Japanese cherry blossoms radiate from the ghostly figure, dressed in what might be a shroud, or perhaps a gown, adorned with traditional Ukrainian embroidery. The new installation in the lobby of Ukraine’s Chernobyl Museum entwines the two nations with a poem about Kiev’s chestnut trees embracing Japan’s sakura like a sad and worried brother.
Below it, a pair of French backpackers and a trio of Turks watch a video loop replaying the serial explosions that rocked the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant after Japan’s March 11th earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Unit 4 at the Chernobyl Atomic Energy Station (named after V.I. Lenin, naturally) exploded 25 years ago.
It seems ironic that the video screen bears the logo of Japan’s foreign development agency – a red sun hugging a blue globe. In 2010, Japan gave $74,000 to improve the museum’s displays, including touch screens and DVD players. Now, it is like a funhouse mirror, with the Japanese DVD players intended for showing scenes of the Soviet nuclear disaster 60 miles north of Kiev in what is now Ukraine showing scenes of the disaster in Japan instead.
Japan has supported Chernobyl studies and projects in Ukraine for years. Though one people suffered from the Bomb, and the other, a civilian nuclear plant explosion, both were bound by scars of the atomic age. That both, after Fukushima, are now also victims of the “peaceful atom” is almost getting weird. No two peoples could seem further apart in their stereotypes than the productive and dutiful Japanese from the ne’er do wells of post-Soviet Ukraine.