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‘Challenge to Ukraine has brought us together’
Bosses target workers, separatists sow chaos in east
Chernobyl: Tale of two opposite class responses
‘Militant’ appeals issue ban at Colo. federal prison
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 78/No. 24      June 23, 2014



2013 Militant Index
Now Available

This is a three-week issue of the paper, as we will be attending the Active Workers Conference. The next issue of the Militant will be mailed out July 3.

Militant/John Studer
“Ukrainians are more conscious, more self-confident” as a result of Maidan protests that ousted President Yanukovych in February, Sergey Akamovych, an official of Chernobyl nuclear workers’ union, said June 8 in Slavutych at 26th anniversary celebration of town’s founding.
(lead article)

‘Challenge to Ukraine has brought us together’

Bosses target workers, separatists sow chaos in east

SLAVUTYCH, Ukraine — “The parade and festival are much bigger this year, and more spirited. More workers from the Chernobyl nuclear plant, like me, are wearing traditional Ukrainian shirts or carrying Ukrainian flags,” said Sergey Akamovych, a member of the central committee of the ATOM Trade Union. On June 8, residents here were celebrating the 26th anniversary of the town, founded for plant workers and their families forced out of areas evacuated after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

The reason for the raised spirits “is the big events in the Maidan,” Akamovych said, referring to mobilizations that ousted the unpopular regime of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February. “Ukrainians are more conscious, more self-confident.”

“They need to be,” he said, pointing to the attacks and provocations in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk by paramilitary gangs entering from Russia to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and destabilize the country.

“The town where we lived before, Pripyat, was uninhabitable because of the radiation,” said Viktoria Babek, vice chair of the union. “After Chernobyl, people came from all over the former Soviet Union. They built Slavutych and joined in efforts to clean up the area after the disaster.”

“There are people from 49 different nationalities here, from Russia, Donetsk, Lviv, all over Ukraine,” Akamovych said. “By challenging our country, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has brought us together in defense of Ukraine. Things won’t ever be the same.”

When Militant correspondents returned to Kiev that evening, Mikhailo Volynets, president of both the Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Ukraine, described the impact of the separatist provocations.

“Miners and other workers are losing their workplaces,” he said. “Miners have been kidnapped and tortured.

“Yesterday, Moscow-backed armed mercenaries invaded the Skochinsky mine in Donetsk,” Volynets said. “They tied up the mine director and beat him in front of the miners, threatening them with worse unless they closed the mine. Miners in the east overwhelmingly oppose these attacks, but even though they far outnumber the thugs, they cannot match their heavy weaponry.

“I oppose the austerity measures the International Monetary Fund is pushing on Ukraine,” he said. “The government wants to slash social benefits and says it will try and sell 38 of the 100 state-owned mines.”

The IMF, the European Union, Ukrainian capitalists and new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko are pushing to slash government benefits, reduce gas and electricity subsidies and make business more profitable on the backs of working people.

Russia is still Ukraine’s single biggest trading partner and supplies much of the country’s energy. In March, Russian state-owned Gazprom raised the price of gas to Ukraine by 80 percent and is demanding Ukraine pay more than $4 billion in supposed debts for fuel.

Moscow has its own problems, including an economy dependent on energy exports at a time when prices are declining. The vast majority of Russian capitalists, concerned foremost with political stability and foreign relations that maximize profits, don’t want war. And neither do most workers, tired of more than a decade of combat in Chechnya, Afghanistan and Georgia.

Moscow pulls back from threat to intervene

The Russian government has backed off from its threats of direct military intervention and withdrawn troops from the Ukrainian border. Putin has recognized the election of Poroshenko and as part of recent negotiations has offered to reduce the price of gas.

Meanwhile, the heterogeneous separatist forces in eastern Ukraine are dividing. Separatist strongholds are increasingly being taken over by units calling themselves the Vostok Battalion, apparently made up of mercenaries tacitly backed by Moscow from Chechnya, Ossetia and other areas.

Near midnight June 8, camouflaged gunmen broke into the house of Vasyl Serdyukov, editor of Serditaya Gazeta, a newspaper that supports Ukrainian sovereignty, took him and his son for several hours and ransacked his home and office.

Residents in Donetsk reported June 10 that Oleg Zhelnakov, who is active in pro-Ukrainian demonstrations, was detained by separatist thugs and beaten.

Some 20,000 people have fled the region since April, according to the London Financial Times, most heading west to Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev and other cities, and some to the south or to relatives in Russia. Thousands of Crimean Tatars have also fled increasingly repressive conditions in their native homeland since its annexation by Moscow in March.

“Many arrive in Kiev almost every day now,” Sergey Shevchuk, a participant in the protests in the capital that brought down the Yanukovych regime, told the Militant June 9. “These are workers, bringing children and carrying almost no money.” He is one of a number of volunteers working to find them housing and financial aid.

Shevchuk says he has been transformed by the struggles of the past few months and remains committed to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Related articles:
Chernobyl: Tale of two opposite class responses
Calif. socialist: ‘We should back workers in Ukraine’
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(front page)

Chernobyl: Tale of two opposite class responses

CHERNOBYL EXCLUSION ZONE, Ukraine — Few live within the 1,000 square-mile area surrounding the world’s worst nuclear disaster that occurred here nearly three decades ago. Passing through what used to be cattle ranches, wheat and potato fields and small villages now abandoned and overrun with vines and weeds, two contrasting images come to mind.

On one hand, the brutality and contempt for working people by the Soviet government in Moscow. The carelessly flawed design of the nuclear reactor that led to the meltdown. The decision to skip construction of a containment vessel that would have impeded the release of radiation. The refusal to immediately evacuate the area or take any measures to prevent residents from consuming contaminated milk and vegetables. The callous and bureaucratic displacement of hundreds of thousands, treating working people like cattle. The paltry resources to treat victims of radiation and assist those whose lives were turned upside-down. And the indifference for the lives and livelihoods of Ukrainian and Russian workers who risked their lives to contain the disaster and clean up the mess — which continues to this day.

In contrast is the image of unparalleled and selfless medical aid and humane care given to more than 25,000 victims of the disaster by the revolutionary government on the small island of Cuba — which continues to this day.

The April 26, 1986, disaster unfolded during a test of the control system as reactor No. 4 was being shut down for routine maintenance. A sudden power surge led to a meltdown of the reactor core and an intense 10-day fire that released large amounts of radiation, which were carried far by winds. More than 130 workers at the plant were sickened by high doses of radiation, according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation. Twenty-eight were dead within three months. Another 19 died over the next two decades. And more than 6,000 children and adolescents contracted thyroid cancer from iodine-131, which was inhaled or ingested, mostly through contaminated milk and vegetables.

The town of Pripyat, built one mile from Chernobyl’s reactors to house the facilities’ 50,000 workers and their families, was not evacuated until 36 hours after the explosion. Residents were told they only needed clothing for three days and then they could return. They never went back.

About 115,000 were evacuated from the surrounding area and 220,000 total from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Visitors approaching the crippled Chernobyl plant are stopped at checkpoints marking two exclusion zones, the first at 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), the second at 10 kilometers (6.2 miles). To enter the zones requires government-issued passes and accompaniment by an approved guide.

25,000 treated in Cuba

As cases of thyroid cancer started growing, which takes several years to develop, the Cuban government responded in a manner consistent with its unbroken record of internationalist working-class solidarity. The first group of 139 children arrived for treatment in Cuba on March 29, 1990. When the Ukrainian government didn’t have planes to transport them, Cuba sent two planes, one just finishing repairs in Uzbekistan that had not yet been painted. The children were greeted by Cuban President Fidel Castro when they landed.

Over the past 24 years Cuba has treated more than 25,000 people affected by the disaster, including at least 21,340 children, at a special clinic established at Tarará, near Havana. Cuban doctors have also been working in Ukraine.

Even at the height of what Cubans call the “special period” of economic hardship when the Soviet Union collapsed, there was no letup in the program providing free medical treatment to all who needed it.

“I knew about the Cuban program for the children,” said Mikhail Remezenko, a union official of the Nuclear Power Workers union and former worker at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant who accompanied Militant correspondents. “Children with serious radiation illnesses came back with greatly improved health. So many were cured. We are very satisfied with what the Cubans did.”

Olga Svyntytska, who lives in Prybirsk and works resettling former residents from the exclusion zone who want to move back to the region, said her cousin went to Cuba as part of the program. Viktoria Babek, who lives in Slavutych, and is vice chair of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Workers union, said many knew about the program from watching TV. “We were glad to see how the Cuban government took the really sick kids and how their stay there improved their health,” she said.

At the Chernobyl Museum in Kiev, the solidarity from Cuba is featured in a large display panel, with photos, letters from family members, and a copy of the Cuban daily Granma from March 31, 1990, showing a gathering of Ukrainian mothers with their children. Irina Ivasenko, president of the Ukrainian Association of Children of Chernobyl, tells Granma she is struck by how such a small country has such a huge heart.

Workers fight pay, pension cuts

The authors of this article hooked up with Remezenko at Chernobyl Park in the exclusion zone, which was opened on the 25th anniversary of the explosion. A long row of signs carry the names of the 187 towns in Ukraine and Belarus that were evacuated. Another monument marks the murderous effects of Washington’s nuclear assault on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

“Twenty-eight firefighters from the plant and from two fire departments in Chernobyl and Pripyat were killed fighting the fires after the explosion,” Remezenko told us. In their honor, firemen donated money to build a life-size monument in front of their fire station. The government refused to pay for it.

Like many of the nuclear workers, Remezenko lives in Slavutych, a town of 25,000 built to house workers forced to abandon Pripyat.

“We are among the lowest paid and worst-treated nuclear workers,” Sergey Akamovych, an executive committee member of the union, told us. “We don’t produce any energy to sell so we don’t make them any profit.”

But there is still room for corruption, he said. Only 60 percent of the government’s allocation for Chernobyl makes it to the plant each year. The rest, he said, “disappears.”

Some 2,700 workers from Slavutych work at Chernobyl, dismantling the remaining reactors, processing leftover nuclear fuel and preventing new radioactive leaks. It is a slow and dangerous process. All four reactors are closed; the last shut down in 2000. Two reactors — No. 5 and No. 6 — were under construction at the time of the explosion and still stand, partially built and surrounded by a gaggle of cranes.

Approximately 200 tons of fuel, plutonium and other highly radioactive fission by-products remain in the bowels of the destroyed reactor No. 4.

Somewhere between 600,000 to 800,000 workers — known as liquidators — were involved in the cleanup effort. Thousands of coal miners were drafted from across Ukraine to dig a tunnel under the wreckage and install a coil to cool the concrete floor and reinforce cracks.

At first they were granted special government benefits because of the danger of the work, including two years of pensions for each year they worked. But nuclear workers more and more had to fight successive Ukrainian governments over wages and pensions. In February 1999, workers set up tent camps outside government offices in Kiev and the country’s five nuclear plants demanding they be paid more than $15 million in outstanding wages.

The fighting example of workers who have been involved in the cleanup and maintenance of the Chernobyl nuclear site is part of the political struggle taking shape in Ukraine today. Protests by liquidators took place from 2011 through 2013 from Kiev to Kharkiv to Luhansk, opposing the pension cuts ordered by President Viktor Yanukovych, who was overthrown in popular anti-government demonstrations in February.
Related articles:
‘Challenge to Ukraine has brought us together’
Bosses target workers, separatists sow chaos in east
Calif. socialist: ‘We should back workers in Ukraine’
Contribute to ‘Militant’ reporting team to Ukraine
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