Chernobyl disaster led to return of almost 2,000 ethnic Czechs
This Tuesday marks 25 years since the shock of the Chernobyl disaster, when Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine exploded, sending previously unseen quantities of nuclear contamination into the air. A radiation cloud spread over Russia and Central and Western Europe, with the first reading of the disaster registered more than 1,000 kilometres away in Sweden. To date Chernobyl is still considered the world’s worst nuclear accident, leaving whole villages and cities in the area abandoned. What is less known is that in the early 1990s almost 2,000 ethnic Czechs left their homes in Ukraine over health fears to be repatriated in Czechoslovakia.
“In the 1980s I worked as a teacher and translator for a funfair because of the lack of employment opportunities, and consequently spent a lot of time in areas of the former Soviet Union. When the Velvet Revolution came I never expected to travel to the East again. But by chance - through a contact on the president’s trip to Moscow - I eventually became involved with Czech expatriates whose children were dying from leukaemia related to the Chernobyl accident. They had petitioned the president.”
“I was very pleasantly surprised by what I saw: small and beautiful villages. The people reminded me of my own grandparents, meeting on the square, speaking slightly archaic Czech, and I told myself I would help. I took part and for more than a year described the situation, including fears related to Chernobyl, to members of the Czech Parliament. I also wrote articles and spoke weekly on the radio, saying it was necessary for us to help now that we could.”
“Those interested in returning were able to choose what kind of areas they wanted to live in, whether in more or lesser populated places, but of course coming back wasn’t always easy. Some people here had prejudices towards the expatriates who they considered ‘Russians’. But I think on the whole, within a year or so, they won others over to their side. The Czechs from the Volhyň area in Ukraine were skilled, spoke good Czech, and I think integrated themselves well.”