Chernobyl: Who Was At Fault?

A Blatant Lie': Chernobyl Engineer Says HBO Show Is Full Of ...
The destruction of Chernobyl’s No. 4 reactor can be seen from this helicopter image.

During the early morning on April 26, 1986, one of the most significant and influential moments of the last 40 years occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. During a test, the plant’s no. 4 reactor completely exploded, allowing radiation to escape and spread across northern Ukraine along with the rest of Europe.

Viktor Bryukhanov, Anatoly Dylatov and Nikolai Fomin
From left to right: Viktor Bryukhanov, Anatoly Dylatov, and Nikolai Fomin.

Following the explosion, many around the world, both in and out of the Soviet Union, wanted to know who was responsible for the disaster. The blame, at least legally speaking, was placed upon three individuals: deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, chief Chernobyl engineer Nikolai Fomin, and plant manager Viktor Bryukhanov (Doyle). Each was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison, but Dylatov received the majority of the blame as he was directly responsible for overseeing the test on the night of the disaster (Doyle). Moreover, he scared the workers into completing their tasks by threatening to fire them and dismissing any of their concerns. While these three individuals were directly liable for the disaster occurring, they were not the only people who received blame as many within the Soviet government faced accusations about the coverup and delayed response. The fact that Pripyat, the closest major city to Chernobyl, was not immediately evacuated is a travesty that most likely cost hundreds of thousands of lives. Off of this, it also took Mikhail Gorbachev three weeks to finally appear on television to report to the public about what had happened (Siegelbaum). The most obvious example of the government’s cover-up, at least in my opinion, is the fact that they never really bothered to keep track of how many people died as a result of this disaster. Officially, only 50 people can be directly attributed to the reactor’s explosion, however, estimations put the deaths in the thousands (Gray).

Chernobyl: Is it safe to visit the nuclear disaster site? | The ...
Chernobyl’s “New Safe Confinement” was completed in July 2019 and will last for the next 100 years.

Ultimately, the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl had far greater ramifications than the Soviet government may have initially lead on. It can be directly credited as one of the main reasons for Gorbachev’s desire to “reverse the nuclear arms race” (Freeze, 457) along with his support for genuine glasnost (Siegelbaum). Furthermore, it has forever tarnished nuclear power as many countries and leaders around the world point towards this event as to why this energy source should not be trusted. Lastly, if you want to watch a short, but great, mini-series, I highly recommend HBO’s Chernobyl.

 

Cole, Brendan. “Chernobyl Engineer Says HBO Show Is Full of Russian ‘‘Vodka’ and ‘KGB’ Stereotypes.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 15 June 2019, www.newsweek.com/blatant-lie-chernobyl-engineer-says-hbo-show-full-russian-vodka-kgb-stereotypes-1443547.

Dobbs, Michael. “CHERNOBYL’S ‘SHAMELESS LIES’.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 27 Apr. 1992, www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1992/04/27/chernobyls-shameless-lies/96230408-084a-48dd-9236-e3e61cbe41da/.

Doyle, Liam. “Chernobyl Disaster: Who Was to Blame for Chernobyl?” Express.co.uk, Express.co.uk, 24 June 2019, www.express.co.uk/news/science/1144072/chernobyl-disaster-explained-who-was-to-blame-for-chernobyl.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Gray, Richard. “The True Toll of the Chernobyl Disaster.” BBC Future, BBC, 26 July 2019, www.bbc.com/future/article/20190725-will-we-ever-know-chernobyls-true-death-toll.

Siegelbaum, Lewis. Meltdown in Chernobyl. 2 Sept. 2015, soviethistory.msu.edu/1985-2/meltdown-in-chernobyl/.

 

Who Actually Won the Space Race?

The Space Race Pitted the USSR Against the USA

When examing the Soviet Union during the Nikita Khrushchev era, many people think about the start of the Space Race between the USSR and the USA. The competition dominated the 1960s as both nations wanted to be the first, and, perhaps most powerful, nation in space. Growing up in America, I was always taught and told that the Americans won the Space Race since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon first before the USSR. I would argue, however, that while the US did land on the Moon first, they continuously came in second place against the Soviet Union throughout the 1950s and 60s. This raises the question: Who actually won the Space Race?

The Space Race began in 1955 when the Soviet Union faced off against the United States in regard to which country would be the dominating nation in space. The first major event occurred on October 4, 1957, when the USSR launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to enter space (Freeze 423). This milestone was massive for both scientific and political reasons as the USSR was able to claim the first victory in the 12-year competition. Following this, the Soviet Union continued to build on their initial success as they were first in sending a dog into space in November 1957, putting a man in space with Yuri Gagarin in April 1961, and the first man who performed a spacewalk in March 1965 (Conger). In each of these achievements, the Soviet Union had continuously proven that they were better than the United States in dominating space.

The US Claimed Victory in the Space Race Following Their Moon Landing.

Responding to their losses, the United States continued to move the goalposts so that they could eventually claim victory in winning the Space Race. This ultimately would lead to the Moon being the final contest as every other contest was already won by the USSR. As everyone is already aware, the US would win this final battle and, accordingly, claim victory in the Space Race that had dominated the past decade. This claim is not based in reality, however, as the US only won the final part of the much larger competition with the USSR. Moreover, the US also spent over $25 billion on the Space Race while the USSR spent less than half of that (Conger). All of this contributes to raising the ultimate question: Who actually won the Space Race? In my opinion, I think that the US simply changed the rules to the competition until they were able to finally win. In turn, I believe that the Soviet Union is the true winners of the Space Race.

Conger, Cristen. “Did NASA Win the Space Race?” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 27 Jan. 2020, science.howstuffworks.com/nasa-space-race1.htm.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

“Space 101: The Space Race, The Galactic Gal.” The Galactic Gal, 13 Dec. 2019, www.thegalacticgal.com/2019/11/29/space-101-the-space-race/.

Wall, Mike. “Space Race: Could the U.S. Have Beaten the Soviets Into Space?” Space.com, Space, 8 Apr. 2011, www.space.com/11336-space-race-united-states-soviets-spaceflight-50years.html.

Stalinism’s Impact on the Soviet Union

The Second Five-Year Plan (January 1933-December 1937) was Stalin’s next attempt at transforming the Soviet Union. The main objectives of the Plan centered around improving the nation’s industry.  When first drafted, the plans followed the “same ‘great leap forward’ psychology” that was present in the First Plan. This mentality did not last, however, as the Second Five-Year Plan was downsized due to famine and other “terrible events” that occurred in 1933 (Freeze 358). As a result, the new Plan focussed on “assimilation and mastery of technology” instead of simply increasing production overall. Moreover, as stated by Vyacheslav Molotov, the Second Five-Year Plan took aim at the “elimination of the struggle between town and country” and “a higher level of cultural development” (Turin 62).

The Second Five-Year Plan Took Aim at Assimilation and Mastering Technology

This Second Plan, along with its predecessor, impacted the peasant-turned-workers in multiple different ways. While the rise in workers who were peasants in the past is perhaps the most obvious change, another apparent difference was the increase in discipline that these new workers faced from the Soviet state. This punishment, often referred to by Bolsheviks as “labour discipline,” was dominant throughout the 1930s as millions of peasants now joined the new-look workforce.

Another impact of the Second Five-Year Plan was a massive decrease in the output and quality of agriculture crop return during the 1930s. This came while the other industries prepared for war by producing weapons and machinery. In turn, “investments in the collective and state farm system remained woefully minuscule” (Freeze 372). This contributed in shifting the movement away from “building socialism” and towards “Stalinism” (Freeze 373). 

 

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Stalin. “From the First to the Second Five-Year Plan: A Symposium by V. Molotov STALIN, L. Kaganovich, Oseph on Lorne Bair Rare Books.” Lorne Bair Rare Books, International Publishers, www.lornebair.com/pages/books/29679/v-molotov-stalin-l-kaganovich-oseph/from-the-first-to-the-second-five-year-plan-a-symposium.

Turin, S. P. “The Second Five Year Plan.” The Slavonic and East European Review, vol. 11, no. 31, 1932, pp. 58–64. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4202738. Accessed 5 Apr. 2020.

The Story of the Bashkir Switchman

A Bashkir switch operator and guard stands next to train tracks in Ust-Katav (1910).

This picture, taken in 1910, showcases a Bashkir switch operator and guard next to train tracks located near Ust-Katav in the southern Ural Mountains. While the image may seem simple upon first glance, the deeper aesthetic, cultural, and political elements within present a much more interesting view.

To start with the picture’s aesthetic value, the main focal point is the Bashkir switchman centered along the left. The worker, dressed in black and wearing a Bashkir style hat, is holding a shovel while smiling for the picture. One can only assume that this event, his picture being taken by Prokudin-Gorskii, was a nice change of pace for a man who most likely worked long hours along the railroad. In addition to the man on the left, the picture’s main backdrop is the front of a mountain which the train tracks trail off into. These train tracks, part of the famous Trans-Siberian Railway, most likely supported countless trains on their journey across Russia’s south. These different elements all contribute to making a breathtaking image that presents how life was for a working man in Bashkir.

In connection with the aesthetic details, the main cultural and political elements center around the aforementioned worker. While the worker’s true identity may be unknown, his ethnicity is not, however, as the Bashkir people, located just north of present-day Kazakhstan, were an ethnic minority of Russia. This group was taken over in the 18th Century by a Russian invasion and “accelerated the economic boom begun in Petrine times…” (Freeze, Russia: A History, pg. 129). The area stayed under Russian control for the next 150 years through Tsar Nicholas II’s reign during which time this picture was taken by Prokudin-Gorskii. Described as being “historically populated by Turkish peoples” (Freeze, Russia: A History, pg. 154), the Bashkir people were integrated into Russian society a played a large role in its history.

I found this picture interesting due to its simplicity and the unknown background of the switchman. While one can assume certain details about his life, his name and personal history are reserved from the viewer which, in my opinion, creates a deeper meaning than if it was given. In addition, this connects to the topics covered in class as the working man in the picture is a member of the large peasant/working class that was present in Russia during this time period. Moreover, the reforms conducted by Tsar Nicholas II impacted his life greatly as they were mostly centered around the peasant class.

 

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Prokudin-Gorskii. “Bashkir Switchman.” WDL RSS, Library of Congress, 1 Jan. 1970, www.wdl.org/en/item/5369/#q=Bashkir Switchman.

Hello world!

Welcome to Stalin’s Soviet Site! My name is Michael Boeh, I’m a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Religion & Culture. I haven’t truly learned about Russia in the past, so this will be my first experience, and I hope that you’ll learn along with me!