But there is a war on, as Prigozhin’s failed mutiny and the ongoing nuclear threat reminded us. In a residential area of Kyiv, a married couple, in their early 40s, dressed as if heading to the nearby swimming pool, holding towels and beach gear, were, at the same time, seriously discussing whether the radiation release from a possible explosion at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe, would be different from that at the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear power plant.
They both agreed that, from the information they had read online, the threat could be much less severe. The wife concluded that there was no need to panic nor to buy iodine.
When I got into the car, I turned on the radio to listen to some mellow modern music. Instead, I was told three times in the next half hour that I should close all my windows and doors in case of a radiation explosion, carefully seal all cracks, and clean frequently with a damp cloth.
Pharmacies are in short supply of potassium iodide tablets. I was unable to buy anyfrom several places. Television and radio do not encourage panic and buying up all the iodine, but Ukrainians remember from Soviet times that this is the easiest way to protect yourself from radiation. Teachers used to tell us about it during life safety lessons at school.
Calls have been mounting to find ways to support Kyiv's war effort by tapping the bank accounts, investments and other assets frozen after Russia invaded its neighbour in 2022.
My cousin, Oleksandra Maistrenko, 25, was among the first to buy potassium iodide tablets, over a week ago. She has already sent one tablet to her husband at the front, brought one to me and my husband, Pavlo, and distributed them to her friends. "You can't take more than one pill," she told me. She didn't give any to our grandmother, Valentina, 83, because she had read online that "after 45, there is no point in taking them."
Since the beginning of the Russian full-scale invasion, Ukrainians have been concerned about possible radiation threats. Last spring, the Ukrainian authorities reported that the Russian army had mined the ZNPP. Ukrainians panicked to buy iodine in pharmacies at least in March and August2022.
Today’s reaction by Ukrainians was prompted by the recent urgent appealby President Zelensky, who announced the threat of a "terrorist attack with a release of radiation" at the ZNPP. My mother in southern Kherson read some propaganda where Russians try to accuse Ukrainians of preparing a provocation at ZNPP. She believes that this is a way for the Russian authorities to accuse the Ukrainian army of their own “false flag” operation and is preparing to leave Kherson in early July.
When she was four months pregnant with me the Chornobyl disaster happened in 1986. On April 26, together with my father she was having a relaxing walk in a park in Zaporizhzhia on his birthday; they were both studying at the medical university.
My mother and father, were still young aged 25 and just turned 27, started the walk wearing white clothes and finished it dressed in gray. My Mom told me this story many times in my childhood, holding a grudge against the Soviet government, which had concealed the extent of the Chornobyl disaster. For the next 5 months, she was afraid that I would be born with missing organs or some kind of disease. There were a lot of rumors about the effects on newborns in Soviet Ukraine, but there were no reliable statistics to back them up.
In 2023, there is a lot of information about what is happening on the territory of the ZNPP. The IAEA tries to keep a more reassuring tone, emphasizing that there are water reserves to cool the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP).
“Together, the large cooling pond, the smaller spray ponds, and the discharge channel have sufficient water for some months, but the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is also taking action to preserve and replenish these reserves as much as possible,” said Director General Rafael Grossi.
My cousin, Oleh, 47, father of 3, calculated the distance from ZNPP to Kyiv, Odesa, where he now lives, and Kherson, which he had to leave because of the war. Odesa was the farthest away according to Google maps, although no one knows the radius of the radiation level in case of a possible accident. In addition, my family believes that one of the most influential factors in the case of an accident will be the wind direction. Oleg looks at the distance not by routes, but in a straight line, "because radiation does not move along roads."
As the scale of any incidentwill be difficult to predict, many Ukrainians believe it is better to prepare for a “worst-case” scenario, but continue to live their lives hoping for the best. There is no hiding from radiation and information about it. In times of war forewarned means forearmed.
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