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Radioactive consequences: The children of Chernobyl

They are like other children. They like to play and laugh. They are vivid! They speak a different language - Russian. They look like six-, seven- and eight-year-old boys and girls. But these children are older – much older. Only the doctors know how old. Sascha, Ludmilla and Anton are the Chernobyl children.

Russian childrens supper
T. Micke

Eight boys and girls were brought from the region of Chernobyl to the Saint Anna hospital in Vienna for a treatment. They were picked out from hundreds of children by the head of the department Christine Peters. To the children's parents the doctor is a saint.

Dr. Lev Rudkevich (45), a biologist from Leningrad, made looking after the children and their mothers in Austria his business because they hardly understand any German. Only a single one of the eight protégés is still in the hospital, a seven-year-old girl.

Lost in thoughts Dr. Rudkevich drinks his coffee at a cafe in Vienna. He is thinking of his little friends. "There was the 12-year-old Sergej. He got lung cancer. The doctors in Vienna had to amputate one of his legs. Sergej got sent back home to Borisov in the Ukraine. His disease was incurable. He died last December. Then there was still the 6-year-old Katja. She came from the outskirts of Minsk. Katja died of leukaemia in November 1990 shortly after she had returned home from Vienna."

The other children are alive. As response to the question "How long still?" the Russian shrugs "Nobody knows for sure. Not even the doctors. They sent the 12-year-old Wladimir home after a bone marrow transplantation. They said he was almost well again. However in Minsk he had a backstroke. Now he is about to pass away."

"No entrance! Danger of infection!" Reads a sign at the entrance of the children's department of the hospital in Viennas 9th district.

A lot of children are running about at the department. All of them have a green cloth in front of their mouths. "Everybody has to wear masks" Dr. Rudkevich explains. Ludmilla sits on a chair in a corner together with her mother. She loosened her mask and chews half-heartedly on a piece of bread. Luda, that is how her mother calls her, has leukaemia. In December she had yet another bone marrow transplant. Her blood values are not well again. She gets transfusions non-stop.

Luda gets up and takes a walk in the hallway. In her left hand she holds as if it were self-evident a kind of hat stand on wheels. On the hat stand is a blood bottle "B positive". Leading from it is a red tube that disappears somewhere beneath her sweater.

Luda's mother describes how her family that lived in a small village close to Minsk experienced the catastrophe of Chernobyl: "I don't really remember anymore. But sometime in the beginning of May we were informed by the authorities that there had been a nuclear incident."

Then she confirms the things that have only gotten through to Europe in few reports: "They didn't tell us exactly what had happened and how big the danger was. The people continued eating everything and pretended nothing had happened. There was no difference to be felt or seen. 3 years later Luda had the first symptoms of leukaemia."

Lev Rudkevich went to a park or the zoo with the children. Actually his protégés weren't allowed to go outside. The danger of infection was too big. "The children need change and a bit of fun!" the Russian biologist excuses himself.

A lot of children like Sergej (12), Katja (6), Wladimir (12), Luda (7), Sascha (5), Marina (8), Kyril (14) and Anton (7) are hospitalised in Minsk and Kiev. All of them have cancer. In the Soviet Union the medical care is a lot worse than in Austria.

"If we will be able to hospitalise more Chernobyl children in Vienna is just a question of money" doctor Eva Dürrer explains. "A bone marrow transplantation costs about half a million schillings. Until now the city of Vienna and the provincial government of Lower Austria paid the costs. Now it is up to the population to help these children."

< Read part 7 of the series: Time bombs in our bodies

© A report by Tobias Micke (26-04-91) – Contact