Voices From Chornobyl

this is for thousands of years


Retro Post

Retro Post: When the Soviets admitted the disaster

This was posted on the original blog in 2007.

I am posting this because:

(a) I need a break from the next play I am writing

(b) I am going to develop the character of Stepanov further for the next Draft of Chronicle of the Future

(c) the bbc site is very extensive

1986: Soviets admit nuclear accident

The Soviet Union has acknowledged there has been an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. The report, from the official news agency, Tass, said there had been casualties but gave no details of numbers. It said aid was being sent to the injured.

The report said that one of the reactors had been damaged in the accident, but gave no further details beyond saying that measures were being taken to “eliminate the consequences of the accident”. It also claimed the accident was the first at a Soviet power station.

The report was the first confirmation of a major nuclear catastrophe since monitoring stations in Sweden, Finland and Norway began reporting sudden high discharges of radioactivity in the atmosphere two days ago.


The accident is believed to be the most serious in the history of nuclear power, worse even than that at the Three-Mile Island power station in the United States in 1979, when there was some release of radioactivity but nobody was injured.

The Chernobyl nuclear power plant, just north of Kiev, consists of four nuclear reactors, known as light-water cooled, graphite-moderated reactors – a type hardly used outside the Soviet Union.

Nuclear experts say the levels of radioactivity recorded indicate that the nuclear core of the damaged reactor may have melted down.

Full-scale alert

The number of casualties, both immediately and in the future, from radiation sickness, is expected to be high, although the exact number may never be known. It is not believed, however, that there is any risk to the health of anyone outside the Soviet Union.

The discharge of radioactivity was so great that by the time the fallout reached Sweden, 1,000 miles away, it was still powerful enough to register twice the natural level of radioactivity in the atmosphere.

The sudden jump in radioactivity levels was enough to prompt a full-scale alert in Sweden, which initially believed the accident had happened at its own nuclear power station, on the Baltic coast. The evacuation of 600 workers had been ordered before experts realised that the source of the radioactivity must have been within the Soviet Union.

Retro Post: LAist Interview from 2007

This post appeared on the former blog and is an interview from the LAist.

LAist Interview: Director/Adaptor of Voices from Chornobyl, Cindy Marie Jenkins

While searching for a one-act play to direct at an upcoming director’s festival, playwright, dramaturge, adaptor, and director Cindy Marie Jenkins stumbled across a collection of interviews from individuals affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Deeply moved by the stories of these survivors, Jenkins immediately began adapting the interviews for the stage. Voices from Chornobyl premiered at Open Fist and was later showcased at L.A’s annual theatre festival, EdgeFest. Now in its third incarnation, Voices from Chornobyl will be a part of the Empty Stage’s New Voices Series Sept. 30th and Oct. 14th, 2007.

What was it about the stories of these individuals that compelled you to compile them into a play?

CMJ: There was such poetry in their descriptions. Conflicted feelings about being interviewed, about their land, and ultimately radiation. They are tied to their land and their homes in ways that I had never experienced. The beauty in their horror and how they went on living their lives. How they were treated. Who knew what. Also, before I read the book, if you had asked me about Chernobyl, I barely would have been able to mumble out “nuclear-something-or-other.” I wondered how many other Americans knew little about the event? How many Los Angeles residents knew where the nearest nuclear plant or landfill was? I sure didn’t. At that time, the misinformation about the WMD’s was uncovered, so the themes of leadership and ignorance rang true in me.

On a purely theatrical side ,I love working with a play like an orchestra, and storytelling through sounds only. Then opening my eyes and matching the physical environment with the words, all in a very close collaboration with the actors and designers. When I’m processing a new adaptation (we’re on Draft 13 and 3 fully-produced productions), I re-read the entire book and find a unique way of record-keeping, which sounds very clinical, but I need to process the entire book again before finding the new voices for a new adaptation.

What is the overall theme of Voices from Chornobyl?

CMJ: Living. How do you live within radiation? How do you live away from home? How do you live in your home when the earth betrays you? Survival of the mind and of the body. The subtitle is “Chronicle of the Future” and that is really the theme – how do we survive in this world we’ve created, and how will our children survive?

One of the voices in the play talks about being a “Chernobyl person.” What is a “Chernobyl person”? Can this term be more broadly applied outside the world of the play? If so, to whom?

CMJ: A Chernobyl person is one who is labeled. We all know how easy it is to label people and then not regard them as anything but the group into which they’ve been put. People are afraid of Chernobyl people (I am speaking of the people interviewed in the book) and afraid that they glow in the dark. Young children and adults alike are labeled. Family members won’t allow Chernobyl people to live with them when they were evacuated. That quote “You are a normal person. A regular person. You go to work, you go on vacation once a year, you eat dinner with your family. Then one day all of a sudden you become a Chernobyl person. A freak.” I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by cancer victims, new mothers, anyone who can be labeled. A label lets society remain ignorant. “They” have to deal with it and no one else. “We” don’t have to deal with their issues.

But we do! The more I immerse myself in Chernobyl-land, the more I realize that we all have to deal with “their” issues. We all breathe the same air. We all live on the same planet. Just because it happened in the Ukraine doesn’t mean that we don’t feel the ramifications of it. For instance, every day I receive headlines that have the words “Chernobyl power plant” in the title. Anytime that the word “nuclear” is even brought up, someone uses Chernobyl as a tool against nuclear power, when it’s actually nearly impossible for the accident to occur in that same way.

Those 2 examples might appear to contradict each other. That is because I have never set out for this piece to be anti-nuclear, anti-Soviet or anything like that. I want people to walk away from it with their own stories and to just be more aware and active in supporting their environment.

How has Voices from Chornobyl been received by L.A. audiences?

CMJ: Very well, but we need more exposure. After the original production, I had the book in the lobby and they sold like hotcakes. People said they wanted to go home and learn more about it. That is what I want. After the Edgefest production, strangers came up to me and wanted to know more; that is actually how we were invited to be part of the Empty Stage Theatre’s New Voices Festival, from someone seeing the show at Edgefest.

We are working on more exposure, linking our website to Chernobyl websites with more traffic, working closely with the publisher. A charity in the UK wants to host a reading on the anniversary of the accident in 2008. That’s great, but I don’t want to preach to the converted. I want to convert and I want the converted to take a long hard look at their world and find out what they can do to save it.

What are you hoping audiences will take away from the play?

CMJ: I saw a great bumper sticker today : “Ignore the environment. It will just go away.” I want people to walk out of the theater and for the images and the words to seep into their actions. Walk to the store and bring your own bag; let cyclists who are obeying the rules of the road to share the roads with you. Arrange your life around the world and not the other way around. Keep your perspective wider than the dashboard. Instead of labeling, listen to people and their experiences and learn what you can. We are all part of the same world and must work together.

Retro Post: A Mother’s Voice

This post appeared on the original blog in 2007.

Chernobyl voices: Lena and Anya Kostuchenko
Lena and Anna Kostuchenko
Lena Kostuchenko, 39, and her daughter Anya, 19 Chernobyl zone evacuees in KievI was five months’ pregnant when the accident occurred. My husband and I were spending the weekend at my mother’s house in Kopachi (a village just south of the power station). We woke up on Saturday morning and decided to go to Chernihiv, the nearest big town, to buy maternity clothes. At the bus stop we saw lots of fire engines and troop carriers on the main road. We waited and waited, but no bus came. Eventually a policeman told us there would be no buses, because there had been an accident.There had been small accidents before, so we did not worry. We worked in the garden all day.

In 2004, Anya caught meningitis and was in a coma for three days

On the Sunday I had to go to work in Pripyat. Again there were no buses, so we set off on foot. But I began to feel very ill, before I had got half way. My husband helped me home, then walked to Pripyat alone.

When he got back, he said the town had been evacuated. By then I had got out of bed and wandered outside. Another policeman finally told me the truth – he said there was high radiation and pregnant women should get out at all costs. At that time I did not know what radiation was.


Police were blocking the main road, but we drove to Ivankiv via back roads. Two days later I ended up in hospital. Doctors threw away my clothes, and “decontaminated” me with a cold shower.


Hanna, zone resident
Igor, thyroid surgeon
Mikhail, evacuee
Mykhailo, sick lorry driver
Natalia, sociologist
Oleg, Chernobyl employee
Olexiy, ex-unit 4 operator
Viktoria, student activist
Vladimir, liquidator


There were lots of other pregnant women there. The doctors said all would have abortions, or induced births. They did some of the abortions quickly, then changed their mind and said we would all give birth, after all.

We went to Chop (on the Hungarian border) then to Mykolayiv (near the Black Sea). In each new town, I had to throw away the clothes I had bought in the last one. They must have been contaminated by my own radioactive body.

I gave birth to Anya two months early. She was big – 2.5kg (5.5lbs) and 49cm tall – but her nails had not formed and she was a yellowish colour, so she was put in an incubator. I was not allowed to see her for eight days.

Blood disease

Later, when we moved to Kiev, specialists hospitalised her on sight. Her haemoglobin count was about a quarter or a third of the normal level. At that time you could not say it was because of Chernobyl – it could be anything except Chernobyl. Much later a haematology professor told me I had been very unlucky: I was in the wrong place at the wrong time of my pregnancy.

Anya is like a house plant. She has a very rare blood disease and almost no immunity. In 2004 she caught meningitis and was in a coma for three days. A doctor told me it was all over, but she pulled through.

In the 1990s a law was passed, which promised benefits to Chernobyl invalids, but it said nothing about child invalids. Together with some other parents I formed an organisation, Flowers in the Wormwood, which successfully lobbied for the law to be changed.

There is a tendency now to play down the problem of Chernobyl, and, if possible, to forget it. Once the 20th anniversary has passed, I think the state will begin to withdraw support.

Retro Post: Sample Play Pages

This post originally appeared on Cindy’s blog in 2010.

Since 2005, I’ve worked with a dedicated ensemble and collaborators around the world to raise awareness of the 1986 Chornobyl disaster (often spelled Chernobyl). I was invited to be the Key Note Speaker for the Remember Chernobyl Conference in 2008 and Anniversary Readings were held all across Los Angeles in 2009. As part of the 2010 worldwide commemoration (see 20th anniversary publication here), published versions of the two plays are in the works. Here is one sample of the six-character version of Voices From Chornobyl.



Original painting for 2006 workshop, Artist: Tisha Terrasini-Baker

There are secrets.  People say prayers in private.  Whispering.


I reached an assistant.  “I’m calling from Moscow.  I have urgent information.  About an accident!”  As soon as I started talking about the accident, they disconnected me.


No, use my name.  Say it to God.


Where are we going?  I only got this paper—


We are going to Chornobyl.


To the fire?


It was put out.

VASILY (on the phone)

I got hold of someone else.  According to my calculations, the radioactive cloud is moving towards us.  We must immediately give prophylactic iodine treatment to the population and move out every-

(Dial tone)

KATYA  (Sing-songy)

At the foot of the hill puffs a tractor

At the top of the hill a reactor

If we had’nt heard it from the Swedes

We’d still be eating all those seeds.


My reports say the situation is now stabilized.


I put my arms around him and kissed him.  He moved away.  “Don’t sit next to me.”  “It’s all nonsense,” I said, waving it off.  “Did you see where the explosion was?  You were the first ones there.”   “ I think it was sabotage.  Someone did it on purpose.  All the guys think that.”  That’s what people said then.  And that’s what they believed.  The next day when I arrived— I couldn’t go near him—they were forbidden to have human contact.

I met a lot of good people there, and I don’t remember all of them.  The whole world had narrowed to a single point for me.  It shortened.  Him.  Only him.

He’s changing.  The burns are surfacing.  In his mouth, his tongue, his cheeks.  They started as small ulcers.  Now they’re spreading.

The prognosis for acute radiation sickness is fourteen days.


It takes fourteen days for a man to die.


The nearby towns will be evacuated.  We’ll clean the zone out around the reactor, and in a few days time the people will be home again.

ANNA (kneeling)

Mother, we are leaving.


They’re evacuating us.


We are going to be evacuated.


They say they’ll just wash everything, and then we’ll be back in a few days.  I borrowed some of your earth to guide me back home.

Forgive me for leaving you.


The hospitals will remain open so the necessary medical aid can be given to those affected.

Original painting for 2006 workshop, Artist: Shawn MacAulay


Fourteen days – it’s all mine.  Every bit.  I can’t say it.  You can’t write about it!  There was an apple on his nightstand.  A big one.  He smiled and said, “They gave me a treat.  You take it.”  The Nurse signals me through the plastic curtain that I cannot eat the apple.  If it’s been near him for a while, just being near it, much less eating it, is dangerous.  “Come on, eat it,” he asks.  “You love apples.”  I pick it up.  The nurse looks at me in horror.  But me?  I was ready to do whatever was necessary to keep him from thinking about death.  Or that his illness was horrible, that I was afraid of him.

Night.  Quiet.


What do I remember?  In the first few days after the accident, all the books on radiation, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even on x-rays vanished from the libraries.


We need potassium iodine.  Ordinary iodine.  Two or three drops in a glass of water for children and three or four drops for adults.


My Superiors received a phone call. From Moscow.  Something about not starting a panic in Belarussia.  The West is making too much of it already.


There was a rumor that removing the books was an order from the authorities to keep people from being terrified.  So that we could not/imagine for ourselves what it meant.


/you can imagine for yourselves the consequences.


Birds kept smashing into the windshields of cars and buses as if they were blind.  They were crazed.  Flying into the windshielsds…or under the wheels.  It was a kind of suicide.


There are warehouses full of iodine in the city.

Original painting for 2006 workshop, Artist: Aaron Lyons


The word “panic” – do you know where it comes from?


From the Greek –Pan—he was a mischief-maker.


The god of woods and fields who created mysterious sounds.


He tried to teach the people how to communicate, but these sounds were too advanced for the people surrounding the woods and the fields.  They didn’t understand them, and so the sounds caused hysterical fear in villages.  They say entire herds followed their owners over cliffs.  Panic is born of fear and fear is irrational, infectious and prevents people from reacting in a disciplined way.

Our orders are to maintain discipline.


I understand, Comrade.


You can imagine for yourself the consequences of a terrible panic in a town of several million inhabitants.


Yes, Comrade.


I can’t tell myself, like some others, that I don’t remember a thing.

But I keep having this strange idea.

It torments me.  It may not be mine: I have seen what others have not yet seen.  Something terrible was revealed to us before it was to others.


As we got closer, some of the men started asking questions. The driver looked back and said, “Don’t worry, Comrades, the situation is under control.

Nothing to worry about.  People are living and working here.”


Why Chornobyl? Watch our short video here.

Study guides, full scripts and press packets available upon request. More of our history can be found at our websiteVoices From Chornobyl.

Excerpt taken from


The crown of creation

6 characters

Written by Cindy Marie Jenkins

Assisted by Aaron Lyons

Inspired by the book Voices From Chornobyl

By Svetlana Alexievich

Retro Post: Images on the walls

This post appeared on the original blog in 2007.




Retro Post: Duncan Stewart RETURN TO CHERNOBYL

This post appeared on the original blog in 2007.

Link to video

Tributes to heroism of Chernobyl firefighters

By Eoin English
THOUSANDS of firefighters who lost their lives in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were remembered at ceremonies in Cork and Dublin yesterday to mark the 19th anniversary of the accident. They gave their lives to prevent an atomic explosion at the plant which would have made Europe uninhabitable, the Chernobyl Children’s Project said.

Director Adi Roche said fires at the plant could have triggered a nuclear explosion 50 to 80 times the force of Hiroshima.

She paid tribute to the 25,000 “liquidators” who died and the 70,000 who are permanently disabled as a result of making the reactor safe.

While people had a “searing image” of the firefighters in 9/11, nobody had a similar understanding of the heroism of the “liquidators”, she said. She was speaking in Dublin where 19 children, each with a candle and a photograph of a worker, commemorated the men who died.

The Belarussian Ambassador to Britain, Dr Alyaksei Mazhukhou, said 1.5 million people, including 420,000 children, were still living in affected areas.

“Chernobyl remains a great burden for our people and our economy,” he said.

However, the future of recuperation visits to Ireland of children from the affected region remains uncertain.

In Cork, two white doves were released from City Hall during an ecumenical service attended by lord mayor Sean Martin and Ukrainian Ambassador Yevhen Perelygin.

The Greater Chernobyl Cause also announced it is sending an aid convoy to the Ukraine tomorrow. Included is an ultrasound machine that can detect early cancer in patients.

Meanwhile, Ms Roche warned that the consequences of the disaster would not be fully felt for another five decades.

Congenital birth defects have increased by 250% since the disaster, while one-in-four children in Belarus will develop thyroid abnormalities including cancer, she said. Environmentalist Duncan Stewart said the cement sarcophagus that covers the damaged reactor and which contains 97% of the plant’s lethal material is in need of repair, at a cost of €758 million. The Children’s Project called for the international community to help make the reactor safe and rebuild lives.

Retro Post: Sample from collaboration with Deaf West Theatre, 2009

This post appeared on the original blog in 2009.

Highlights from the “Voices From Chornobyl” anniversary reading at the Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood, April 26, 2009. Shot and edited by Lysandra Petersson. Featuring the talents of:

Vasily Shimansky..…..Bradford Beacom
Anna Sushko…….Enci
Grigory……..Aaron Lyons / Brian M. Cole
Sergei Gurin……..Shawn MacAulay / Tyrone Giordano*
A Solitary Human Voice………Kristin Mochnick / Catherine MacKinnon
Katya Shimansky……Kappa Victoria Wood / Evelina Gaina

Writer and Director: Cindy Marie Jenkins

Inspired by the book Voices From Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich
Published by Galina Dursthoff, Inc.

Assistant Director: Caitie Hannon

Stage Manager & Swing: Amy Hendrickson


Blog at

Up ↑