The track to Chernobyl & & amp;

Issue 

Three anti-nuclear activists from Melbourne walked 1000 kilometres from Kiev in Ukraine, through Belarus to Smolensk in Russia. They were taking part in an anti-nuclear walk that began in Brussels in January and ended in Moscow on October 13, 1995. The Walk Across Europe for a Nuclear Free World was organised by the Belgium peace, environment and social justice group Mother Earth. ILA MARKS, one of the walkers, recounts her experiences. We joined the walk in Ukraine in midsummer, when the days were hot, walking an average 25 kilometres a day. When possible, we chose routes that took us through villages rather than along main highways, even if it meant walking an extra four or five kilometres. It took our feet two weeks to toughen up and become free of blisters. By the time we left the walk near Smolensk, the autumn days had become cooler. The response from local people wherever we went was overwhelming. The day we arrived on the walk, we had travelled 75 kilometres from Kiev by bus. The local people had set up a little table with drinks and fruit to welcome the walkers to the village. That evening, we were treated to a traditional welcome of bread and salt by people wearing regional costume, followed by a concert. For us, these became common events. When walking through villages, we were often greeted by people with gifts of flowers and fruit. Sometimes they would even walk with us through their village. Walkers came and went, some stayed only a few days, some had been on the walk since January and were going to Moscow, others, like us, stayed a matter of months. Through Ukraine, there were approximately 80 walkers. However, in Belarus, the numbers reduced to 25 when we were near radioactively contaminated areas. In Russia, the numbers increased to around 50. Walkers came from many countries including the US, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine. Naturally, they were an interesting group. An Austrian woman had worked in Nicaragua for 10 years in areas close to the fighting between the Sandinistas and the contras. She joined the walk because she wanted to bring attention to the Chernobyl disaster. Many of the walkers from Ukraine and Belarus were tertiary students on vacation and those who had just finished high school. Much of the Russian and English translation was done by them and with the little experience they had, they found themselves translating at official receptions in large towns and in meetings with government officials. We slept in school gymnasiums, cultural centres and Pioneer camps. Some walkers put up tents in the school yards, but most chose to sleep in the gym. Our luggage was carried by our support vehicle, Charlie, an old Belgian Transit Authority bus. Our meals were cooked by a collective from Holland called Rumpanplan (Disaster Relief) who worked out of an old Mercedes van. Three times a day, they unloaded their trestles, gas cookers, pots and pans to cook us vegetarian meals. All decisions were made by consensus at meetings held in a circle. Decisions covered day-to-day needs like getting up time, through to decisions about the type of action to have at a power plant. When visiting an eastern European country, you need to be invited by an organisation. In Ukraine, our local organisation was the environment group, Green Earth. In Belarus, it was Children of Chernobyl and in Russia, the Youth Council. These organisations looked after our logistic problems and organised much of the publicity. We received a lot of media attention and were met by television and newspapers in each new district and city. As well as walking six days a week, people on the walk initiated several anti-nuclear actions throughout nine months. During our two months on the walk, the most memorable actions involved demonstrations at the French embassies in Minsk and Kiev against French atomic tests in the Pacific. These actions led to the arrest of walkers. A demonstration was also held outside the Chinese embassy in Minsk after their atomic test in August. The fact that Belarus, the country most affected by the Chernobyl disaster, is considering building eight nuclear power plants was also the catalyst for a demonstration outside the Ministry for Energy in Minsk. On a freezing day in September, 22 walkers protested outside the Smolensk, Chernobyl-type nuclear facility at Desnogorsk in Russia. Hiroshima Day was commemorated in Cernigdv, a city of 300,000 people, 70 kilometres from Chernobyl in Ukraine. Walking each day was an action in itself and had a rhythm of its own. We were woken each day at 6am by a quiet call, ate breakfast in the dawn light from trestles laden with porridge, bread, cheese, honey and jam, then followed by a morning circle. We began to walk by 8am. We often walked through as many as five villages a day, and the rhythm of village life became part of ours. In the morning, people could be seen walking to the fields, then throughout the day, we would wave to them as they gathered bags of potatoes, stacked sheaves of flax, collected grass for their livestock or watched over their cows grazing in the field. Our rhythm involved walking 7-10 kilometres, then stopping for morning tea, which we called a blister stop. After a short rest, we set off again for the same distance before stopping for lunch. If the weather was sunny, many people had a short siesta, then walked again in the afternoon. As well as walking, there were leaflets to hand out, signatures for petitions to collect and gifts of flowers and fruits to receive. There were always other walkers to walk with each day who had interesting stories to tell. In Moscow, the police arrested half the walkers in an attempt to prevent them from entering Red Square. Some people had walked 5500 kilometres over nine months, and all the walkers were determined to walk as planned. It was not until all walkers had been released that the walk ended in Red Square on October 13, one day late.

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