgotten the Chernobyl disaster already.

    That’s not just sad, it’s downright suicidal …. if we fail to keep on remembering that a disaster like this did happen then we will surely get unexpected, rapid and very destructive reminders ….. again and again.

  17. Suki Says:

    You’re of course right Graham.

    I’ve taken to reframing- I’m amazed that the Chernobyl story got up at all in this climate of denial, minimisation and “I wasn’t in the room at the time.”

  18. Brownie Says:

    When I followed the link to your photo source, I was heartened to see the many organisations devoted to assisting the Belarus children.
    As I said in my comment though, they were from every country of the world but Australia.

  19. Suki Says:

    Sadly, and shamefully Australia is not generous to many children including the children of Belarus…

    We blog, we care, we hope and we vote.

  20. Graham Bell Says:

    “We blog, we care, we hope and we vote”.

    How true, Suki.

    Persistence pays …… especially since persistence is a characteristic of some radioactive isotopes.

  21. Graham Bell Says:

    Can’t find anywhere else to say it ….. I like your photos on top.

  22. Suki Says:

    Thanks Graham.
    I like to add new photos to the 36 random images in the masthead. The template is not restricted by a maximum number of images and I plan to just keep adding…

  23. Graham Bell Says:

    Why go to Chernobyl? Looks like Chernobyl will be coming to us soon enough.

  24. Graham Bell Says:

    Way back in the late ‘seventies, I gave a bit of peripheral assistance to ex-servicemen who had served at the nuclear weapons tests in Western Australia and South Australia; many had cancers. Many are now dead – earlier than would be expected when compared with their non-military peers. During the ‘eighties there were all sorts of papers, books and inquiries that linked the ex-servicemen’s illnesses with their participation in those British nuclear weapons tests here. Yet the Australian government persisted in denying any such links and so denied their responsibilities. Now, this scandal is re-emerging …. and the denials persist.

    Jeez!!! At least the Austrians lock up people for denying The Holocaust. Maybe the remaining survivors of the atomic bomb tests here in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties should call on some Austrian police and judges to deal with those in the Australian government who make similar incredible denials…… and get a few doctors from the Ukraine and from Belarus to put the Australian government’s crystal-ball gazers right in the portrait with their own personal experiences of the long-term effects of ionizing radiation.

  25. Suki Says:

    If the government denies responsibility to ex-servicemen sent to the area; what hope for the traditional land owners?

  26. Graham Bell Says:

    Our government has shown tremendous generosittttyyyy towards the original inhabbittaannttss of Austtrraalia ….. hang on, … I’ll have to close the window ….. can’t type properly with all those pigs flying overhead ….

Leave a Reply