Office of External Relations
May 1, 2020
May Day, 1986

Compare Gorbachev’s response to Chornobyl and that of the House of Representatives

By Robert McConnell
Six days after the Chornobyl explosion the annual May Day parade in Kyiv
The explosion was in the early morning of April 26 th At 9:00 am, April 28 – more than 55 and ½ hours after the explosion – an alarm went off at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Station in Sweden; high amounts of radioactivity were being detected. Soon Scandinavian experts determined the incoming nuclear cloud had originated in the Soviet Union, specifically Soviet Ukraine. Then when Soviet authorities denied anything had happened the Scandinavian countries alerted the world to the high levels of radiation spreading out from the Soviet Union and specifically Soviet Ukraine.
By April 30 Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union remained in full propaganda mode, continuing to deflect and lie.

Indeed, a s the USSR’s May Day celebrations approached Vladimir Vasilyevich Shcherbitsky, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, asked Gorbachev specifically for permission to cancel or postpone the May Day parade in Kyiv. Gorbachev warned him “if you cancel the parade you put your Party card on the table” – an emphatic “No!” So, perhaps the worst example of the Kremlin (and Gorbachev’s) total disrega r d for the truth and human lives came on this date. Winds that had initially blown Chornobyl’s radiation north over the Scandinavian monitoring devices had turned and were keeping most of the increasing radiation over Ukraine, Belarus and some areas of Russia. While radiation continued to drop over the Ukrainian countryside, the Soviets staged their annual extravagant May Day parade in Moscow. Gorbachev waved to the crowd in Red Square. To the south, just 90 miles from where the fires of Chornobyl still burned out of control, the Soviets staged another massive parade in Kyiv – due to Gorbachev’s threat to Shcherbitsky. The celebration included children dancing down Kyiv’s broad central avenue Khreshchatyk. Perhaps the only noticeable difference from previous May Day celebrations was the fact that as the marchers and dancers reached the reviewing stands where Communist bosses traditionally applauded the festivities, the stands were almost empty. The “leaders” had been given enough information to have evacuated with their families (and pets).   
Among others the revelers carried the picture of Gorbachev not knowing the sentence he had imposed on them

In Washington it was a different story
Quite unlike Gorbachev and the Kremlin Congresswoman Mary Rose Oakar (D-OH) knew all she needed to know by this time and had, along with her co-sponsor Bob Walker (R-PA), introduced on April 30 th , H. Res. 440, A resolution expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear facility in Soviet Ukraine.
Congresswoman Oakar Chamber of the House of Representatives

Congresswoman Oakar’s resolution declared that the House of Representatives: (1) conveys American sympathy to the Ukrainian people over the Chernobyl accident; (2) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to allow relatives of the victims to receive word about the fate of family members; (3) supports the U.S. offer for technical and medical assistance to the Ukraine authorities; (4) expresses its support for European nations that have been affected by nuclear radiation from the accident; (5) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to facilitate the furnishing of technical and humanitarian assistance through appropriate international organizations; (6) deplores the Soviet Union's failure to notify and provide information to the world about the Chernobyl accident and calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to permit the international press to cover the accident; (7) calls upon the Soviet Union to permit the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an investigation of the cause of such accident and to share the results with other nations; (8) calls upon the President to take steps to establish at the Agency a mechanism for an automatic response to any nuclear accident that threatens the health and safety of the public; and (9) calls upon Ukraine and the Soviet Union to allow the American people to provide assistance to the victims and their families by facilitating the prompt delivery of humanitarian packages.

It may have been the first time for Congress to call on Soviet Ukraine – separate and distinct from the Soviet Union – to take any action.

And, Congresswoman Oakar wanted swift action! There was immediate push-back from the Department of State demanding that references to “Soviet Ukraine” be deleted. Oakar ignored the State Department objection insisting on quick action and then-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dante Fascell (D-FL) – and staff director Jack Brady – pushed forward and had the resolution marked-up in committee and reported to the full House by Unanimous Consent on May 1, and it then was agreed to by the entire House on the same day! Think of it – action on legislation introduced on April 30 was completed the next day - May 1 st .

And obviously as a result the House acted on the very same day that – at Mikhail Gorbachev’s insistence – the annual May Day parade took place in Kyiv with radiation settling down on the unsuspecting participants and the citizen watching the event. There was even a celebratory bicycle race – all the better to breath in the radiation.

While Gorbachev kept critical information from Soviet citizens those same citizens were, among other things, celebrating the Union.

Despite Gorbachev’s later attempts to re-write history, Chornobyl and its disgraceful cover-up must not be forgotten. The lessons must be learned and remembered to inform foreign policy.

Among so many other things Chornobyl stands as a critical example of the evil that develops and breeds within a totalitarian state, in this case the Soviet Union.

As Bill McGurn wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal , “Communism has always been far more about Lenin than Marx – that is, about getting and holding power, rather than any economic arrangement.”

This was true in the Soviet Union whether the leader was Lenin, Stalin, K hrushchev, Brezhnev or Gorbachev and it is true in Putin’s Kremlin as well. This reality must inform our relations with the Kremlin.
Bob McConnell
Coordinator, External Relations
U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network

Robert A. McConnell is a co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and Coordinator of External Relations for the Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network. He is Principal of R.A. McConnell and Associates. Previously, he has served as head of the Government Advocacy Practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Vice President – Washington for CBS, Inc, and Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice during the Reagan Administration.
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