On the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, Uilleam Blacker of SSEES considers the cultural impact of the nuclear catastrophe in Ukraine through the work of one of the country’s most famous poets, Lina Kostenko, and one of its leading literary critics, Tamara Hundorova. The post first appeared on the British Library’s European Studies blog.
See Words Without Borders for Uilleam’s translations of two of Kostenko’s poems.
The Chernobyl disaster wasn’t just an unprecedented environmental disaster: it was an event that caused profound political and cultural shifts on a global scale. The disaster foreshadowed and accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Cold War order, and the political reverberations of this were felt the world over. Yet it also forced a rethink of human beings’ relationship with the natural world, and compelling societies to face up to the fact that a nuclear apocalypse was no longer the stuff of science fiction, but a reality that was perilously close.
Lina Kostenko near the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant (From Encyclopedia of Ukraine)
For all of these reasons, the name Chernobyl – or to use more accurately its Ukrainian form Chornobyl – is a worldwide symbol of the disastrous climax of Western modernity. The Chornobyl Zone continues to function as a phantom, warning humanity of the dangers inherent in blind technological advancement, with endless images or drone films of the ghost town of Prypiat affording internet users the vicarious thrill of wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape. Western horror movies and video games take the Zone as their setting. Yet the real Chornobyl, the real Zone, with its real abandoned villages and its real locals – those displaced and those who stubbornly return – is less often the subject of Western reflection.