Day One - April 22, 2006
I have arrived safely in the third most important city of the former Soviet Union, Kiev.
After a short stop over in Amsterdam, I arrived in Kiev at 4:30PM (9:30 AM Ottawa time). I was quite jetlagged but I still managed to negotiate my taxi fare for ½ price. (It helped that the British guy behind me in line for exchanging currency told me the price I should be paying for a ride downtown, so when the woman at the Taxi stand quoted double the price well I knew how to react.)
From what I have seen so far, Kiev is a great city. Unfortunately I can’t seem to remember all that I learned during a Russian course I took four years ago so I can’t experience the city as fully as I would like to. Very few people speak English, and those who do seem to be just above my broken four words of Russian.
Yesterday I managed to buy a bottle of water with little difficulty as the woman ahead of me was French – I immediately pounced at the opportunity and after ordering what I wanted (the food at the grocery store is behind the counter so you have to ask for it and someone will get it) she told me Vada is the word for water. I don’t think I will be so lucky for the rest of my time here.
Today was Saturday, and as on every weekend, the main street of the city was shut down to traffic. Thousands of people poured into the massive boulevard, roller blading, biking, strolling or dancing along on the street. Several people took advantage of the space to set up a microphone and give their own concert.
I also stumbled upon a large crowd that had gathered around a bunch of breakdancers. One of the dancers seemed straight out of the Ukrainian gymnastics team, so he had some impressive moves, the others seemed to have backstreet boys-like moves, and they had the right music to accompany them.
Along the street were also some kiosks for Earth Day. They were mostly displays for alternative energies, such as windpower, solar power and biofuels. And a kiosk about a petition signed by more than 150 European organizations who have joined together to challenge the political leaders of the EU and European countries to end the use of nuclear power.
Their hope is to collect 1 million signatures.
This morning I had breakfast with a Ukrainian woman, Eva who was
on her way to the United States for a month. She was 8 years old
when Chernobyl exploded and she said that she remembers it very
well. A couple days after the power plant exploded, while it was
still burning, and before any warnings had been given, there was
a really heavy rain. She and her grandmother were caught by the
rain without raincoats or umbrellas and they where completely soaked
It was only later that they realized that the rain had been radioactive.
May 1st was a national holiday under the Soviet Union and every single person was forced to attend. The people of Ukraine were made to stand outside for this national holiday in 1986, while the Chernobyl reactor unit 4, less that 100 kilometers from Kiev spewed millions of radioactive particles into the air.
Eva however, told me she would really like to go the area around Chernobyl as she was really curious to see what it was like. She explained that there had been many shows on television that followed the lives of some older women who had returned to the exclusion zone and were living off the land.
I happened to catch one of these shows last evening.
The radiometers didn’t detect radiation in the food, in the water, or on the clothes of these people who lived so near Chernobyl… It sounds like something worth investigating, which I will have ample opportunity to do this week.
Tomorrow is the first day of the conference. It will be opened with an artistic program meant to lead us “Back to a New Way of Thinking”. Rebacca Harms, member of the European Parliament and important spokesperson of the West-German anti-nuclear movement will lead the opening.
Now I am off to find something to eat. Given my limited Russian I am a bit apprehensive of what might very well land in my plate.
Emilie Moorhouse is Sierra Club of Canada's Atmosphere and Energy Campaigner.