Archive for September 30, 2010

“A Cruel Wind Blows” (Part II)

Yesterday’s blog was about my impressions of a movie, produced in Canada, that I watched Wednesday morning with the international women’s group in Astana. Today’s photo was taken off the web from the URL below. It is of the nuclear bombed lake created in the Semipalatinsk area.   I would like to visit this northeastern area of Kazakhstan later some time. I know someone from the ladies group who HAS been to this radioactive place.  Wow!

Today I’ll not continue with my impressions of the film we watched but rather show some facts that I picked up off the web (along with the above photo) about the research done concerning this very sad era of communist rule over Kazakhstan. How many times in the 80 minutes that I watched did I shake my head in disbelief listening to interview after interview from the survivors from the Polygon area?  Too many. These Russian and Kazakh people would reveal truths from their perspective one after another. If enough westerners paid attention to this movie subtitled in English, they would know that communism was not about caring for the common man.  No, certainly not the common Kazakh in an out of the way place such as the Semipalatinsk area, not these Kazakhs didn’t count with the bigwigs in Moscow during the 70 year Soviet regime.

This documentary movie has a good title that should maybe instead read “A Cruel Wind Continues to Blow” because the radioactivity in this godforsaken area will harm generations to come.  Read on from this website:  http://new.csc.ca/news/default.asp?aID=1416

“To the unsuspecting eye, an endless landscape of beauty unfolds in all directions. The Steppe – as it’s known by the locals – is an 18,000 km prairie-like flatland, dotted with randomly occurring mountain ranges. Its history has been scarred by the detonations of 456 atomic bombs – 340 underground (borehole and tunnel shots) and 116 atmospheric (either air drop or tower shots) tests. The former Soviet Semipalatinsk Test Site, in northeast Kazakhstan, was the primary nuclear test site during the Cold War from 1949 through to 1989. (Kazakhstan is a country of 16 million, which borders on the Caspian Sea to the west, Russia to the north and China to the east, and gained its independence from Soviet rule in 1991.)

In 1947, the head of the U.S.S.R. atomic bomb project, Commissariat for Internal Affairs chief Lavrentiy Beria, falsely claimed that the area was “uninhabited.” Today the site – also known as the Semipalatinsk Polygon and latterly the National Nuclear Center of Kazakhstan – is under study by various scientific groups who all agree that there are many areas that are not only contaminated but are still radioactive. The question is, how “hot” is it, and is the test site still a toxic source that is strong enough to be harmful to the residents who both live on or near it?

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Although testing ended almost 20 years ago, there are many areas that remain “hot.” Such hot spots were craters created by the underground explosions just 18km northwest of the village of Sarjal. In the Degelen Mountain range, mountain tops destroyed by bombs that were placed deep inside them by way of tunnels that have since been backfilled. We also shot at ground zero, just 50 km west of Kurchatov where the first atomic bomb (Operation First Lightning) was exploded in 1949. This was an atmospheric explosion test site where more than 100 above-ground weapons tests took place. The site currently exhibits measurably high levels of radiation. Surprisingly there are no warning signs or fences to stop people or livestock from getting too close. In fact, sheep, cattle and horses can be found scattered around the Polygon grazing on the grasslands and drinking the water from the craters.

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My Impressions of “A Cruel Wind Blows”

No, the title does NOT mean that winter has started already in Astana.  As a matter of fact, it was a nice fall day.  This is all about a movie I watched at the Brazilian embassy in stead of  having our international women group meet at the Radisson hotel for Wed. morning coffee.  The following is the blurb that drew in about 40 ladies to watch this film:

A Cruel Wind Blows – 4 Square Entertainment Ltd – 82 minutes – Feature Documentary

From 1949 to 1989 the Soviet Union exploded 500 nuclear bombs in northeastern Kazakhstan. 200,000 villagers living close to the test site were exposed to high levels of radiation. Deliberately unprotected from the explosions, they were treated as human guinea pigs, instruments of study in the event the cold war turned “hot”.

The devastation from this planned catastrophe continues today. Thousands of children who were never exposed to nuclear fallout are experiencing very high levels of cancer, schizophrenia, anemia, etc. All of these are the products of radiation-induced genetic mutations. Experts have concluded that the genetic damage the population will experience will last for ten generations.

A Cruel Wind Blows is an intimate portrait of the Kazakh villagers of the Polygon region. This tragedy has particular resonance in today’s era of nuclear proliferation and “weapons of mass destruction.”

(Dir: Rob King. Prod: Gerald B. Sperling. Writers: Maggie Siggins, Carrie May Siggins. EPs: Gerald B. Sperling,

Joanne Levy. Editor: Jackie Dzuba DOP: Matt Phillips FP: SaskFilm, NHK (Japan), Al Jazeera English.)

My impressions or what I remember without taking notes the whole time I watched the English subtitles are the following:

1) we have NO problems compared to what this small group of people in the Polygon area have suffered

2) one little boy had had surgery on his forehead and had wide-spaced out eyes, he was lovingly held by a caring doctor, this young one had been abandoned by his mother at the hospital. The little tot had a freakish look about him but seemed normal and functioning as any other toddler

3) another little baby was not going to live long and was in a hospital with a tumor or water on the brain, he looked like an alien as well.

4) one little girl had been normal up to age 2 or 3 years and then things fell apart for her, she has no teeth and really is cared for her every need by her Kazakh mother, the girl doesn’t even know how to go to the bathroom.

5) the mother of this girl was interviewed and there were tears of tiredness and frustration

6) many interviews revealed that these people had been lied to, that there had been a lot of b.s. as to what had gone on for 50 years of testing.

7) I was surprised that the film makers didn’t have anything about the animals and how nuclear testing had affected them, towards the end they did show pictures

8 ) main thrust of movie was to show the devastation to the land and the Kazakh people who used to have cattle and sheep that grazed it.  It is a wasteland now, the soil is irradiated, not good for anything.

9) Soviet soldiers who were part of this secret experiment also had radiation problems and had not taken enough precautions, they were just doing what they were told

10) For one experiment of changing the direction of a river to go another direction they practiced on making nuclear lakes.  They used Kazakh soldiers and since they didn’t know Russian, they would not be telling what this secret was about.  Interestingly enough, all those who took part in this disappeared and their records of who they were were erased.

11) The Japanese had come with their research about how this would affect the genetics of the people, considered hogwash.  What was determined was that continual radiation exposure even in small doses over time would leave birth defects for generations to come.

12) One woman researcher who was Russian tried to find villagers who were older but she could not find anyone older than in their 50s, they had passed away quicker.  Someone who might get cancer at age 80 would get it 20 years sooner.

13) showed towards the end where Olzhas Sulemenov played a key role in 1989 in stirring up the people with truth about what was really happening at the Polygon.  Many did not know since it had been kept secret.  Were successful in stopping the exploding of 11 out of 18 explosions one year. Enough public outcry about this made the Soviets realize that they had gone too far.  The miners in Karaganda said they would NOT do their work in the mines if this continued in eastern Kazakhstan.  Perhaps there were enough smart, in-the-know type people who had been at the Polygon who knew the actual truth and had been sent to do mine work in the KARLAG camps.

14) The visual impact of seeing the mushroom clouds and the sound of the explosion shook the room as we watched. I can’t even imagine what it was like to be actually in the area at the time of these explosions.  If I’m not mistaken there were about 500 of them over the span of 40 years.

15) One woman who may have been a doctor during the time of all the hospitals and clinics set up said that they had many around seeing to patients and now there was only a first aid post, she thought that was despicable.  But it went along with the other comment that the doctors were sent to this area surrounding the Polygon to document what they saw as symptoms of the radiation, they were not sent to treat those who succumbed to the nuclear radiation.

16) what is notable to me is that every interview had the person’s name and in fact they were willing to give their names to be videotaped.  It all looked like old footage so this has been updated with the English subtitles.  Many of those interviewed were Russian appearing people.  One man was ready to admit his culpability in this matter.

17) he said that he was brought to the area to certify that everything was okay and that the people were protected.  He was liquored up and given expensive food but at one point he and his comrades said that they were only seeing the city, they wanted to see for themselves what was happening out in the villages out in the steppes.  That was not granted to them so they knew they were being duped.

18) another older man was blind after having looked at the mushroom clouds, none of the villagers were told to stay inside or later some soldiers with masks would come around and have a geiger counter they would keep waving over the people and then giving them vodka to drink.

19) another man had a twitch in his left eye as he talked, he had been a radio mechanic and had spent a significant amount of time as a soldier close to where the bombs were detonated.

20) what was interesting was the omission of the president’s name in this documentary. Perhaps for political reasons the Canadian film crew kept out his name. There was one objectionable statement made by a man who appeared Russian, “why not bring all these people who are infected to a nice dache like home in Canada.”

21) the Kazakh people will not leave their ancestral home, no matter how devastated it is. Similar to the Ukrainians in the Chernobyl area from when that blast happened in April of 1986, they will not move.

22) similar to Chernobyl, nature took on freakish proportions as what happened to fish that were thrown into the nuclear lakes that had been created, they became very huge.

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