Broken Lives

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From the very beginning, the Soviet authorities attempted to conceal the real size of the disaster. Inhabitants of this particular village were only officially informed about the catastrophe on May 8. What is worse, authorities apparently could not decide what to do.

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First, they removed children, leaving the adults in place. Residents of villages located closer to the power plant were moved to locations further north, which were also eventually evacuated—sometimes years after the initial explosion—when the authorities finally built new houses to accommodate displaced persons.

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In the village, we stopped outside a ruined wooden house. Under a thick layer of dust, the floor was rotten and squeaked dangerously with each of his steps. Mariya has never been here since that happened. In September , Woroniec, his wife, and two children were yanked out of their home and deposited with a family who had agreed to host them. After a year and a half, they were moved to one of many identical houses in the village of Ut, which was built by the authorities for people displaced from Zapovednik. Mariya, after graduating from university, was employed by a factory in the town.

Although she still lives in the dorms, she was eventually unable to continue working. Her husband takes on odd jobs; he spent some time in Poland sending money back home. Hanna and Siemion in Ut on April Everything was gone. The farm, family memorabilia, graves of my parents and siblings. Hanna, almost 80, and her husband, Siemion, in his 90s, also live in Ut. One resident said there are about 25 families on this street but in recent years 30 people had died.

She was trying to gesticulate, but her horribly twisted hands made that almost impossible. She was paralyzed from the waist down several years ago and since then has been bedridden. She tried to grab one of the dozens of medicines sitting on a nearby cupboard, but it slipped away from her fingers. Nadia, who is paralyzed from the waist down, at her home on the edge of the Zapovednik on April The village where she lives is half displaced. So the young fled, and the elderly remained in place. How can I leave it? If I give up, this place will be erased from the Earth. In front of his eyes stretched a field covered with spring-green grass.

There are around people left in the village. It might be totally erased, or the authorities—eager to reinvigorate agriculture in the area—might try to settle new inhabitants there and revive it.


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Woroniec looks at the ruined Orthodox Church in the deserted village of Ostroglady on April Thanks to the direction the wind was blowing just after the explosion, Belarus was most severely affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Pouring rain spread radiation to the regions lying hundreds of miles away from Zapovednik.


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The long-lasting health effects of the exposure to the radiation are still highly contested by scientists, environmentalists, and state officials. Minsk claims that the nuclear threat has been overcome and has systematically reduced the range of closed zones, restored agricultural production near Zapovednik, and even announced its partial opening for tourists.

Doctors and researchers emphasize that it is nearly impossible to prove a connection between exposure from the meltdown and a rise in the rate of chronic disease. However, according to a UNICEF factsheet , in there was a 14 percent increase in children registered with disabilities in Belarus.

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And whatever the data, ordinary people still have their own opinions. He is a journalist working for the independent information website Tut. Born two months after the Chernobyl disaster, he was diagnosed with serious cataracts in both eyes a few years late. If not for the determination of his father, who first arranged two operations in Moscow and then a final one in Germany, he would be half-blind today. Whatever the truth about the contamination and disease affecting Belarusians, the trauma from the event is undeniable.

It set the stage for the dissolution of the Soviet Union—foreign charity programs gave thousands of young people the opportunity to travel outside of the bloc and later Belarus for treatment. In many, early enthusiasm turns to deep disillusionment as the price of complicity with a brutal dictatorship--fighting at the front, aerial bombardment at home, murder in the concentration camps—becomes clear.

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Bringing together the voices of men and women, perpetrators and victims, Broken Lives reveals the intimate human details of historical events and offers new insights about persistent questions. Why did so many Germans support Hitler through years of wartime sacrifice and Nazi inhumanity? How did they finally distance themselves from this racist dictatorship and come to embrace human rights?

Jarausch argues that this generation's focus on its own suffering, often maligned by historians, ultimately led to a more critical understanding of national identity—one that helped transform Germany from a military aggressor into a pillar of European democracy. The result is a powerful account of the everyday experiences and troubling memories of average Germans who journeyed into, through, and out of the abyss of a dark century. Konrad H.

He lives in Chapel Hill and Berlin.


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