Taissa Mazkewitsch, German teacher, Dyatlovichi, Belarus

"We teach the children to live with Chernobyl"

Taissa Mazkewitsch has been a German teacher at the general secondary school in Dyatlovichi in southern Belarus since 1981. She should have retired at the age of 58 but continues to work out of financial reasons.

"Of the many children who I teach today, their parents had been with me, too. They were just children themselves when the Chernobyl disaster happened. Many, even close friends of mine, moved away. The Soviet Union collapsed, Belarus become independent, and there was a lot of hope. But today we live in a country that is barely any freer than it was before. And we live with the radiation. Nearly 400 children and youth are taught at this school from the first to the eleventh grade. They come not only from Dyatlovichi but also from neighbouring villages, and the vast majority spend the entire day at school. Chernobyl and the consequences is only a peripheral issue in the state textbooks. In the German textbooks, it only takes up half a page in the chapter on ecology, and the description is more reminiscent of a natural catastrophe than a man-made nuclear disaster. Our textbooks are barely suitable for a modern school lesson. I don't care much for it, so it goes without saying that in my classroom we sit in a circle and the students don't have to look constantly at the teacher and the blackboard. I give Chernobly much more space in my lessons, and at our school we treat not only the disaster and its consequences but also seek to convey what students need to pay attention to in everyday life to reduce the radioactive contamination to a minimum. We teach them to live with Chernobyl. So we teach the children how to use our radiometers to measure radiation exposure in food. We also show them how to prepare vegetables so that as few radionuclides as possible remain in them, and we explain to them what they should look out for when picking mushrooms or berries, for instance all the spots to avoid because they are too heavily contaminated and how to check the wild berries afterwards. This is absolutely vital here. The children are also regularly checked for their accumulated body dose. Today, thank God, it's very rare that the value of 20 becquerel per kilogram of body weight, which is still deemed acceptable, is exceeded many times over. It used to regularly happen that we had cases in which in turned out, for instance, that the family had eaten wild game. But this hardly changes the general weakness that the children exhibit. They are far more susceptible to falling ill, and they require far more time to recover. Some are also lethargic and hardly able to cope with pressure. Of course this can have all sorts of causes, but there is only one health issue that puts a stress on all of us here: the increased radioactive radiation, even if it still moves within the range permitted by the state."

 

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