EUROPEChernobyl, 25 years later
Father Andrzej MACKOW and Fr. Sebastian JANKOWSKIlive and work in the town of Slavutych, Ukraine. Slavutych is located about 40 miles from Chernobyl, site of one of the world’s worst nuclear reactor explosion in 1986. Most of Frs. Andrzej and Sebastian’s parishioners at St. Eugene de Mazenod Church are victims of the Chernobyl disaster.
Robert Sturova is a parishioner at St. Eugene de Mazenod Church. He was an engineer for 22 years at Chernobyl and was present when the meltdown occurred. Today he has chronic breathing problems, but considers himself lucky because nearly all of his co-workers have been dead for many years.
In 1986, the Sturova family lived in the town of Pripyat next to the Chernobyl power plant. Robert’s five-year-old daughter Anna watched the explosion from her bedroom window. Pripyat is now a ghost town because of unsafe radiation levels.
The former Soviet government tried to minimize the Chernobyl disaster, claiming at first that only a few hundred people were impacted. Today, an estimated 600,000 people are believed to have health problems caused by radiation from Chernobyl.
“The government told us that it was safe, so people stayed in the area,” said Tatiana Makarowa, a member of St. Eugene de Mazenod Church. “Now the kids are paying for that lie.”
Today, most of the residents of Slavutych are either victims of the Chernobyl disaster or work at the power plant in clean-up and monitoring efforts. Residents have high rates of leukemia and tumors, and many children have been born with illnesses that physicians are unable to identify. The World Health Organization reports that thyroid cancer among children living in Slavutych is 80 times higher than normal. Even “healthy” children have labored breathing and much coughing.
The first Missionary Oblate to minister to the Chernobyl victims was Fr. Henryk KAMINSKI in 1994. In those early years he celebrated Mass on the steps of an abandoned church building and in private homes.
In 2002 the Oblates established St. Eugene de Mazenod Church in Slavutych, the first Catholic church in the Chernobyl region. Four Oblates arrived to serve the people of Slavutych, despite warnings of high radiation in the soil and the local food supply.
Father Pavlo VYSHKOVSKYY, one of these four Oblates, said the new parish was a symbol that, while human beings can create horrible disasters, we can also create beautiful things like a new faith community.
“The Oblate missionaries strive to make this area a sign of hope, showing that humanity can return to God and build a civilization of love on the ruins of their mistakes and their sins,” said Fr. Pavlo.
The Missionary Oblates have focused a good portion of their energies in Slavutych on the children. For years they have been coordinating month-long vacations for them. More than 1,000 children have taken part in these holidays to Austria, Poland and the Black Sea region of Ukraine.
“The doctors have told us that it is necessary for the kids’ health to get away for a little while from the contamination that surrounds them,” says Fr. Kaminski. “The earth that they live on is poisoned. The food and soil are no good.”
continues to be a most unique city. None of its buildings is more than 25 years
old. There are nice homes, excellent schools and public facilities. But the
tradeoff for residents is that the soil remains contaminated, and they try to
walk on concrete most of the time.
Near St. Eugene De Mazenod Church there is a small memorial to the victims of Chernobyl. The memorial is engraved, “From the ashes of the old we will build a new world.” (www.omiusa.org)
A second Oblate community has been founded in Kiev, located 12 km from the community which has existed for years near the parish of St. Nicolas in central Kiev.
It is very likely the first male religious community in Ukraine whose main ministry is evangelization through the media. The three Ukrainian Oblates who make up the community will also take care of weekend ministry at parishes in Nizhyn and Pryluky, 150 km from Kiev.
The Oblates’ primary work is in the Catholic
Media Centre, which belongs to the Ukrainian Episcopal Conference and includes
several departments. The first is the Information
Agency, which consists of sending, by means of the Internet, daily
information in Ukrainian about the local and universal Church and the Holy
Father. The Oblates are also the webmasters of the official web site, www.catholic-media.org which is
visited daily by over 12,000 people. The second department of the Media Centre
is the “Vodograj” (Waterfall) magazine. It is a 20 page
coloured monthly magazine, an educational and catechetical religious
publication. It is the largest Catholic magazine in Ukraine and former USSR, with
a monthly circulation of 10,000 copies. This magazine has existed in Ukraine
for 10 years and is aimed mainly at young people, ages 8-13. A few months ago,
the Media Centre began publishing a new magazine for younger children, ages
3-8, called “Vodograjczyk” (The Little Waterfall).
A completely new field of work will be the creation of a Ukrainian version of the American EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network). Presently we already have the web site in place www.ewtn.org.ua, but there is still a lot to be done before the Ukrainian version of the programming can begin. In Ukraine there are less than one million Catholics in a population of over 46 million. Through a television station in Kiev, we would have access to 800,000 homes and thanks to this, we will have the opportunity to proclaim Christ to those who have never heard of Him throughout the entire 20th century when it was forbidden to preach the Gospel in Ukraine.
Presently the construction of our home as well as our place of work is underway. At this moment, we feel the same joy that overwhelmed the heart of our Founder at the beginning of the Congregation, because, as he did, we also lack adequate housing and share the little we have.
Our community has chosen as our patrons the Oblate Spanish Martyrs, who will be beatified on December 17 of this year. We are planning to make large paintings of them for our future chapel. In one painting, they will surround the Founder and in the other, the statue of the Blessed Mother which is in the General House chapel. (Pavlo VYSHKOVSKYY)