The Moscow Times reports that Russians show “apathy” towards the plight of the many Chernobyl workers, some pictured, who suffered horrible injuries attempting to close off the reactors during the meltdown. The MT states:
“The liquidators, as the firefighters, engineers, scientists, medics and military personnel who mopped up the disaster were known, shouldn’t be struggling to make ends meet, let alone buy medication — in theory. Last year, the government eliminated 10 of the original 25 benefits for liquidators. The end of free health care, in particular, outraged recipients, prompting protests across the country. Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said.”
The MT continues with the sad story of Dr. Shashkov, classic example of Russian cruelty:
Nuclear physicist Alexei Shashkov nearly went blind, suffered multiple heart attacks, developed a gastric ulcer and, last year, lost his hearing in one ear.
Still, he considers himself lucky. Unlike most who worked with him at Chernobyl in the late 1980s, he’s still alive.
As the 20th anniversary of the April 26, 1986, explosion at Chernobyl’s reactor No. 4 nears, there are about 3,000 seriously disabled workers like Shashkov, 60, living, or slowly dying, in Moscow, city authorities say. They add that there may be as many as 25,000 Chernobyl workers with varying levels of disabilities in the city.
Several advocates for survivors say 30,000 Chernobyltsy — an all-encompassing term that includes cleanup workers, widows, evacuees, orphans and others — live in Moscow.
Many, if not most, have suffered the same indignities Shashkov has suffered, if not worse: delayed government payment, legal wrangling with authorities and the bitterness that comes from, they say, being forgotten for cleaning up the planet’s most contaminated 30 square kilometers, the size of the exclusion zone.
Now, liquidators must go to court routinely to get their monthly payments adjusted so that they keep up with inflation. While there are laws dictating that liquidators are entitled to cost-of-living adjustments, the Federal Employment Service does not increase compensation payments until ordered to do so by a court, liquidators said.
Shashkov, for one, was forced to sue in 2002 for higher monthly payments, which had not increased since 2000. A district court in Moscow ruled in his favor, and his monthly payments went up from about 9,000 rubles; he declined to say by how much, fearing that people would think liquidators get too much.
Shashkov, who was let go from his job at the Kurchatov Institute, Russia’s leading nuclear research center, in 1999 after he became too sick to work, spends every day thinking about the disaster and fighting governmental apathy to it.
He also has to worry about his own health. In 1990, Shashkov suffered his first heart attack, although at the time doctors misdiagnosed it. In 1991, on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, he had his second heart attack; he spent the next six months in the hospital. Five months after being released, he had his third heart attack.
Reminiscing about his health before Chernobyl, Shashkov said: “I never knew I even had a heart.”
Today, the physicist spends 8,000 to 10,000 rubles every month on prescription drugs. He said he had buried most of the people he worked with at Chernobyl. When he goes to doctors, he tells them to save time and write down all the ailments he does not have.
Liquidators tend not to criticize the Soviets who built Chernobyl and ultimately mismanaged it. They reserve their bile for former President Boris Yeltsin, whose government initiated the compensation cutbacks, and for the current administration. Liquidators often say they are confused about why the government’s stabilization fund, swollen with oil revenues, cannot be tapped to take care of Chernobyl survivors.
Shashkov, a usually genial man, bristled when the conversation turned to politics, calling President Vladimir Putin, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin greedy and myopic. “They have no concept of motherland,” he said. “They’ve taken this great country and turned it into a mess. They’ve killed science. They’ve killed health care. They’ve killed education.”
When America invaded Serbia, Russians rushed to the street to protest. But when Russia invades the Chernobyl heroes? Russians stand mute, just as they do in the face of rabid racist violence directed at foreign students, as repeatedly documented in this blog. Russiablog has published four stories on race violence in the past year, and not one has been commented upon with sympathy, concern or activism by a Russian.
So goes Russia.