70 Matching Annotations
  1. May 2020
    1. besieged by the press

      Even to this day, Dr. Gale is, for some reason, is called upon as an authority on radiation and radiation disaster response. Just recently, he publicly criticized HBO's Chernobyl mini-series.

    2. He returned to Los Angeles on May 16 an international hero, recognized on the Moscow subway and in Beverly Hills restaurants.

      Dr. Gale has gone on to be used as a point of reference in multiple atomic disasters in the decades following Chernobyl. However he has been criticized for "exaggerating and publicizing his own role" while he was responding to a nuclear disaster in Brazil [1]. Dr. Gale attempted to make himself appear as a coordinator and leader during this Brazilian disaster, however he received backlash from the US government, Brazilian government, Soviet doctors, and the military doctors he worked with.

      Source; [1] Simons, Marlise, Special to the New York Times. "U.S. Doctor Challenged on Brazil Radiation Aid". The New York Times, November 20, 1987, Friday, Late City Final Edition.

    3. He felt a Soviet physician should be on the podium as well.

      The Soviet government heavily censored their doctors and were vigilant when it came to any sort of information about Chernobyl moving in or out. The KGB played a huge role in making sure only "approved" answers were fed to Dr. Gale and to the Western press as a whole [1].

      Source: [1]Brown, Kate. MANUAL FOR SURVIVAL : A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. S.L., W W Norton, 2020. p. 31

    4. we've not controlled the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

      The first half of the book he co-authored, Final Warning: the Legacy of Chernobyl, focuses specifically on anti-proliferation [1]. Additionally, in various press conferences during his visits to the USSR, Dr. Gale urged Gorbachev and Reagan to come together and denuclearize [2] [3]. Speaking out against nuclear weapons became a huge part of Gale's public image.

      Sources: [1]Gale, Robert, and Thomas Hauser. Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl. Warner Books, 1988. p 1-28. [2],Pine, John. "A nuclear SWAT team in fall-out from Chernobyl". The Advertiser, April 25, 1987 Saturday. [3] Brown, Kate. MANUAL FOR SURVIVAL : A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. S.L., W W Norton, 2020. p. 31

    5. Western physicians usually go over everything on a patient's chart. The Russians, Dr. Gale recalls, ''only focused on the important findings, but I needed everything. Otherwise, it was a seemingly random presentation of data, and that was a problem for me.''

      While dealing with many different patients that are all in need of attention, it is not uncommon for medical professionals to only look at the vital measurements of a patients before moving to the next one. Again this seems to paint Gale as the American single-handedly responsible for reforming the Soviet hospital culture.

    6. The laboratories of Drs. Terasaki and Reisner had to be set up and equipped and, in addition, Dr. Gale had a separate $800,000 shopping list.

      In contrast, it is astounding what Soviet doctors were able to accomplish without nearly the same funding as the American doctors. Soviet doctors would even have to count blood cells by hand in order to determine radiation dosage [1].

      Source: [1]Brown, Kate. MANUAL FOR SURVIVAL : A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. S.L., W W Norton, 2020. p. 28

    7. ''whether to send a bike or a tank to the airport,''

      Within his book, Dr. Gale emphasizes the luxury of having any need for new medical equipment met [1].

      Source: [1]]Gale, Robert, and Thomas Hauser. Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl. Warner Books, 1988. p.63

    8. ''He knows the name of every patient who dies,'' his wife, Tamar, once said. ''They may not see it at the hospital, but every one of those patients is carried in his mind. I see it every night.''

      Gale's personal connection with his patients is something he takes pride in. It is mentioned here in this article, his memoir, and in various interviews he has conducted [1] [2]. This sensitive side of Dr. Gale that the audience gets to see plays into the Western idea of the individual. Dr. Gale is set apart from the crass, impersonal Soviet doctors.

      Sources: [1]Gale, Robert, and Thomas Hauser. Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl. Warner Books, 1988. [2] Fox, Sue. "Young Guardian: Memories of Chernobyl - Some of the things Dr Robert Gale remembers from the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster". The Guardian (London). May 18, 1988.

    9. It was clear that bone marrow transplants were not a wholesale remedy for severe nuclear accidents. Not because they didn't work - the bone marrow transplants had engrafted - but because the victims were so gravely injured by excess radiation, burns and organ damage.

      Actually bone marrow transplants are not an effective mode of treating radiation victims with doses of radiation >500 Gy [1]. The patients treated by Dr. Gale all had doses ranging from 500-600 Gy, and with doses that high and the other medical complications mentioned, bone marrow transplants can actually harm a patient [1] [2].

      Sources: [1]‘ICRP, 2012. ICRP Statement on Tissue Reactions / Early and Late Effects of Radiation in Normal Tissues and Organs – Threshold Doses for Tissue Reactions in a Radiation Protection Context. ICRP Publication 118. Ann. ICRP 41(1/2). pg 60. [2]Gale, Robert, and Thomas Hauser. Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl. Warner Books, 1988.

    10. best supportive care the doctors could offer: antibiotics, transfusions, pain killers.

      This sort of treatment is generally referred to as medical management, and with patients with doses this high it is one of a the few things that can help a patient's chances of survival [1].

      Source: [1]‘ICRP, 2012. ICRP Statement on Tissue Reactions / Early and Late Effects of Radiation in Normal Tissues and Organs – Threshold Doses for Tissue Reactions in a Radiation Protection Context. ICRP Publication 118. Ann. ICRP 41(1/2). pg 60.

    11. uses some of the newest drugs not yet available in the Soviet Union

      These drugs included GM-CSF, a drug that had previously only been tested on animals and was not approved by the FDA until 2015. The experimentation with this drug upon radiation victims breaks many ethical boundaries.

    12. Dr. Gale suggested to Dr. Baranov that patients whose dose of radiation was around 500 rads - the average dose that causes irreversible damage - should receive transplants (one rad is about 100 times that of a chest X-ray).

      It is also at about this dosage that bone marrow transplants can cause serious and often fatal health complications, ranging from kidney failure to the lung tissue thickening.

    13. All this was just the visible damage. What could not be seen was the amount of life-threatening radiation they had absorbed.
    14. But there was nothing controlled about the radiation these patients had received.

      These are the symptoms of those suffering from Acute Radiation Syndrome. Most of these patients were either in the plant at the time of the disaster or those of the first responders. The large majority of people affected by radiation from Chernobyl did not accrue enough radiation to show such sever symptoms.

    15. ''When it was explained that I was a medical specialist from the United States, they were happy I had come to help. I was very careful, as I am with patients at home, to say something encouraging to them.''

      The examples given here serve to paint Dr. Gale as an American savior. While it is true the visiting doctors had much better funding than their Soviet counterparts, they sorely lacked expertise. Moreover, this again helps paint the image of the carrying American doctor.

    16. Dr. Angelina Guskova, a stout radiation biologist in her 50's. Dr. Gale found her a warm but firm woman.

      This is a rather understated introduction for the leading figure in radiation medicine at the time, especially when compared to the detailed introductions given to Dr. Gale's two American colleagues.

    17. Dr. Gale uses physics to calculate the dose, based on the geometry of the accident and the reading on the radiation badge worn by anyone entering a nuclear power plant.

      This method is not even mentioned by Dr. Gale in his book [1]. In fact, he says the Soviet's method of calculating radiation dosage was "far more sophisticated than any system for radiation scoring that [he] knew of" [1].

      Source: Gale, Robert, and Thomas Hauser. Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl. Warner Books, 1988. p.55.

    18. A student of the noted hematologist Andre Vorobiev, Dr. Baranov explained his teacher's biological assessment.

      This method proved to be incredibly accurate and had been developed and adopted by Soviet doctors almost 30 years prior to Chernobyl [1].

      Source: [1] Gus’kova, A. K. “Fifty Years of the Nuclear Industry in Russia—Through the Eyes of a Physician.” Atomic Energy, vol. 87, no. 6, Dec. 1999, pp. 903–908

    19. If the antigens of the donor and recipient do not match, the lymphocytes from the transplanted marrow can reject the recipient's body.

      This is exactly what happened in the two victims that died as a result of Dr. Gale's transplants.

    20. ''bear all costs for his efforts.''

      Hammer spent about $600,000 to give medical supplies to the victims and was later personally thanked by Gorbachev [1]. This act was one in a long history of Hammer's diplomacy between the Soviet Union.

      Source: [1]Weinberg, Steve(1986) Armand Hammer's unique diplomacy, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 42:7, 50-52

    21. bone marrow transplant unit at the U.C.L.A. Medical Center. Dr. Gale was then, and still is, the head of the transplant team.

      During the late 1970s, Dr. Gale used experimental bone marrow transplants on children without properly informing patients of what the procedure was going to be and without approval from a ethics committee, resulting in Dr. Gale being "reprimanded" by the National Institutes of Health.

      Sources: [1]United Press International, December 14, 1985, Saturday, AM cycle.

    22. Last month, Dr. Gale and Andre I. Vorobiev, director of the Soviet Union's Central Institute for Advanced Medical Studies, signed an agreement to monitor the 100,000 people who had lived within what scientists consider the 18.7-mile danger zone.

      This study was never completed according to Kate Brown in her book Manual for Survival.

    23. thyroid gland, where it can cause serious damage years later.

      Roughly 5,000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in children in years following the disaster.

    24. Sweden detected unusual levels of radioactivity in the air.

      It was actually the Swedish government that put the world on alert.

    25. It is impossible, however, to predict Chernobyl's eventual toll.

      Surprisingly, in the decades following Chernobyl the death toll has remained low and rates of disease (such as cancer and various cardiovascular diseases) almost unchanged. However, more studies are always underway to continue to monitor the long term affects of Chernobyl.

    26. Nineteen of the most seriously injured had been given bone marrow or fetal liver transplants by the time Dr. Gale concluded his first trip to Moscow on May 16

      The bone marrow transplants he completed were heavily criticized. Of all the patients Dr. Gale and his team treated during his first 3 months in Moscow, "all but one expire" [1].Additionally, in two deaths it was stated that the bone marrow transplants Dr. Gale performed "contributed to death from kidney failure" [2]. Overall, it seems that not only were Dr. Gale's treatments ineffective, but they were actually harmful.

      Sources: [1]Brown, Kate. MANUAL FOR SURVIVAL : A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. S.L., W W Norton, 2020. p. 32 [2]Gillette, R. (1986, Aug 28). Soviets disparage transplants for chernobyl victims: CHERNOBYL: Little value seen in transplants. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995)

    27. An accident could happen at any nuclear plant in any country.

      While this is not untrue, it should be pointed out that Chernobyl was caused by human error and deep flaws in bureaucratic structures. This recipe for disaster has not been replicated anywhere else in the world.

    28. A man with the wiry, slightly gaunt build of a long-distance runner, Dr. Gale is a boyish 40, although his black hair is noticeably graying. He is soft-spoken, articulate and, in public, measured to the point of sometimes seeming aloof and emotionless. Yet intensity is etched on his long, deeply tanned face.

      This image painted by the author seems to convey that Dr. Gray is youthful, yet old and wise. A flattering description of the doctor that helps create the character the audience can experience the fallout of Chernobyl through.

    1. alphabet of death:

      By ending her poem with the "alphabet of death," Kostenko establishes that society's fixation on scientific progress at the expense of human lives has divested language of its ability to articulate the conditions of the present and imagine a future. Any attempts at linguistic representation must culminate in the "death" symbolized by the nuclear power station. As such, language itself collapses in the face of Chernobyl.

      As Jean-Luc Nancy writes in After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, "We live no longer either in tragic meaning nor in what, with Christianity, was supposed to transport and elevate tragedy to divine salvation . . . We are being exposed to a catastrophe of meaning." [1] In other words, Chernobyl is disastrous not because of what it represents, but because it defies representation of any kind.

      [1] Nancy, Jean-Luc. After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, translated by Charlotte Mandell. Fordham University Press, 2015.

    2. no longer have the forest nor the heavens.

      Kostenko represents Chernobyl not only as an environmental catastrophe, but also as the cause of total alienation from spirituality and heaven. It is possible to read this poem as engaging with one well-known reading of Chernobyl, which interprets the disaster as an inevitable apocalyptic moment predicted in the Book of Revelation:

      Then the third angel sounded: And a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter. [1]

      In Ukrainian, the world "Chernobyl" is derived from two separate roots that combine to mean "black plant." The word "Chernobyl" refers to a specific species of Artemisia, which is a type of weed. [2] In English, Artemisia is translated as "wormwood," which has led many people to link the Chernobyl catastrophe to the "wormwood" mentioned in the Book of Revelation. However, as Michael Palij and William Fletcher note, "The coincidence is not quite so striking in the Ukrainian translation of the Bible, for there the name of the star is Polyn, the genus wormwood, rather than chornobyl', a species of wormwood." [2] Although the etymological relationship between Chernobyl and the Bible does not align perfectly, the religious reading of Chernobyl continues to resonate.



      [1] The Bible. King James Version. Christian Art Publishers, 2012.

      [2] Palij, Michael & William C. Fletcher. "Chornobyl: An Etymology." Ukrainian Quarterly, vol. 42 Spring-Summer 1986, p. 22-24.

      Image Credit:

      "Redstem Wormwood" by Moxxie is licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    3. Lina KostenkoPermalink

      Lina Kostenko is one of the most renowned contemporary Ukrainian poets. She was born in 1930 in Rzhyshchiv, Kyiv Oblast and studied at the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute in Moscow. Kostenko was a leading member of the “Sixtiers” dissident movement, which consisted of "anti-totalitarian" thinkers who openly criticized political repression and corruption in their work. [1] Many of the “Sixtiers” were imprisoned, forcibly held in psychiatric hospitals, or exiled, and Kostenko herself was blacklisted in 1973 for her political activities and subversive writing by the Central Committee on Ideology of the Communist Party of Ukraine. [2] Although her work was not allowed to circulate officially, it was published in secret through samizdat, in which activists and poets transcribed and circulated each other’s forbidden works. Beginning in 1977, she was taken off the blacklist. She later received the prestigious Taras Shevchenko National Prize for her novel Marusya Churai in 1987. [2]

      The Chernobyl disaster is a fundamental theme in Kostenko’s later work. [3] The untitled poem below comes from her collection The Volatile Quatrains, which deals extensively with the difficulties in bearing witness to and remembering Chernobyl.

      As you read her poem, consider this excerpt from an interview between Lina Kostenko and the journalist Oksana Pakhlyovskaya:

      Оксана Пахлёвская: – Ты не боишься ездить в Чернобыльскую зону?

      Oksana Pakhlyovskaya: Aren’t you afraid of going into the Chernobyl zone?

      Лина Костенко: – Нет. Писатель должен видеть всё.

      Lina Kostenko: No. A writer must see everything.



      [1] “The Ukrainian Sixtiers Dissident Movement Museum.” Museum of Kyiv History. 2017, http://www.kyivhistorymuseum.org/en/museum-affiliates/museum-60-th.

      [2] “Kostenko, Lina Vasylivna.” Virtual Museum: Dissident Movement in Ukraine. 2005, http://museum.khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1113913627.

      [3] “Contributor: Lina Kostenko.” Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine for International Literature, https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/contributor/lina-kostenko.

      [4] Kostenko, Lina. From an interview by Oksana Pakhlyovskaya, section IV, Al'terrnativna Barrikad. Translated by Valentina Varnovskaya. Stikhi.ru. https://stihi.ru/2014/08/06/210.

      *English translation by Grace Sewell.

      Image Credit:

      "Lina_Kostenko_2003" by Rosiestep is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    4. I believe he will not die, he – the people, because he is a human.

      How does the ending of this poem fit into the focus on individual and collective accountability for Chernobyl that is developed throughout the rest of the text?

      Please reply directly to this annotation.

    5. the robot could not         shut down the troubles,

      After the explosion at Chernobyl, the Soviet government officials tried to use robots to assist with the most dangerous aspects of the radiation cleanup. [1] However, almost all of the robots could not withstand the high radiation levels on the roof of the reactor. [1] As such, thousands of conscripted soldiers and workers from all over the Soviet Union had to clear the radioactive material off of the roof of the reactor with little protective gear. [1] The image below features the Monument to Those Who Saved the World in Ukraine, which is dedicated to the firefighters and liquidators who responded to Chernobyl.


      [1] Anderson, Christopher. "Soviet Official Admits that Robots Couldn't Handle Chernobyl Cleanup." The Scientist, 19 January 1990, https://www.the-scientist.com/news/soviet-official-admits-that-robots-couldnt-handle-chernobyl-cleanup-61583.

      Image Credit:

      "Memorial to Those Who Saved the World" by Jorge Franganillo is licensed under CC BY-2.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    6. Why does he look exhausted         in the ward? Not for gold, not for a check. Because he shielded the     dear children         himself; because he is     a human. When     the robot could not         shut down the troubles, he stepped into the contaminated compartment.

      How is heroism represented across these three poems? Who is depicted as a hero, and what are the potential implications of these characterizations for our understanding of the Chernobyl catastrophe?

      You may wish to consider the following annotations to inform your response:

      They did not share it

      God is in . . .


      Doctor Gale / The man who flew into Russia

      Robots and liquidators

      Please respond directly to this annotation.

    7. Later we will determine: Who is to blame;

      Compare the beginning of this part of the poem with the beginning of the first part of the poem, in which the speaker asks humanity to forgive him personally for the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. In contrast to the plea for individual forgiveness that we saw previously, here the question of responsibility for Chernobyl is left unresolved. The use of the word "We" implicates the reader in a continuous and collective process of reevaluation and renegotiation of blame. The centrality of the word "we" in Lina Kostenko's poem achieves a similar effect.

    8. The contemporary of Hiroshima, the man who flew into Russia.

      By representing Doctor Gale as the man "who flew into Russia," Voznesensky depicts the international medical response to Chernobyl as equally as heroic as the sacrificial contributions of the Ukrainian and Soviet first responders. However, as the contextual note about Dr. Gale mentions, Soviet radiation specialists like Dr. Angelina Guskova questioned the legitimacy and ethicality of the bone marrow transplant procedures he conducted. That being said, both Soviet and American newspapers presented Dr. Gale as being motivated purely by humanitarian concern and goodwill, which drew attention away from the important work and needs of doctors in the Soviet Union.

      As the biographical note about Andrei Voznesensky states, he spent a lot of time in the United States. Due to his travels, befriended a great number of politicians, artists, and writers abroad, which may help to explain the prominence of Dr. Gale as a representative of the American response to Chernobyl in this poem.

    9. Doctor Gale

      Doctor Gale refers to the American doctor Robert Gale, who is well-known for his controversial bone marrow transplants that he performed on the most severely irradiated victims of the Chernobyl catastrophe. Doctor Gale flew to Moscow shortly after the reactor exploded. He was publicly recognized by Gorbachev for his efforts to help mitigate the health effects of the disaster. [1] That being said, Soviet doctors with extensive experience with treating radiation sickness, such as Dr. Angelina Guskova, criticized Gale for carrying out ineffective bone marrow transplants. [1]

      Prior to his involvement in Chernobyl, Gale was investigated by the government for bypassing standard protocols and treating patients with unapproved drugs without approval. [2] At Chernobyl, he used an experimental drug on his bone marrow transplant patients that was not approved for testing. He used this drug as well at a radiation accident in Brazil, where he practiced medicine on a tourist visa without having been invited by the Brazilian authorities. [2]

      As historian Serhii Plokhy writes in Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, "Gale was a messenger of hope in a world divided by Cold War rivalries, which meant that Soviet and American governments alike presented his actions as heroic. [1] Due to his political importance as a symbol of humanitarian goodwill, he was protected from serious repercussions for his alleged actions.


      [1] Plokhy, Serhii. Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe. Basic Books, 2018.

      [2] Roark, Anne C. "Chernobyl 'Hero': Dr Gale – Medical Maverick." Los Angeles Times, 5 May 1988, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-05-05-mn-3615-story.html.

    10. Von Mekk

      Countess Nadezhda von Mekk was one of the most important patrons of the famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. She was the widow of Karl von Mekk, who created over 14000 kilometers of railroads throughout the Russian Empire. [1]

      Nadezhda Von Mekk

      She fully funded Tchaikovsky's work for years, and they frequently exchanged deeply personal letters about art, music, and their personal lives. [1] Tchaikovsky dedicated his Fourth Symphony to her, among other works. [1] While they communicated extensively, they agreed to never meet in person. Their correspondence ended without explanation in 1890, at which point Nadezhda falsely told Tchaikovsky that she was bankrupt. There is no agreement among scholars regarding the circumstances surrounding the end of their relationship. [1]


      [1] Tommasini, Anthony. "Critic's Notebook: The Patroness Who Made Tchaikovsky Tchaikovsky." The New York Times, 2 September 1998, https://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/02/arts/critic-s-notebook-the-patroness-who-made-tchaikovsky-tchaikovsky.html.

      Image Credit:

      Music Division, The New York Public Library. "Nadezhda Filaretovna von Meck." The New York Public Library Digital Collections, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-beb5-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.

      Image in the public domain.

    11. Is it the fault of science     or of humanity?

      This verse marks one of the first instances in the poem when the speaker distances himself from Chernobyl and interrogates who else can be held responsible for what happened. The distinction between "science" and "humanity" here is especially significant, because it presents two ways of interpreting and responding to Chernobyl. Chernobyl can be understood as an isolated scientific tragedy unique to the Soviet political and scientific contexts, or, as Kate Brown puts it, as an "acceleration on a timeline of exposures that sped up in the second half of the twentieth century . . . connected to many other events," such as war, environmental degradation, and political corruption. [1]

      Read this annotation in conversation with these other important moments throughout the poem that deal with guilt and accountability:

      "Forgive me, / a human, / Humanity"

      Who is to blame?


      [1] Brown, Kate. Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. W. W. Norton and Company, 2019.

    12. They did not share it, we had to question it.

      Unlike Voznesensky and Kostenko's poems, which utilize the word "we" to encourage the reader to reflect on their own complicity in the conditions that allowed for Chernobyl and its subsequent memorialization, Hernán Urbina Joiro represents the Soviet Union's "Iron Curtain" as the clear antagonist of the "West." On the one hand, Joiro's poem clearly demonstrates how the environmental and political effects of Chernobyl transgressed international boundaries. On the other hand, the dichotomy between "East" and "West" that structures the poem does not facilitate reflection on the question of whether it is possible and/or necessary for people within and outside of the former Soviet Union to reflect on their responsibility for their own responses to Chernobyl and nuclear power.

    13. Was all that existed to control such an explosion an Iron Curtain?

      Who has the right and the responsibility to write about and reflect on Chernobyl and other disasters? How do these poems complicate your understanding of the categories of victim, witness, and perpetrator?

      Please reply directly to this annotation.

    14. One day after the destruction in Sweden they found, boundary radiation; the same in Finland as in Germany, too.

      How do these poems place Chernobyl within the context of international politics? How are catastrophes instrumentalized, and by whom?

      You may wish to consider the following annotations to inform your response:


      The radioactive cloud

      Hiroshima and Chernobyl

      Science versus humanity

      Please reply to this annotation with your response.

  2. Apr 2020
    1. Theophanes the Greek.

      Theophanes the Greek is known for being one of the most influential and talented icon painters in Russia. In Russian Orthodox tradition, iconography is an art form that dates back to the year 988 AD, when Prince Vladimir introduced Christianity to Kiev and to the Rus' territory. [1] Theophanes the Greek came to Novgorod and Moscow from Constantinople in the 14th century, where he quickly began to excel as an icon painter and as an illuminator of manuscripts. [1] In Russia, he mentored the great icon painter Andrei Rublev and created some of Russia's most well-known icons, such as Our Lady of the Don, which is included below and is currently featured in the Tretyakov Gallery. [2]

      As art critic Simon Morley writes, "Nearly all icons are not only anonymously painted but also based on pre-existing prototypes, which in their turn are copies of the archetype – the subject itself." [3]That is to say, icon painters must follow a strict set of rules that guide both the design and painting process and the selection of scenes that will be depicted. The individual artist is expecte to learn from and emulate the work created by others.

      To the faithful, icons are sacred because they represent a spiritual "window" to the divine. [4] Therefore, it is very important that icons highlight the eyes of the religious figures that they depict, in order to allow the worshippers to see through these portals and communicate their prayers. It is common practice to physically interact with the icons by kissing them, touching them, and lighting candles in front of them as a form of veneration. [5]

      Under Stalin, many icons were destroyed and icon-painting was outlawed as a profession to support the official policy of atheism. The Yaroslavl Restoration Committee endeavored to save as many of these icons as possible by taking them out of churches and storing them independently, many of which were returned to churches after the fall of the Soviet Union. [6]


      [1] Sevcenko, Ihor. "The Christianization of Kievan Rus'." The Polish Review, vol. 5, no. 4, 1960, pp. 29-35.

      [2] Gorbatova, Anastasia. "Theophanes the Greek, Russia's First Great Master of Religious Art," Russia Beyond, 7 January 2015, Link.

      [3] Morley, Simon. "So Real They Scratched Out Their Eyes," The Independent, 12 November 2000, https://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/so-real-they-scratched-out-their-eyes-625288.html.

      [4] "About Icons and Iconography." Museum of Russian Icons, https://www.museumofrussianicons.org/about-icons/.

      [5] Espinola, Vera Beaver-Bricken. “Russian Icons: Spiritual and Material Aspects.” Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, vol. 31, no. 1, 1992, pp. 17–22.

      [6] "Destruction of Icons." The Museum of Russian Art, https://tmora.org/currentexhibitions/online-exhibitions/transcendent-art-icons-from-yaroslavl-russia/introduction-yaroslavl-city-of-the-bear/destruction-of-icons/.

      Image Credit:

      Theophanes the Greek. Our Lady of the Don. Image in the public domain in the United States. Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Feofan_Donskaja.jpg.

    2. God is in     He who went to the contaminated object;

      To learn about a potential link between Chernobyl and an apocalyptic moment referenced in the Book of Revelation, visit this annotation.

      In this section, the speaker represents Chernobyl not as responsible for a profound spiritual rupture, but instead as the catalyst for a renewed relationship between humanity and God. He emphasizes the presence of the divine in the actions of the first responders to Chernobyl while simultaneously reiterating that the "heroes" of Chernobyl "simply acted like a human."

      This spiritual/religious symbolism of this poem is also reflected in its structure, which from the beginning takes the form of an extended plea for forgiveness, and in the references to iconography.

    3. Where is the poisoned fruit of knowledge?

      The "poisoned fruit / of knowledge" can be interpreted as a reference to Adam and Eve's decision to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, which is a key foundation of Judeo-Christian theology. This reference to original sin builds upon the religious symbolism in the poem, by implying that the people and systems responsible for Chernobyl repeated this irresolvable transgression.

      Other examples of religious symbolism in the poem:

      "Forgive me, a human"

      "God is in . . ."

      "Theophanes the Greek"

    4. He stares uninterruptedly,     like Theophanes the Greek.

      Read about Theophanes the Greek and the tradition of icon painting in Russia for context.

      Here, Voznesensky links the "heroic human" of Chernobyl to the memory of a famous icon painter and the practice of viewing and venerating Russian Orthodox iconography. Engaging with the gaze of the icon is recognized as an essential aspect of the ability of the faithful to communicate with the divine. In this way, Voznesensky relates the act of bearing witness to Chernobyl with the holy ritual of icon veneration and meditation.

    5. Hernán Urbina JoiroPermalink

      Hernán Urbina Joiro is a poet, journalist, writer, and acclaimed medical doctor from Colombia. As a member of the Academia Nacional de Medicina de Colombia, he has received national recognition for his medical research. In 2015, he received the prestigious Orden Gran Cruz de Caballero del Congreso de la República de Colombia for his artistic achievements. He has written for numerous Colombian newspapers and founded the Romanceros and Humanidad Ahora magazines. His book of poetry Canciones para el camino: Poesía escogida 1974-2019 is forthcoming from Caligrama. [1]

      Hernán Urbina Joiro

      He traces the beginning of his poetry to his childhood, when he wrote verses about the massacres that took place between families in his town, San Juan del Cesar. [1] Urbina Joiro views his role as a doctor, who “inquires about the human condition,” as deeply tied to his poetry and journalism, in which he “reproduces in voices, meters, and images . . . the vertigo and the uncertainty of the contemporary world.” [1] Urbina Joiro utilizes poetry as a means to investigate and represent “the history of Colombia and the world,” which informs his artistic engagement with international politics and catastrophes such as Chernobyl. [1]


      [1] Urbina Joiro, Hernán. Hernán Urbina Joiro – Escritor. 2020, https://hernanurbinajoiro.com/.

      Image Credit:

      "Hernán Urbina Joiro" by Evelynparra19 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    6. sarcophagus

      Immediately after Chernobyl, workers from across the Soviet Union subjected themselves to serious radiation risk to construct a concrete "sarcophagus" around the Chernobyl reactor #4. [1] However, due to the hastiness of the construction and the materials used, the containment structure started to leak. As a result, at the 1997 G-7 Summit, the European Commission and Ukraine created a plan for the New Safe Confinement structure. This structure covers the previously constructed sarcophagus and is expected to remain intact for up to 100 years. [2]

      New Safe Containment Structure


      [1] Petryna, Adriana. “Sarcophagus: Chernobyl in Historical Light.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 10, no. 2, 1995, pp. 196–220.

      [2] "Background on Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident." NRC Library, United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 15 August 2018, https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/chernobyl-bg.html#sarco.

      Image Credit:

      "The New Sarcophagus" by kdanecki is licensed by CC BY 2.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    7. from one problem to the next. We have the alphabet of death: N. P. S.

      Do you think that transnational catastrophes require us to reevaluate the limitations and possibilities of language and communication? In the face of the "alphabet of death," what can writers, artists, and scientists do to respond to catastrophes in a way that is productive but not reductive?

      Please reply directly to this annotation.

    8. parsec

      The word parsec is composed of the words parallax and arcsecond. Parsec is a unit used in astronomy to measure extraordinarily large spaces between astronomical objects outside of our Solar System. While the full explanation of this mathematical concept is beyond the scope of this project, a detailed description can be found in the source below. [1]


      [1] Bender, Stephanie. "What is a Parsec?" Universe Today, 14 November 2013, https://www.universetoday.com/32872/parsec/.

    9. Life alone     is not an unfathomable parsec.

      See this annotationfor a definition of the scientific term "parsec."

      This verse expresses the speaker's skepticism regarding the capacity of a purely scientific framework to represent "life" and provide a viable framework for understanding reality. That is to say, science cannot adequately explain the Chernobyl catastrophe and its long-term implications for humanity. It is productive to read this line alongside Lina Kostenko's poem, which represents scientific progress as a trap that alienates humanity from language, environment, and faith alike.

    10. He simply acted         like a human.

      Throughout this poem, the refrain "because he is a human" emphasizes that the "heroes" who responded to Chernobyl acted in accordance with their basic humanity. However, at the beginning of the poem, the speaker identifies himself as a 'human' and asks for forgiveness for the Chernobyl catastrophe. As such, the language that the speaker uses to assign blame to himself (as a "human") is paradoxically the same as the language he uses to draw attention to the sacrifices of others.

    11. He who extinguished the reactor

      Firefighters received the highest doses of radiation from the Chernobyl accident. As Serhii Plokhy notes in Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe, thirty of the sickest firefighters were evacuated from Pripyat and sent to Moscow Hospital No. 6, where they were treated by Dr. Angelina Guskova. [1] Dr. Guskova had extensive experience treating victims of previous radiation-related incidents. Despite the efforts of Guskova's team to assist these patients, 29 firefighters died of acute radiation exposure in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. [2] Additional firefighters and first responders died in the months and years following Chernobyl of radiation-related causes. [3] For more contextual information about the medical response to Chernobyl, click here.


      [1] Plokhy, Serhii. Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe. Basic Books, 2018.

      [2] Ritchie, Hannah. "What was the Death Toll from Chernobyl and Fukushima?" Our World in Data, 24 July 2017, https://ourworldindata.org/what-was-the-death-toll-from-chernobyl-and-fukushima.

      [3] Lanese, Nicoletta. "The Real Chernobyl: A&A With a Radiation Exposure Expert." UCSF, 16 July 2019, https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2019/07/414976/real-chernobyl-qa-radiation-exposure-expert.

    12. Forgive me,     a human,         Humanity – history, Russia, and Europe – that the monstrous test     of the blind forces happened to fall on my land     and my era.

      See this link for information about the usage of the words "humanity" and "human" in this poem.

      Who and what can be held accountable for Chernobyl? From the beginning of this poem, Andrei Voznesensky engages with the question of blame and forgiveness in the aftermath of catastrophe. The speaker self-identifies as a "human," who is asking for forgiveness from "humanity" as a whole. In this way, Voznesensky structurally separates the "human" who accepts blame for Chernobyl from the "humanity" that was affected by the disaster.

      However, reading this introduction in conversation with the rest of the poem complicates the relationship between personal responsibility, forgiveness, and collective guilt that develops throughout this poem. Consider the following annotations in conversation with this one:

      Humanity versus science

      Who is to blame?

    13. Andrei VoznesenskyPermalink

      Born in Moscow in 1933, Andrei Voznesensky is celebrated as “one of the most daring and popular poets of the Soviet era.” [1] While he graduated from the Moscow Architectural Institute, he abandoned his short-lived architectural career in order to work as a poet. That being said, his architectural training significantly influenced the structure of his poetry, including his famous “Videoms,” in which words are arranged visually to compose geometric shapes. [2] The centrality of structure and visuality to the reading experience is also fundamental in this poem. All indentations and line breaks reflect the form in which it was originally published.

      Although his work cannot be distilled or reduced to a single literary movement, futurism significantly influenced his poetry. His work has been compared to that of Pablo Neruda, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Boris Pasternak. [3]

      While Voznesensky's poetry was censored by the Soviet press and publicly admonished by Khrushchev, he was still able to perform his work publicly [4]. He carefully navigated his position within the Soviet literary scene so as to maximize his opportunities for public expression. He is known for his performance The Poet and the Theater, which was held at the Taganka theater in 1965 and actively involved actors in the process of reading poetry from his book Antiworlds. [5] As the recipient of the 1978 Soviet State Prize, he had the opportunity to share his poetry across the world, including in the United States, which enabled him to befriend prominent politicians, artists, philosophers, and activists, such as Pablo Picasso, Robert Kennedy, and Jean-Paul Sartre. [3] He died on June 1, 2010.

      Andrei Voznesensky<script async src="//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

      Voznesensky’s poem Думы о Чернобыле [Thoughts on Chernobyl] was published shortly after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Union's Communist party, on June 3rd, 1986. In a LA Times interview, Voznesensky referred to the publication of this poem as illustrative of changing attitudes towards public-facing criticism in the Soviet Union:

      “One year ago, it was impossible to even think these things. Maybe not arrested, but terrible time. Even now, I know the magazine director was brave guy. He didn’t even ask authorities. So it’s changing. I don’t know personally Gorbachev, but I think somebody around him read this poem and said, ‘It’s OK.’” [6]

      Note: The image in the background of this project features the first page of this issue of Pravda.


      [1] Cheuse, Alan. “Remembering Poet Andrei Voznesensky.” NPR, 10 June 2010, https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127411139.

      [2] "Andreĭ Voznesenskiĭ." Kul'tura.RF, https://www.culture.ru/persons/9345/andrei-voznesenskii.

      [3] Polukhina, Valentina. “Andrei Voznesensky Obituary.” The Guardian, 3 June 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jun/03/andrei-voznesensky-obituary.

      [4] Williamson, Marcus. "Andrei Voznesensky: Poet Who Fought Against Artistic Censorship in the Soviet Union." The Independent, 5 July 2010, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/andrei-voznesensky-poet-who-fought-against-artistic-censorship-in-the-soviet-union-2018291.html.

      [5] Beumers, Birgit. Yuri Lyubimov at the Taganka Theatre: 1964-1994. Taylor and Francis, 2003.

      [6] Roraback, Dick. “Outspoken Soviet Poet Makes Waves in East and West.” Los Angeles Times, 8 April 1987, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1987-04-08-vw-23-story.html.

      Image Credit:

      "Andrei Voznesensky" by rdesign812 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    14. Humanity

      The word "человек" in Russian has a variety of possible translations and meanings. On the one hand, the word refers to "mankind" or "humanity," while on the other it can describe an individual "person," "man," or "human." Throughout my translation, I have translated человек as "humanity" and "human," in order to make the word's meaning as inclusive as possible while maintaining consistency throughout the poem.

    15. Wasn’t there a way to put concrete and yellow steel in a radiation-proof sarcophagus that would not put an Iron Curtain in control?

      Again, Hernán Urbina Joiro's poem chronicles the Chernobyl catastrophe as a battle for control that highlighted and worsened Cold War tensions between the "East" and "West." Consider the following annotations about this reading of Chernobyl and its role in the ongoing discourse about blame and responsibility:

      They did not share it

      The radioactive cloud

    16. 500 times more than in Hiroshima.

      While this quantitative comparison between Hiroshima and Chernobyl helps to communicate the gravity of the Chernobyl disaster, many scholars have questioned the extent to which it is possible and productive to compare catastrophes. For example, Peter Gray and Kendrick Oliver write that "The resistance of the Holocaust to narration and other practices of historical sense-making provoked a broader intellectual deconstruction of the established modes by which meaning could be imposed on human affairs." [1] That is to say, catastrophes cannot be described in relation to established temporal, linguistic, or historical frameworks. Thus, Chernobyl requires us to question whether it is possible to fully represent, interpret, and respond to disaster through narrative and analysis.

      [1] Gray, Peter and Kendrick Oliver. Introduction. The Memory of Catastrophe. Manchester University Press, 2004.

    17. thousands of dead

      The Chernobyl death toll has been and continues to be highly contested by scientists and politicians. As Kate Brown discusses in her book Manual for Survival, the United States and the Soviet Union alike were concerned that studying the long-term effects of continuous exposure to low-dose radiation would result in public scrutiny of nuclear weapons testing and development in general. [1] In 1990, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) sent scientists to Belarus to investigate a growing number of Chernobyl-related health claims, but the relevant records in the Institute of Radiation Medicine in Minsk were stolen, thereby interfering with this research. [1] The IAEA's studies of Chernobyl's effects depended on incomplete data and did not occur over the timespan necessary to generate a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between radiation, mortality rates, and other genetic effects. [1] For a more in-depth analysis of the history and politicization of scientific investigation of the Chernobyl catastrophe, see Manual for Survival.

      As the graphic below illustrates, estimates of Chernobyl-related deaths vary widely, due to the logistical and political barriers that have interfered with reliable scientific investigation of Chernobyl's health effects. Without studies focused on the impact of low-level radiation exposures, it is difficult to determine the degree to which radiation from Chernobyl can be held responsible for cancer rates, birth defects, and other epidemiological implications.

      Chernobyl Death Estimates


      [1] Brown, Kate. Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future. W. W. Norton and Company, 2019.

      Image Credit:

      "Deaths from Chernobyl [Estimates]" by Our World in Data is licensed under CC BY 4.0. The image has not been modified in any way and falls under fair use.

    18. Gorbachev speaks:

      This verse references Gorbachev's significantly delayed speech on television about the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which took place on May 15, 1986. In this speech, he specifically thanked Dr. Robert Gale for his willingness to treat the victims of Chernobyl. [1] At the same time, he also condemned the United States' instrumentalization of the Chernobyl catastrophe as part of an "anti-Soviet campaign." [1] In doing so, Gorbachev drew attention to the United States' legacy of mishandling nuclear incidents within their own territory, such as the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. [1]


      [1] "Excerpts from Gorbachev's Speech on Chernobyl Accident." The New York Times, 15 May 1986, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/05/15/world/excerpts-from-gorbachev-s-speech-on-chernobyl-accident.html.

    19. The radioactive cloud ran circles around your Curtain, and caught up to Europe

      In this verse, Chernobyl's radioactive cloud symbolizes a disaster that "escaped" the Soviet Union and reached Europe, thereby portraying Europe as the victim of Chernobyl accident and the Soviet Union as the perpetrator. Consider this discussion of the potential problems of enforcing this strict conceptual divide between European innocence and Soviet responsibility.

    20. The announcement was made. Minor setback, Solution in progress. Full stop.

      The narrative of this poem is repeatedly interrupted by these "telegraphic" sections, which mimic the process of sharing information about Chernobyl with the public, as you can see in the "Gorbachev speaks" contextual note. This technique effectively simulates the disjointed and often contradictory dissemination of information about the Chernobyl disaster, both at the time of the accident and in our contemporary context, in the form of the inconclusive studies of Chernobyl's long-term effects and ongoing contests over its memory.

    21. Sweden

      This line references the early detection of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Sweden. A worker at Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden recognized that his shoes were flagged for excessively high levels of radiation. [1] After analyzing the radioactive materials and wind patterns, the Forsmark plant employees determined that the radiation came from the Chernobyl region. [1] As Swedish nuclear scientists had previously detected radiation spread from the Soviet Union's nuclear tests in the Arctic, they were equipped to locate the source of the Chernobyl radiation and alert the global community. [2] When Swedish officials asked Soviet authorities whether an accident had happened, it was initially denied until the Swedish diplomats threatened to notify the International Atomic Energy Authority. [3] According to scientific research conducted in Sweden after the disaster, the country received about 5% of the fallout from Chernobyl, which has contributed to environmental contamination and increased medical risk within the country. [4]


      [1] "Forsmark: How Sweden Alerted the World About the Danger of the Chernobyl Disaster." News: European Parliament, 15 May 2014, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20140514STO47018/forsmark-how-sweden-alerted-the-world-about-the-danger-of-chernobyl-disaster.

      [2] Browne, Malcom W. "Swedes Solve a Radioactive Puzzle." The New York Times, 13 May 1986, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/05/13/science/swedes-solve-a-radioactive-puzzle.html.

      [3] "25 Years After Chernobyl, How Sweden Found Out." Radio Sweden, 31 May 2019, https://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=2054&artikel=4468603.

      [4] Alinaghizadeh, Hassan et al. “Cancer Incidence in Northern Sweden Before and After the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident.” Radiation and Environmental Biophysics vol. 53, no. 3, 2014: pp. 495-504.

    22. the doctor transplants     bone marrow to him, because he is a human.

      What might ethical scientific engagement look like in the aftermath of catastrophe? How do these poems represent science and medicine in relation to Chernobyl?

      You may wish to consider the following annotations, among others, to inform your response.

      Doctor Gale


      Is it the fault of science?

    23. According to experts, time will increase the thousands of dead 500 times more than in Hiroshima.

      What are the benefits, limitations, and ethical implications of comparing catastrophes?

      You may wish to consider this note as you formulate your response.

      Please reply directly to this annotation.

    24. atomic hostages to progress,

      By writing about "atomic hostages to progress," Kostenko defines scientific progress not as a gateway to understanding, but as a barrier to comprehension and representation of the world around us.

    25. We

      The word "We" is central to the structure and content of this poem. Kostenko's repeated emphasis on the word "We" prevents the reader from separating herself from the poem's engagement with nuclear disaster and the legacy of Chernobyl. It is helpful to read the usage of this word in conversation with Andrei Voznesensky's work.

    26. from one problem to the next.

      This line could also be translated as "From stress to stress."

    27. Wasn’t there a way to put concrete and yellow steel in a radiation-proof sarcophagus that would not put an Iron Curtain in control?

      The syntax of this section is strange in the original Spanish. While translating it, I endeavored to preserve as much of the sentence structure as possible while maximizing clarity.

      "Sarcófago certero contra la radiación" could also be translated as a "sarcophagus well-aimed against radiation."

    28. N. P. S.

      In Ukrainian, АЕС stands for Атомна електростанція, which would be widely recognized as standing for Atomic Energy Station. I translated this line into English as N.P.S. which stands for Nuclear Power Station. [1] Since English-language readers may not be familiar with this acronym, I wanted to explain it in this annotation.


      [1] "Acronyms." Nuclear Energy Agency, https://www.oecd-nea.org/general/acronyms/.