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Adi Roche: Heroic men were sent in to fight a nuclear disaster with shovels and their bare hands

‘The Chernobyl series on Sky TV is an honest, truthful and a jarring appraisal of human behaviour – acting as a cautionary tale for all of us’, writes Adi Roche.

Adi Roche in the Exclusion Zone
Adi Roche in the Exclusion Zone

33 YEARS HAVE PASSED but sadly the spectre of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster continues to stalk across the generations – in the land, water, air and in people’s DNA. 

Chernobyl isn’t something from the past. Chernobyl is forever. It remains an unfolding and everlasting, cautionary tragedy.  

The impact of that single shocking nuclear accident can never be undone; its radioactive footprint is embedded in our world forever.

Countless people are still being affected by its legacy shadowing their lives for future generations. 

This deadly weapon is silent, invisible, not even a smell warns you of the extreme danger.

Radiation is a silent killer that knows no borders and penetrates all life-  the land, the air, the water as well as human life.
There’s no safe haven, there is no antidote.

More than 33 years on, the Chernobyl zone is even more radioactive than previously thought, that is according to research by the American Geophysical Union.

To this day, continuing low dose exposure through the food chain poses a huge risk to people.  There are an estimated two million people living in the affected areas – some 500,000 of those are children. 

We may never know the full extent of that contamination or be able to prove that a specific case of illness relates to it – but the tragedy that is Chernobyl is very, very real.

Tragedy reminds us of our shared humanity. Tragedy brings out our innate nobility and bravery.  

I believe that no other nation in the world has responded to this disaster as well as Ireland has. We continue to champion the lives of people affected by the Chernobyl disaster. 

Two weeks ago, I spoke again at the United Nations headquarters in New York. I want to see all of the 700,000 men – the so-called ‘ liquidators’ – who fought to contain the deadly fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

They were soldiers, firefighters, helicopter pilots, engineers and construction workers, who were ordered into the still burning, still disintegrating, nuclear plant to try to cut off the clouds of radioactivity that were spreading across Europe.

Many of these heroic men died within days of being sent in to fight a nuclear disaster with little more than shovels and their bare hands. 

Some died shortly afterwards and others lingered on in ill health for years before passing away.

Some of the men survive today, still battling radiation-linked illnesses and living on meagre pensions.  To a large extent they have been forgotten, almost airbrushed out of history.

Their intercession is unparalleled in history and their self-sacrifice cannot be overstated

With the passing of time – after all 33 years is more than a generation – disasters like Chernobyl can fade from the headlines, from the global consciousness and from the memory of ordinary people.

And then comes a film, confident enough to proclaim itself and its intent with that single, haunted, forever place-name, ‘Chernobyl’. 

A series that will reveal to a new global audience the ignominy, the betrayal and the heroism behind the deadliest accident in history.  

It is of great significance that HBO and Sky co-commissioned the powerfully impactful new series ‘Chernobyl‘.

Their dramatisation of the events is based on the true story and reveals the role of the liquidators, their heroism and also the betrayal of that day.

The 5-part series, currently running on Sky is retelling the story to a new and wider audience as never articulated or envisioned before.

This fantastic, creative series is helping us all to see Chernobyl with fresh eyes and ears and a fresh heart. It creates solidarity with those affected by the disaster and allows for compassion and understanding. 

This series took the United Nations by storm– it doesn’t shy away from telling it like it is and it is not for the faint-hearted. It was a shock for the delegates to see the story told in such a frank and direct way.

The revelation of deception and cover-up is deeply disturbing.

For the first time, the public will discover what happens when we reject the truth and ignore the advice of experts – instead running with that which is convenient. 

Because the truth remains the truth and in the end it will always reveal itself.

This Chernobyl series is an honest, truthful and a jarring appraisal of human behaviour – acting as a cautionary tale for all of us.

I truly believe that this series will be one of the most influential shows of our time

I congratulate and applaud the decision of all concerned in the making of this powerful series. They honour the many victims and heroes of Chernobyl.

Our charity work with the children and now grandchildren of Chernobyl, in Ukraine and Belarus, continues and we cling to the hope that a tragedy like Chernobyl will never happen again.

So much is already lost and compromised but we owe it to those who sacrificed their lives for our safety – to do all that we can to keep the memory of their sacrifice alive. 

To those who died, with a loud and clear voice, we say – ‘we will not forget you’.

Adi Roche is the founder and Voluntary CEO of Chernobyl Children International (CCI) and was one of the leading international figures to respond to the humanitarian crisis which ensued after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

For more than 40 years she has been passionately campaigning for and is publicly active in, issues relating to the environment, peace and social justice.

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