Testaments from Kiev: A Family in the Shadow of the Iron Curtain
In the spring of 1986 in Kiev the blooms were on the flowers; the emerald-green leaves on the trees were multiplying and the sun was gathering strength, warming the earth and the hearts of the City's two million people.
The end of another long winter buoyed the spirit of just about anyone living in Ukraine at the time. And Kiev is truly wondrous in the early spring. The vast Dneiper River flow through parts of the City and although temperatures are still cool, the greenery, walkways and blue water of this dominant waterway create a natural pastel of color.
Yet as April receded and in the early months of May the biggest issue for residents was a serious shortage of Geiger Counters. They were as scarce as information about the best way of escape from the City, and what lingering health effects might occur if they stayed.
For in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986, an explosion of steam in its core blew the cap off the main reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Prepyat. In addition to a plume of dangerous radioactive smoke and dust, the resultant open-air graphite fire burned for days.
But worse, the blown main reactor #4 created an updraft which lasted for another nine days. This lofted a plume of fission contamination into the atmosphere that exceeded the release from the original explosion. This radioactive dust would coat Kiev and nearby towns and eventually blanket Western Europe. So in the span of a few hours, every speck of dust, insect or pollen in the springtime air became a potentially lethal toxin.
For computer engineer and programmer Leo Burstyn, wife Tanya and their children, life as they knew it came to end on that day. It was the catalyst for their eventual emigration to the West, first to Calgary, Alberta and then to British Columbia.
But the aftermath of this nuclear-reactor meltdown also triggered in Leo a burning desire to write about the history of his family throughout the Ukraine. It was a story of generations of a family that endured wars, famine and disasters like Chernobyl. Yet it brought home to him in the most jarring way that a lack of information; official indifference and breathtaking incompetence and malfeasance from the Soviet authorities could place an entire City at risk and ultimately imperil his family, which was so dear to him.
Theirs is a compelling story of survival, triumph but also of great suffering and loss. And "Testaments from Kiev" is the result.