Posts tagged Polygon

More things learned about KZ outside of a textbook

Since going to Borovoye last Saturday, I have plenty of things to talk about with my Friday noon, Advanced speaking group among the university employees.  The following are more things I learned from them about this marvelous place.  I also learned about other places I should travel to in Kazakhstan before I leave this amazing country.

First, Okshepis is the Kazakh word for “mountain so high that an arrow can’t reach it.”  However, there is a legend about a beautiful girl who was the daughter to a rich bai. This rich Kazakh man met many worthy suitors who wanted his daughter’s hand.  They had just come back from war and wanted to marry her.  However, she was in love with another fellow whom her father did not approve of.  So a competition was arranged that whoever succeeded in shooting his arrow to the top of this mountain would marry the beautiful girl.  If they did NOT succeed, they would be beheaded.  (Yikes, the stakes were high).

Apparently in order for her lover to win, the young girl climbed to the top of this Oktopis and placed a scarf so that her lover could see where to aim.  She also sang a song for him to hear her voice.  I guess if he did not win, she was ready to commit suicide because he too would be beheaded with the rest of the suitors.  I’m not sure how this legend ended because there were so many variations that started sounding the same.  But clearly this country is a land of romance. Oh dear, I DO hope the young girl got the man of her dreams.

We also went to a deer farm, they are called maral.  Their antlers are used in a panta cream that is a kind of Chinese medicine.   Apparently when the antlers are cut from the deer, they feel no pain. Also the hooves of the deer are used for medicinal purposes. One more thing I learned is that the blood from these deer is useful to drink for good health.  So, these 170 deer at this farm we went to visit will have everything used from head to toe! (antler to hoof)

Next, I asked my adult students if there is any other place close to Astana that is similar to Borovoye in beauty.  Apparently there is and it is south of Pavlodar and directly east of Astana, something like Baianor or Bainayl (I can’t read my scribbled notes.)  There could be so much more tourism that Kazakhstan might profit from but supposedly the infrastructure is missing and successful tourism needs good management.  A part of Kazakhstan’s strategic plan is to invest more in tourism by 2020.

Other places I would like to go to would be Turkestan which I learned a LOT about from another adult student I had who used to live in the Chymkent area.  Actually, she lived in Turkestan for three years and helped to bring the big artifact that had been stored at the Hermitage back to Turkestan by way of a big Soviet truck.  I hope I still have my notes after talking with her about Turkestan.  From what I understand Turkestan is a very ancient city, over 1,500 years old and is considered a holy place.  Many Kazakh warriors were buried in Turkestan.

Also, the oldest capital is in western Kazakhstan which is known as Sarashik.  I learned about the ritual according to Tengri, a very ancient religion where they used to pray to nature, like sky and moon, etc.  Apparently there are still elements of Tengri in Kazakh traditions that are observed today.

Looking at the map of Kazakhstan with my students, I didn’t realize that Semipalatinsk was so close to the Russian border and is a very beautiful city with the mountains and Irtsk river going through it from China.  Apparently the damage done at the Polygon with nuclear testing for about four decades is 500 kilometers away.  But still…not so good to encourage tourism where there still might be radioactivity.

Another thing I learned was that in the area close to Semipalatinsk there used to be Christian believers there. That would be many, many years ago in the northeastern part of Kazakhstan bordering to Russia and China where missionaries from the very early days were there.  That claim will have to be investigated.  I’ve heard  also that there are blue eyed Kazakhs, which seems even more interesting in this Central Asian land.

So, that is what I learned about Kazakhstan the other day, all this needs to be explored further.  Enjoy one last photo of our group who went to Borovoye last Saturday at the deer farm.  What a memorable trip, hopefully more to come.

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“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:

“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?


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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Laura K.’s Versions of the Three Babushkis Visit

       The first babushka who gave a speech was Valentina Romanovna. She was born in Russian village in 1930. There were 9 children born in her family including her however 3 children died when they were little and 2 at older age. They were very poor and during the WWII they were starving. She said that they had no candy, no food, and no clothes. Her mother was a very kind and giving woman. This lady studied in school only for 1 year. When the war started she was 10 and already began to work so she could help her mother. During Collectivization period they had to give a lot of milk and eggs to SelSovet otherwise they would get sued. People had to pay high taxes on everything. All of her life she worked in the mine and retired at age of 45. Her pension was pretty high during Soviet Union times but after Perestroika become a very little. Later she started to talk about her family. Valentina Romanovna had two sons who died at relatively young age. The oldest son Anatoly died while serving in the Army in Vladivostok, Chechnya. Another son by name Nikolay went for hunting and died by falling under the ice of frozen river. Later her husband went to the place where her son died and started to drink heavily, and soon died from liver decease. She was left to live with her mother who lived 100 years and 3 months.


     The second babushka was Natalya Nikiforovna. She was born in 1931. Her birthplace is village in Semipalatinskaya oblast, Kazakhstan. This lady said comparing to Valentina Romanovna who lived in Russia during the war their family didn’t starve because they had a fertile land and own garden where they grew corn, sunflower and other fruits and vegetables. There were two children in her family. Her father died in WWII. Grain seeds and livestock were sent to soldiers who were fighting against Germans. She studied at school for 7 years and later worked as an accountant for 22 years. Natalya Nikiforovna had two children as well and died at young age as well. She blames Semipalatinsk’s polygon. That place was known for its nuclear tests. Those tests began in 1946. At that time they didn’t know that it was so dangerous for their health and lives. Her only left granddaughter has a son who was born with many deformities simply to say he is invalid who will never be able to live by himself and possibly will not live long. Many people suffered from radiation that they were exposed to when they lived in Semipalatinsk closed to the Poligon.


     The last babushka I am going to write about is Raisa Nikolaevna. She was born in 1932, in Kirov, Russia. There were 4 children in her family. Her father died during WWII while fighting against German Fashists. When Germans came close to Kursk they were evacuated to live in Zabaikalie. She started to work at the age of 9 in order to be able to her mother. Her education is 7 years of school. In the morning she would go to school and after school she went to work. Her mom made clothes out of parachute material that was found on the field. There was 1 cow and chickens on their premises. Later she got married and went with her husband to Tashkent. Over there she went to Medical School and later became a medical nurse. After that they went to live close to her mother to Ulan Ude. They worked at animal farm as a veterinarian. That farm was producing different animal furs like mink and etc. Later she moved again to live in the North, Magadanskaya oblast. She taught native people-chukchi everything. Chukchi elected her as deputy official. The furs that they made were sent to auction to Leningrad.   



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My Students Write about Kazakhstan’s Past Disasters

Which disaster is worse?  Semipalatinsk or Aral Sea?


Both the disasters that happened in Semipalatinsk and Aral Sea are horrible and had very negative effects on ecology, environment, people’s physical and mental health.  The most shameful thing about Aral Sea is that it used to be very beautiful place, some kind of a resort back in the times when my Mom as a good Pioneer has been sent there to rest and improve health. Also, it used to be a very industrial region: with lots of fishing and cotton growning, but now it is a place where almost nothing grows or lives, people only stayed because ethey are so attached to their homes (Kazakh’s mentality).  Also, if we compare Semey and Aral Sea, Semey is somewhat better because people there have an ability to survive even live very well because of other natural resources (metals) that are there whereas Aral Sea region has nothing.  Additionally, Semey is no longer a polygon, it is a past but Aral is still continuing to harm not only KZ’s environment but the whole world, because salt blown away, makes icebergs melt by adding to global warming.


Both of these disasters are awful and shameful for Kazakhstan and Soviet Union, but I think that the Semipalatinsk tragedy is even worse than the Aral Sea.  I think so, because, even the Aral Sea disaster is also caused by people, still Semipalatinsk polygon was created by people, so nobody expected such a disaster in Aral Sea, but Semipalatinsk was built with the knowledge, that huge amount of people will suffer, or even die.  I still cannot understand why those people were not evacuated?  I know it was a very big secret, so nobody knew about it, especially another countries, but why, why ordinary people paid for it?  They paid a very big price and what for? Who gain?  They still pay this high price, with crazy children and death diseases.


People in Aral Sea and Semipalatinsk suffered from very dangerous illnesses and what is very interesting fact is that they even do not know about the disaster, for example 10 of 1,000 infants were died because those environmental problems.  I was terrified when I saw these numbers.  The most shameful thing, I think, is that government let it all happen.  The government (head of the government, chief executives, etc) act selfishly, even if they know abut the damage result of these tests and even being informed about mortality rate, they didn’t stop their tests.  How they can be head of the government, how they can be head of the nation when they even do not care about the future of the nation???


In comparison to the disaster occurred in Aral Sea, the Semipalatinsk’s problems much worse.  Aral Sea problem can be explained somehow.  It’s some kind of decisions being unaware, that consuming so much resources would lead to the changes that then couldn’t be reversed.  As for the Semipalatinsk, that’s very unfair to the people, who lived there and didn’t know about was happening.  Government (Moscow Center) did it on purpose.  It seems to me, that even Aral Seas’ problem is very important, it’s on the global level (because salt is spread all over other countries too), the nuclear testing consequences are worse.  Radiation has a periods of active moments.  For some elements, it’s only minutes, for some thousands of years.  So, if Aral Sea can be self-cleaned or turned to previous condition by some methods, radiation can’t be eliminated as we want it to.  Putting them underground it’s not a solution, because there is ground water.  Hopefully both of these problems will ever be solved, because I’m as a Kazakhstan citizen worried about my countrie’s future.  I hope…


In my opinion both environmental disasters are horrible.  However, Semipalatinsk site is worse because the land, air and water of that region is still extremely toxic to the people that live in that area.  There are many people died in that area from various diseases.  As an example, cancer. Many of children born with some kind of deformity or if they healthy later they get sick or die.  Pregnant women pray to God every day so they will have a healthy infant.  I think mortality rate is growing.  People that had an ability to move away they did so however there are many people who still live there and they can’t do anything about it.

Aral Sea disaster is sad as well because we don’t have Aral Sea anymore.  When you see pictures or movie about sea it makes you depressed.  It looks like a ghost town place.  Old fishing ships are standing there, almost nothing grows there, waste is everywhere.

We know that all these happened during Soviet Union period and we know who we should blame.  However, I hope learning from this experience this will never happen again.

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