Sunday, December 13, 2015

Moscow Cutting Back Support for Chernobyl Victims in Russian Regions

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Moscow has cut the benefits it had been providing for Russians in Bryansk, Kaluga, Oryel, and Tula oblasts who suffered from the impact of the 1986 Chernobyl accident in neighboring Ukraine, a move certain to degrade public health not only there but in places to which foodstuffs from these regions are sent.

            When most people think about the victims of Chernobyl, they not surprisingly focus first on Ukraine and Belarus, but many Russian areas were hit as well, not only those along the border with Ukraine but also as far afield as Leningrad Oblast, Bellona’s Irina Andrianova reports (

            Indeed, the radioactive contamination of portions of these Russian regions was and remains so great that there are places where no one is allowed to live and others where gathering mushrooms or other foodstuffs is prohibited and where until last month, almost all residents received some assistance from the authorities.

            But now, the Russian government has reduced the size of the exclusion zones where no one can live and cut back on subsidies to those in less contaminated areas, a step that experts say will mean that the impoverished populations in these areas will collect and sell mushrooms that are still highly contaminated and a threat to public health.

            (For the text of the Russian government decree on this, see; for the relevant portions of the May 1991 Russian law it modifies, see

            As the world approaches the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster next April, environmental protection organizations like Greenpeace are devoting ever more attention to that accident. But curiously and unfortunately, the Russian government is cutting back support for the victims of the disaster.

            Russian law defines four “zones” depending on the degree of contamination ranging from “exclusion” zones where contamination is a threat to life and no one is allowed to live to others in which there are various restrictions imposed on human activity and various subsidies for residents.

            Bryansk oblast, the hardest hit in Russia, has examples of all four kinds of zones. The other oblasts have only lesser ones. But all are affected by the new rules because Moscow has cut back on the size of the most radioactive places and reduced subsidies for those in all of them, Andrianova writes.

            The Russian government has based its decision on tests showing that radioactivity levels have fallen, but Greenpeace experts say that there are problems with those tests because if one examines radioactivity in some plants or soils, it will be found to be lower than if other plants and soils are examined.

            Mushrooms have one of the highest rates of retention of radioactivity, the Greenpeace experts say, and thus radiation levels in them should be the basis for making decisions on the size of the zones, especially since if subsidies are cut back, people will gather, eat and sell mushrooms, thus intensifying and spreading the problem.

            At the same time, there is some justification for Moscow’s actions, the experts say, because some of the villages that had been in one or another of the zones in fact are now totally depopulated. But Moscow’s decision seems driven more by financial considerations that conern about public health or even logic.

            Two years ago, for example, the Russian government ended the existing system of preferences for young people from the contaminated zones to attend higher educational institutions. That was unpopular, but the new cutbacks are even more so; and local people have gone to court and circulated petitions to try to force the government to reverse course.

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