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Chernobyl: stirring nationalism? Ukrainian resentment of Moscow rule expected to rise

By George Zarycky and Adrian KaratnyckySpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 1986

The disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear facility near Kiev has implications that reach far beyond the critical questions of health, contamination, and nuclear safety. Because it occurred in the Soviet republic of Ukraine, the Chernobyl accident is likely to fan Ukrainian independent-mindedness and resentment of the Russian-dominated Soviet state, analysts say.

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``The response to Chernobyl will be varied,'' says Leonid Plyushch, a Ukrainian mathematician and former polticial prisoner now living in France.

A segment of the population will believe Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's explanations, which will place the blame on local Ukrainian party and government officials, Mr. Plyushch says.

``But a significant segment of the population will say: `This is Moscow's fault. Why aren't we masters in our own house?' '' Plyushch adds. The late 1980s could see the emergence of a new wave of dissident activism, revolving around ecological concerns as well as those of Ukrainian autonomy, he says.

Sovietologist Bohdan Bociurkiw, a professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, says the disaster may serve to bring together Ukrainians, Jews, and Russians from the Kiev area.

``Chernobyl, for the first time, will create a powerful issue over which Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians will see the advantages of local control over policy,'' says Professor Bociurkiw. He agrees that the accident will exacerbate tensions between the people of the Ukraine and the regime in Moscow.

Five days after the April 26 accident, Soviet television painted a colorful May Day picture of young girls dancing in embroidered costumes down the boulevards of Kiev. Now, a far less idyllic picture is emerging.

Vladimir Malynkovych, a Soviet physician now living in West Germany who reached his parents by telephone in Kiev, says Soviet authorities are continuing to withhold information about the accident.

``People are still drinking milk and buying fruit,'' he says. ``They've only been told to keep their windows closed and to bathe thoroughly several times a day.''

[Soviet authorities yesterday announced six deaths resulting from the accident. It was unclear whether this is in addition to the four previously reported. The officials also said that 35 people are still in serious condition, nearly twice the previous official figure for serious injuries.]

The region near the damaged facility has been severely affected. ``In Pripyat and Chernobyl, the situation is very bad,'' Dr. Malynkovych says.

And, according to Plyushch, there were reliable reports of public anger and dissention among spectators at the May Day parade. Some Kiev residents were dismayed at what they considered callous celebrations just as reports of dead and injured in and around Chernobyl were emerging, he says.

The relationship between Ukrainians and Russians has long been contentious. Many Ukrainians regard Russians, who make up half of the population of the Soviet Union, as oppressors intent on assimilating them and eradicating their culture and identity. By contrast, many Russians prefer to view themselves as paternalistic elder brothers, bringing with them the advantages of their own proud heritage.