Since the Chernobyl disaster, humans have not been allowed to live in the exclusion zone due to the risk of radiation. Since the disappearance of people, wildlife has started to take over the exclusion zone. Other than some minor mutations, such as strange antler formations on deer and some species discoloration, the animal populations seems to be taking off. In fact, Chernobyl has become a place for scientists to study nature and radio-ecological consequences of nuclear disasters. Some even describe Chernobyl as a wildlife reserve.
People have treated the exclusion zone as a wildlife reserve for awhile. It has become a de facto nature preserve. In addition to studying the effects of radiation in a world absent of people, animals have been introduced as a conservation effort. The Przewalski’s Horse, or Dzungarian Horse, is a great example of this. They were introduced to the area in order to create some biodiversity, but the species took off and went from a few horses to over 200 in 2006. Since then poachers have been cutting their numbers down to an estimated 40-60. Lynx, brown bear and wolves have made similar comebacks in the area.
Below is a video of Przewalski’s Horses in the exclusion zone.
And here’s a video on the exclusion zone I really like:
The 1980s brought about much change for the Soviet and Eastern Bloc countries. For Poland one of the big changes was Solidarity, a social movement that grew from underground resistance to the Soviet bureaucracy. Eventually this resistance grew into the form of a worker’s party when delegates from 36 trade unions across Poland met to discuss what they were going to do about the lack of support the workers they represented felt from the Polish Communist Party. Soon after the formation of Solidarity, the party gained massive support from the working class all across Poland. This angered the Soviet backed Polish government who, in 1981, began forcibly suppressing the movement which went underground. While underground, Solidarity continued to organize protests and strikes all across Poland. It was not until the free elections of 1989 that Solidarity reemerged publicly. They swept the ballots and won 99 of 100 seats in the senate and all 161 seats up for reelection in Congress. The true irony is that the Communist Party, who claimed to represent the workers of the world, lost all the support of the working class in Poland due to the rising costs of food and housing.
The Solidarity movement also received support for the CIA. After Ronald Regan announced economic sanctions against Poland for making Solidarity illegal, the CIA began funneling money and communications equipment into Poland to support the leaders of the movement. Congress authorized $10 million to be spend on programs to support Polish opposition to the Communist Party.
April 12, 1961- Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to travel into space. Across Russia, Soviets celebrated this triumph as being not only the first nation to launch something into orbit, but also the first nation to put a live human being into space. Vostok 1 became the first manned spacecraft mission, as it hurled Yuri Gagarin into orbit atop the seventh generation of a German V-2 clone. It seemed as though they had not only caught up to the west but had surpassed the west.
Although the Soviets were proud to have put the first man in space, the had also picked the perfect person to turn into a hero for the Communist cause. Yuri Gagarin was born on a collective farm in 1934. His father worked as a carpenter and his mother was a milkmaid. His family had suffered under Nazi occupation and was forced to live in a small mud hut after being evicted from their home. Yuri Gagarin’s older siblings were also forced into slave labor by the Nazis. Once the war had ended, Yuri Gagarin continued with his education at a vocational school and later joined an aviation club. Soon after being drafted, he was sent to pilot training and graduated at the top of his class. In 1959, he applied to become a cosmonaut and was selected to fly the Vostok 1 space mission.
Upon completion of his 108 minute orbit of the earth, Yuri Gagarin also became an instant international hero. Even American newspapers celebrated the first man in space. He met with many world leaders as an international celebrity.
Here is a clip of communications between Yuri Gagarin and Russian ground control before the launch.
Here is a dramatization of the launch:
Here is an example of the world tours and interviews he gave as the Soviets paraded him around as an international celebrity:
On June 22, 1941, Hitler’s planned invasion of the Soviet Union, Operation Barbarossa, commenced making rapid advancements across the Soviet Union. The German Army moved so quickly that many Soviet units were just overrun, especially the reserve units and party leaders. As the Germans moved across Soviet lands they committed many war crimes against Russians, fueling the need to organize and resist or be destroyed. The quick German advancement also made German units vulnerable to attacks from guerrilla units behind their lines, attacks from Partisan fighters.
In occupied Soviet territory, Eastern Europe and Poland, Resistance and Communist Partisan units began to rise to fight the German Army behind their own lines. For occupied Russian territories, the Central Command gave the order for local party leaders to organize able bodied villagers against the German Army. They were also very impressed by the resistance movements in Eastern European countries by both Communist revolutionaries and groups of other political leanings who did not agree with the German occupation. However, rather than being led or mobilized by party leaders, many of whom had been killed by the Germans, these groups were led by Army officers whose lines had been overrun.
Although as the war raged on, Partisan casualties mounted, and the Red Army made little progress, many Russian Partisan groups in western Russia began to loose faith in Stalin. Partisan fighters began to feel abandoned and forgotten. Their fight became more about their own survival and less about the Soviet cause. This gave rise to plans to form separate Soviet governments after the war. When the tide of war turned, these groups began to resist reoccupation by the Red Army. For groups in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and some groups in Poland, all nations that were annexed or invaded by the Soviets as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, they saw World War Two as a chance to be free nations once again.
This was especially true in Lithuania. Soviet occupation after being annexed in 1940 had been horrible for their population. The Soviets began repressing the population. Soviets relocated and deported many Lithuanian citizens into forced labor camps, many of which were in Siberia. The Soviets even victimized the Jewish population. When the Nazis pushed the Soviets out, Lithuanians welcomed them over the oppressive Soviet rule. Nazi policy was to conscript the local population into serving as a local peacekeeping militia and serving in the German SS. However, Lithuanians resisted German conscription and their leaders were placed in German concentration camps. The Nazis were equally brutal.
When Soviet reoccupation came, they were not greeted as liberators like the Germans were. They were greeted with fear. The resistance began to work against the Soviets and much of the population joined up and moved to the woods, to avoid Soviet rule. Soviets responded to this resistance with mass executions and deportations to Siberia. The Lithuanian Partisans began to organize into the Union of Lithuanian Freedom Fighters. Although many were initially Communist, they adopted democratic ideals and even branded the Communist Party as a criminal organization. They were able to resist Soviet rule from 1944 until 1952. In that time an estimated 100,000 Soviet soldiers were killed by the resistance fighters. After that, many were forced to sneak out of Europe, into the United States. It wasn’t until 1960 that the last freedom fighter in Lithuania surrendered to the Soviet Union.
This video is incredibly graphic but it is a Lithuanian dipiction of the suffering they endured under Soviet, then Nazi, then Soviet rule, from the movie “Utterly Alone” (“Vienui, Vieni” in Lithuanian)
Solomon Andree, Richard Byrd, Amundsen and Lincoln Ellsworth. All of these men have two things in common; they are all pioneers in arctic aviation and none of them are Russian. Enter Valerii Chkalov and his crew who, in 1937, pioneered a flight route from Europe to the United States, via the North Pole.
From the birth of aviation, explorers began to see and explore the potential use of aviation for arctic expeditions. Blimps and dirigibles were relied upon heavily for making it up to the arctic circle and the North Pole to study arctic life and map out the area. The combination of the storied exploits of pilots making long distance trips and the new innovations created for these long flights across continents led to viability of airplanes being used to cross and even explore the arctic region. Although several attempts by others had come close, in 1927 Americans Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett became the first aviators to reach and circle the North Pole. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, Russian aviation began to flourish as Stalin began pushing resources towards developing Soviet aviation. What he needed now were heroic feats by Russian pilots for the media to exploit, as they did the great western pilots of the day. Enter Valerii Chkalov.
Valerii Chkalov, was an accomplished Soviet test pilot from very humble beginnings, a perfect hero for Stalin and a perfect distraction for the people. His mother had died when he was six and he started working under his father on river boats. He joined the Soviet Air Force and was trained as a pilot, quickly distinguishing himself as a test pilot. Soon he began to work with engineers to tinker Soviet designs and make small modifications here and there.
He and a small crew distinguished themselves by flying from Moscow to Udd Island, a distance of 9,374 kilometers. Eventually he devised a plan to fly from Moscow to Washington D.C. over the Arctic Circle, something that had not been done before and would become the route modern aircraft take for flights from North America to Europe and Asia. After meeting Stalin himself and receiving his approval, Chkalov and his crew completed their flight from Moscow to Vancouver to Washington D.C. in 62 hours and 30 minutes.
Within a month, another Russian flight crew, led by Mikhail Gromov flew non-stopped from Moscow over the North Pole to San Jactino, California in 62 hours and 20 minutes. The Russians were now a very active participant in arctic aviation as other crews distinguished themselves by making routine flights around the arctic circle in addition to other endurance feats like these. However, Valerii Chkalov was still Stalin’s favorite hero and helped to widely publicize Soviet aviation, while also giving Russians a national hero to follow and distract them from their daily lives with sensational stories about Chkalov’s travels.
Attached is a clip from “Valerii Chkalov” a movie that helped build a cult around Soviet aviation.
In 1927, Chiang Kai-shek had mostly suppressed the Chinese Communists and solidified much of China underneath a single government based out of Nanjing. Now he began to set his sights upon Manchuria, severing ties with the Soviets who had much already invested in Manchuria. The Soviets managed and exercised their complete control of the Chinese Eastern Railroad out of Manchuria, since the Soviet Union had secured its interests through treaties with the Chinese government, formally based in Peking, and the Chinese warlords in the area.
By 1929, Chiang Kai-shek saw the complete Russian ownership of the railroad, and the fact that 75% of employees and all of the controlling posts were Russian, as a threat. Chiang Kai-shek accused the Soviets of using railroad funds and employees as agents to spread communist propaganda across China. He also accused the Russians of plotting with warlord Feng Yu-Siang to overthrow the Chinese government. This last charge was particularly serious as many Chinese warlords had the individual capability to pose a serious threat to the Chinese government. Chiang Kai-shek ordered a raid on the Soviet consulate to find documentary support of his charges. He did and began arresting Russians throughout China.
The Chinese then began to push north, capturing key soviet controlled economic points in Manchuria and arresting Soviet citizens and officials along the way. Although many in Moscow did assume that the local Russian consulate was working to overthrow the Chinese government long before Chiang Kai-shek issued his charges, the Soviets responded to the arrests and charges by claiming the documents the Chinese found were poorly made forgeries and mobilizing Russian troops and tanks to the Chinese border. The Soviets also encouraged Soviet citizens across Russia to hold demonstrations and marches against the Chinese government, to which the citizens obliged. The Soviets also released provocative documents, statements and articles.
However just as the world began to anticipate a large scale war between the Soviets and the Chinese, swift Soviet military action by the Soviet general who helped train Chiang Kai-shek to unite China quickly put an end to the violence. The conflict ended so suddenly that few even realized there was a conflict. The Chinese were forced to accept the 1924 agreed upon terms and conditions of the railroad. However, the railroad quickly became unprofitable during Stalin’s five year plan. In 1935, the Soviets sold the Chinese Eastern Railroad to the Chinese government, who soon lost control of it to the Japanese.
In March of 1921, Lenin introduced his New Economic Policy to the tenth Congress as a means of fixing the many shortages that ran rampant throughout Russia, particularly food. Essentially the New Economic Policy (NEP) allowed peasants to sell their food surpluses on the open market, instead of having their surplus claimed by the state. This helped to revitalize the Russian economy because, in addition to the peasants having an incentive to produce more grain, the NEP opened the door for the denationalization of many small scale industries. The state also levied a tax on the peasant surplus sales as well as the small industries and businesses, generating more spending money for the state. In fact, by 1927 the economy had returned to prewar levels and the peasants were now producing a significant surplus of food.
However, not everything was perfect in Russia. When the NEP was initially presented, it was met with opposition from the Bolsheviks. They did not like the idea of having any sort of open market in their new socialist economy, despite the fact that the famine and material shortages had forced many citizens to utilize the black market. Lenin defended the NEP by claiming it was state sponsored capitalism and a necessary step towards full socialism. Economic classes began to divide society as certain populations began to profit more than others. Unemployment also became a factor. Both of these issues, and the unrest they produced, are said to have allowed Stalin to triumph over his political rivals.
The 1905 revolution was a series of strikes across Russia and the non-Russian parts of the Russian empire to bring about the transformation of the Russian government. There were varying groups that took part in demonstrations against the Russian government urging for everything from a constitution to a total transformation in government. While the socialists were the headliners in the demonstrations, there were also groups who supported the czar, protesting the demonstrations by the workers and the various socialist participants.
There were many causes for this revolution, like the high level of national embarrassment Russians felt after their recent defeat by the Japanese, the Russian government’s poor handling of the protests that occurred on Bloody Sunday and the revelation through both of these events that the Russian government was very corrupt and mismanaged. However, I believe the most significant catalyst for the revolution was college students. Students and those with higher levels of education often times played key roles in organizing demonstrations or protests. For example, the leader of the protesters on Bloody Sunday was a priest. Students saw the discontent among the working class and were able to articulate for the workers why things should be different and how they could be different. In fact, students became so active in opposing the government that some colleges were closed for two years. College students also made up a very large percentage of those who were arrested and imprisoned between 1905 and 1907.
When the czar issued the October Manifesto, which created an elected legislature known as the Duma and promised a constitution, he was able to break his opposition. Moderate protesters saw this concession as a victory and chose to carry on with their lives and return to the factories. Radical protesters, like the Soviets, still wanted more but were now lacking the support they needed. Still protests that turned violent continued. By early 1906, the Duma had been established and the Fundamental Laws acted as a type of constitution.