History and Current Developments of the Chernobyl Community Centers

There are five Community Centers in Ukraine that are led by a group of young pioneers – pioneers in the sense that they were charged with a mission that no other group in the world has had to face. Click on a location on the interactive map below to learn more about that particular center.

That mission was to (1) provide comfort, support, education and psychosocial rehabilitation to individuals and communities severely affected by the Chernobyl disaster; (2) to do so in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union when all social and economic institutions that had ruled their lives for over 75 years virtually fell apart or disappeared.

In 1995 these five Centers, along with 6 others in Russia and Belarus, were established by UNESCO - one of the first international agencies permitted to enter the Chernobyl affected areas. UNESCO bought buildings and converted them to appropriate space, recruited and trained staff, purchased start-up equipment and supplies and provided professional staff consultation and guildance for two years.

When UNESCO support terminated, as planned, the Centers became responsibility of their national governments. Currently the government of Ukraine provides central government funds to cover heat, light, staff salaries and mandatory bookkeeping services. Through 2010, this funding came through the Ministry of Emergency Services. In 2011, a new agency at the national level will be established to fund the work of the Centers.

The evolution of these Centers has been phenomenal. They have evolved from crisis intervention and counseling centers into public information and advocacy centers, with programs for youth and the elderly; ecology and "healthy living" education programs (especially for youth), and developing volunteer participation programs based on civic society democratic principles.

There were 107,000 visits by people of all ages to these Centers in 2005.

The United Nations Chernobyl report of 2002 and the Chernobyl Forum report released in September 2006 clearly stated that the major negative consequence of the Chernobyl disaster is psychosocial stress. The overarching UN strategy to deal with this stress is to launch a program of community development that makes it possible for people to have an active role in making life in their communities more meaningful and rewarding.


Centers Map

There are 5 Community Centers in contaminated areas of Ukraine.
Please click on a location above to learn more about that particular location.

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Borodyanka Center

Primarily serves a local population of 18,000 people, but also provides regular services to 24 rural locations in their region. The Center provides assistance for children and families in crisis, social work services to the local hospital, and addresses local poverty issues. The Center is also the site for much of the town’s civic and social activities.

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Borodyanka Center

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Boyarka Center

Serves a population of 40,000 people. Prior to Chernobyl, Boyarka was a mid-sized community of agriculture and small industry but today it is primarily a "bedroom community" to Kyiv. A van purchased by FOCCUS now enables the Center to reach villages that are quite isolated and very economically depressed. This Center also serves a 400 bed regional pediatric hospital.

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Boyarka Center

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Ivankiv Center

Serves a population of 11,000 people. This Center is closest to the nuclear plant and prior to Chernobyl, was completely agricultural. Land contamination is high. This town became a "tent city" and provided a base for "liquidators" working to put out the fire and clean up the Chernobyl site. Many of them never left Ivankiv and their subsequent health problems probably affect the community's overall health status. The death rate here is three times the birth rate. About 70 adults and children visit the Center each day. There are no pre-school programs or facilities and medical services are very limited. The Center provides services to the local hospital and follow-up services when needed after discharge.

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Ivankiv Center

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Korosten Center

Korosten’s population totals approximately 70,000 people, but the Center strives to serve a region of over one million people. Following the Chernobyl disaster, the city has had to deal with the loss of large segments of the population, re-settlement of those who returned – many of whom were in need of social and psychiatric support, and the resulting loss of the faith in local government.

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Korosten Center

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Slavutich Center

Serves this newly created community of 25,000 people, which was completely built within two years after the disaster to re-house employees of the Chernobyl power plant. Many contemporary personnel working on decommissioning the reactors and building the new reactor shelter live in Slavutich and travel by train to the nuclear site. The town is now a major center for international scientists working on post-Chernobyl issues.

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Slavutich Center



 

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Each Center has to adapt to the varying types of communities they serve:

  • "Mixed" communities: communities that were stable before the disaster, but which are now "integrated" with people who have been "resettled" from destroyed villages
  • Newly built "resettlement" communities consisting only of "liquidators" and those who were forcefully evacuated
  • Communities with large numbers of liquidators and Chernobyl related invalids
  • Communities like Slavutich whose life is directly related to Chernobyl nuclear power plant operations
  • Communities located in contaminated areas

Regardless of the type of community served, Community Center staff work hard to facilitate capacity building with local systems (schools, orphanages, local government, medical facilities, local non-governmental organizations, etc.) The Centers are now integrated into local government planning, often doing the needs assessment surveys on which influence local spending.

A sense of civic society has mushroomed in most former Soviet states and hundreds of non-government organizations have been founded. Each Community Center has their own "ngo". However their effectiveness is hampered by two factors: (1) the tax and monitoring system and (2) the population's lack of experience and knowledge about how to administer and operate an ngo within the country's existing administrative framework.

In Ukraine, the Centers' emphasis is on:

  • Capacity building and public awareness; information needs assessments
  • Reframing legislation on rezoning around the Chernobyl reactor and contaminated lands
  • Expanding activity of local and regional government for more active community development planning
  • Recognition of the fact that concepts of civic association, open democratic and development planning - in light of poor, socially disadvantaged people who have lived life un Soviet control – is a difficult and lengthy process since many people have little faith that their involvement will have a positive effect on their lives
  • Developing a sense of "awareness" and education about life and radiation is a major issue; the UN Facts for Life publication for healthy and safe living is an example. However, the UN has found it very difficult to get people to use and act on this information. Part of this is ascribed to the fatalistic nature of the culture, compounded by early lies by the government regarding the catastrophe, that fostered a sense of "victimization"
  • There must be a major emphasis on youth; on developing healthy life styles that minimize the risk of alcoholism and HIV and promote responsibly parenting

It is clear that the Community Centers' role in facilitating all six of these areas is crucial. While there are many community organizations and non-governmental organizations in Ukraine, few have the training and the long term experience and the trust of their community residents that is necessary to bring successful results in these endeavors.

The current intense debate about negative health effects of radiation exposure due to the Chernobyl accident is valid and important. But agreement on these issues may be years and generations away. In the meantime there is the need to help over 6 million people affected by the disaster to live their lives and to rebuild community life within a new framework of civic life, active involvement and hope for the future.