The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine is seen after the explosion on April 26, 1986. (SHONE/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images)
Editor’s note: Lev Golinkin writes about the identity of refugees and immigrants, as well as Ukraine, Russia and the far right. He is the author of the notes “A backpack, a bear, and eight vodka boxes.” The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. Opinion More opinion on CNN.
The signs were delightful. But again, it was the Soviet Union, where the banners were always optimistic. They boasted of fulfilling production and harvest quotas, producing tractors and tanks ahead of schedule, glorifying communism and the founder of Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin.
I was six years old and was outside with my parents watching the banners and flags in Kharkov (now called Kharkiv), the second largest city in Ukraine. We were about to go back to our apartment when I heard my grandmother screaming from the balcony, asking my mother to let me in. She had heard a rumor of an accident at the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, just under 300 miles from Kharkiv.
It was May 1, 1986, and it was one of the biggest holidays of the Soviet year – the celebration of workers and peasants. And the Kremlin never missed an opportunity to hold a military parade, even in the midst of the worst nuclear disaster in history.
The Chernobyl explosion occurred on April 26, 1986 – five days before the May Day parade. But Moscow remained silent, refusal to admit Nothing happened until the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl was discovered in Scandinavia on April 28, making the disaster impossible to conceal. Even after the Kremlin was forced to admit that an accident had occurred at its nuclear plant, it significantly downplayed the issue.
Now, 36 years later, Russia is still hiding its citizens — this time, the true picture of its war in Ukraine.
On April 29, three days after the Chernobyl disaster, Moscow issued a terse television advertisement informing citizens that one of the reactors had been damaged and that assistance had been given to those who needed it. Ad was less than 20 seconds Long. The Kremlin has not canceled the May Day rallies that have been held in countless cities across the region. And so we walked out, with banners, red banners, optimism – and radiance.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with a torrent of rumors and insinuations that swirled around living rooms across the Soviet Union as Moscow continued to pile up around the explosion with secrecy and obscurity. The Politburo began easing restrictions on free speech, but the confusion persisted. No one knew the truth, but everyone knew that the Kremlin was lying – and that was the only certainty.
People can justify anything, especially when they live under a dictatorship. You can blame famines in bad winters, wars on external aggression, economic hardship on sabotage by the capitalists, and even the old Soviet purges on the paranoid madness of Joseph Stalin.
But the elimination of radiation was not justified. Moscow’s refusal to cancel May Day celebrations exposed the hollow horror of the Soviet Union – that even the most staunch believers in communism knew they lived in a country that had put millions of people at risk just to be able to stage a parade.
A portrait of Vladimir Lenin sitting on a truck during May Day celebrations in Red Square, Moscow, on May 1, 1986. Portraits of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, founders of modern communism, can also be seen in the crowd. (AFP/Getty Images)
Then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev waves from the top of Lenin’s mausoleum on Moscow’s Red Square during May Day celebrations in 1986. The parade seemed unaffected by news of the Chernobyl accident. (Boris Yurchenko/AFP)
soviet prime minister Mikhail Gorbachev He himself admitted that Chernobyl – which undermined faith in the Soviet system, poisoned vast tracts of land and cost billions to clean up – contributed more to the collapse of the Soviet Union than any other factor. Decades of Russian secrecy about the disaster make it impossible to arrive at an accurate estimate of the casualties, and to this day, experts continue Guess A reassessment of the true impact of the Chernobyl accident.
The Politburo’s decision to go ahead with the show fits with the history of dictatorship based on lies. Lenin rose to power through people’s promises Peace, Earth and Bread Instead, it introduced a totalitarian regime that killed millions, often by starvation.
Then-Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (second from right) and secret police official Nikolai Yezhov (right), pose in front of the Moscow Canal in 1937 (RIA-Novosti / AFP / Getty Images)
Yegov oversaw the Great Purge of Stalin. But having fallen from favor, he was later convicted, executed, and removed from this image. (RIA-Novosti/AFP/Getty Images)
Then came Stalin, the famous spray enemies out pictures (Other communist regimes do the same). In 1932 and 1933, when Stalin starved 3.9 million Ukrainians to death, he masterminded a subtle deception of the West by hide Real statistics on deaths and bans on most foreign journalists.
For nearly 70 years, the Soviets in the Kremlin had generations of citizens tolerating bloodshed covered in lies and propaganda. The same thing is happening today, during Moscow’s brutal war on Ukraine. The media formats may be a little different, but the lies persist.
The Politburo did not cancel the 1986 Labor Day Parade for the simplest reason – because it couldn’t. Canceling the show means admitting that the Soviet Union suffered a serious nuclear accident. But the narrative of the Soviet Union – a land that worships industry, glorifies nuclear power and rejoices at the sight of ICBMs resounding across Red Square – did not allow nuclear accidents, and therefore the parade could not be cancelled.
The same goes for the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The dictator in the Kremlin built his rule, in large part, on restoring Russia’s prestige, which is a polite way of saying restoring the Russian Empire. He has positioned himself as the protector of the legendary Slavic realm, the realm Russian Orthodox Church. The world in which is the mother of Russia Protect and save Belarus, the Russian name for Belarus; “Little Russia”, as Putin and other Russian vengeors call Ukraine; And all the other small Russians affiliated across Eastern Europe.
Earlier this month, CNN released Amazing report It details the behavior of the Russian soldiers who captured Chernobyl, spreading radioactive dust throughout the area and recklessly forcing the power plant crew to work exhausting 12-hour shifts. It was an astonishingly dangerous move, especially by the forces that Russia had falsely portrayed as “peacekeepers” Bring order to Ukraine.
Putin – Who claims that this invasion is? to “remove” Ukraine – bombed many jewish sites In Kharkiv, including the city synagogue and the Holocaust memorial in Drupetsky Yar, a valley where at least the Nazis massacred 15,000 Jews.
Air strikes targeting the city of Kyiv hit the Babin Yar Holocaust Memorial on March 1, pictured here the next day. The memorial is located near the Kyiv TV Tower, which was also damaged. (Laurent van der Stockt/Le Monde/Getty Images)
A memorial in the form of a damaged menorah at the entrance to the Drubetsky Yar Holocaust Memorial Complex in Kharkiv, on March 27. The memorial is located on the site of the mass murder of the Jewish people during World War II. (Sergey Popock/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian forces abide by the demands of many international humanitarian organizations “war crimes,” The killing of the same Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine Putin insists is “saving”. The Kremlin writes harshly the undeniable reports of atrocities such as the massacres in Bucha K “excitement“And – most disgusting – the pseudo-science operations that he carried out “Actors in Crisis”. Indeed, Putin awarded the honorary title of major general accused of Putin’s massacres, congratulating the members of the unit. “Great heroism and courage.”
My family and I fled the Soviet Union in 1989. Watching the atrocities in Ukraine unfold from America is fantastical, because it feels like the decades between the fall of communism and today have evaporated.
May 1 celebrations in Russia these days may not be on the scale of Soviet times; After the collapse of the Soviet Union, May Day lost its legendary status as a celebration of the proletariat. But soon another parade – commemorating the victory of World War II on May 9 – will make its way through Moscow.
An abandoned building in Pripyat near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, photographed on April 26, 2021, during an event to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the disaster. (Genia Savelov/AFP/Getty Images)
Abandoned remains of the fairground in Pripyat, November 12, 2019. With radiation levels low, the surrounding area was officially opened to tourists in 2010 (Bai Xueqi / Xinhua / Getty Images)
awesome sacrifice What was needed to defeat Nazi Germany was a cornerstone of Soviet culture—and even more important to Putin’s Russia, which used the memory of World War II as a way to unite disparate populations without much of a national identity.
It’s not hard to anticipate the barrage of lies, half-truths, and distortions about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that will be swirling in the air that day. Propaganda tales of Russian soldiers greeted by tearful crowds of “rescued” Russian spokesmen, harrowing accounts of the atrocities of rabid Ukrainians, and tips for Putin to continue saving the Russian world will likely be in the cards.
This is the narrative on which Putin’s Russia is built. It supersedes reality, suffering from the impact of sanctions and the corpses of young Russian soldiers brought home from Ukraine. It is a lie that the truth cannot be allowed to penetrate. This is why although the invasion was a largely disastrous failure, Moscow would not cancel the war.