10 Valiant Things about Svetlana Alexievich’s “Voices from Chernobyl”

Voices from Chernobyl

by Svetlana Alexievich

Nikki’s Rating: 10 out of 10

Summary: The haunting account of survivors of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Svetlana Alexievich interviewed not just people who lived there but workers at the nuclear plant, scientists, doctors, soldiers, wives of firefighters, re-settlers, and those involved with the clean up including miners, helicopter pilots, and liquidators. Each story is tragic and harrowing as the aftermath of the disaster continues 10 years later and into the foreseeable future.

10 Valiant Things about Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Survivors

The biggest reason why Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices from Chernobyl is so powerful is because it is in the survivors’ own words. Alexievich didn’t edit their words, try to soften them, or change their stories to fit her own perceptions. Many of these stories are horrific but they are real. Someone lived that nightmare and their story is worth being heard.

2. Diversity

Alexievich didn’t stick to interviewing just people who lived in the Zone, she actively searched and interviewed people who were affected by the Chernobyl disaster through different means. Thousands of people got radiation not from living in the Zone but from being involved with the clean up and containment of the nuclear reactor. These include soldiers, miners, liquidators, pilots, and firefighters.

3. Cover-Up

Of course, one of the worst things that Russia did during the Chernobyl disaster is the government attempted to cover-up how bad the disaster really was. Whether to keep face internationally or to avoid panic within the country, the government consistently denied the dangers and they still continue to do so. As noted in Voices from Chernobyl, a physicist in 1999 came forward claiming that living and farming in Belarus was dangerous due to radiation levels and was therefore imprisoned until 2005, upon release he was exiled and remains so.

4. Ignorance

One of the most surprising things to me was the disbelief that many people did have about the effects of radiation even after being warned by those in authority. There were areas that the government did actually evacuate and deemed unsafe for people to stay in and yet many people chose to stay or returned after being evacuated. These people continued eating food grown in the area and used milk and meat from contaminated livestock. One individual described radiation as believable as fairy dust, it cannot be seen and so it must be magic, it is of no consequence to them.

5. Clean-Up

While at times incredibly hard to read, Voices from Chernobyl gives details about how clean-up was done after the disaster. The burying of not just the top layers of soil but of everything above ground in some areas. The systematic killing of livestock, pets, and any animals found within the Zone. And then of course the evacuations of people within the Zone.

6. Willful Negligence

Voices of Chernobyl clearly shows the willful negligence and disregard for life that the Russian government had at the time of the disaster. Not only did they not distribute adequate protective gear for those responding to the disaster, they also didn’t educate them on safety measures that they could have taken. For example, authorities didn’t explain to the clean up crews and soldiers that their clothes would retain radiation. One liquidator allowed his son to wear the cap he wore in the Zone often with no thought of it, his then healthy son developed a brain tumor 2 years later.

7. Aftermath

Many of the stories in Voices of Chernobyl are not about the disaster itself but rather the continuing aftermath. The severely ill children, the high mortality rates, babies being born with defects, women unable to get pregnant or suffering from multiple miscarriages. Each year in Belarus, the number of people with cancer, neurological disorders, mental retardation, and genetic mutations increases.

8. Denial

Going along with the need to cover-up the effects of the Chernobyl disaster, Russia continues to deny them and the devastation radiation can cause. Officially, Russia accepts the Chernobyl death toll of 54 individuals. Many organizations, including the UN, believe that the death toll number is in the thousands with others believing that it may in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Without the government taking responsibility, many families will continue being burdened with expensive medical bills from their loved ones illnesses that were actually caused by radiation due to Chernobyl.

9. The Motherland

So many stories included a sense of pride in the Motherland that I’ve come to associate with the Russian people. While Chernobyl was an epic disaster, many of these stories included love for their fellow man and pride for their country. So many times in tragedy, we show our capability for courage, selflessness, and dedication to the greater good. There were those who knew the dangers of the radiation, who knew they were risking their lives, and still reported to Chernobyl to do what they could for the world, the Motherland, and their loved ones.

10. Love

Overall reading Voices from Chernobyl was difficult as the stories are all heartbreaking to various degrees. But regardless of the sorrow, pain, and suffering, the stories also included love and hope. Love for their land, their home, their family, their friends, their animals. That regardless of this tragedy in their lives, they will go forward and live the best life that they can.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.

Book Review: “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker

An older book review and therefore different format but deserves a blog post:

The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence

by Gavin de Becker

Nikki’s Rating: 4.8 out of 5 Stars

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This book was recommended by a coworker who knew I was struggling with fear and anxiety, particularly around a stalking situation. I found this book to be quite helpful in easing my stress and anxiety. I really appreciated that Gavin de Becker really stresses that intuitively we know when we are in danger and that is when we feel fear and that we just need to pay attention and act when we feel fear. Gavin de Becker argues that anxiety and worry are useless because we are usually worrying about something that isn’t likely to happen. Worry isn’t based in reality, it is not authentic, it is a choice and we can choose not to feed it. We can choose to direct our energies elsewhere and trust in ourselves that we will know when we are actually in danger and can act accordingly. Gavin de Becker includes many real stories of people listening to their instincts and being able to survive a situation where their lives were in danger. These stories are terrifying and yet provide evidence of how good our intuition can be when we listen to it. Overall this book is a great choice if you are struggling with fear, especially the fear of other people and what they may do.

Favorite Quotes:

“When you feel fear, listen. When you don’t feel fear, don’t manufacture it.”

“Few of us predict that unexpected, undesired events will lead to great things, but very often we’d be more accurate if we did.”

“The fact that most Americans live without being violent is a sign of something wonderful in us. In resisting both the darker sides of our species and the darker sides of our heritage, it is everyday Americans, not the icons of big-screen vengeance, who are the real heroes.


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.

8 Benevolent Things about John Hargrove’s “Beneath the Surface”

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

by John Hargrove

Nikki’s Rating: 8 out of 10

Summary: Wanting nothing more than to work with orcas, John Hargrove realized his childhood dream and became a killer whale trainer at SeaWorld. But after 14 years of working at SeaWorld of California, SeaWorld of Texas, and MarineLand in the south of France, Hargrove walked away and gave up his dream. In this heartbreaking and honest memoir, Hargrove spills the secrets of SeaWorld’s Shamu Stadium and the atrocities the corporation allows for the sake of profit.

8 Benevolent Things about John Hargrove’s Beneath the Surface

(May Contain Spoilers)

1. Educational

Beneath the Surface was full of fun facts that were interesting, such as orcas are matriarchal and pods are centered around a dominant female. And while Hargrove pulled from his own experience and observations from working with orcas, he also offers insights from researchers and experts who study the lives of orcas living free in the wild.

2. Prisoners

One of the strongest points that Hargrove makes clear is that the orcas of SeaWorld are prisoners. No matter what improvements and changes the corporation makes to their living conditions or treatments, these animals are captives. And this imprisonment is not done for their protection or for their health, they are captive solely for profit.

3. Captivity

The most heartbreaking thing about Beneath the Surface is reading how the orcas behave in captivity. Pulling the paint off their pool from sheer boredom, crying and wailing after being separated from their calves, repeatedly raking each other, which is not normal behavior in adult wild orcas. To animal deserves to live in captivity.

4. Trainers

While Hargrove makes it known that he does not agree or condone with the policies and practices of SeaWorld, he remains extremely respectful towards the employees who work for SeaWorld. As someone who lived through the struggle of wanting to help the whales and yet knowing that SeaWorld was exploiting the animals, Hargrove understands the compartmentalizing employees must do and he respects that these other trainers and employees have a different journey than he does. He does not villainize them or imply that they are making the wrong choice.

5. Exposure

SeaWorld was exposed in the documentary Blackfish but Hargrove is able to shed more light. As a former employee, Hargrove is able to give examples of events that occurred at SeaWorld that the higher ups ignored or spun in ways that made humans look at fault. Never has SeaWorld come forward admitting that the orcas are dangerous, as they are prisoners held in tight quarters. Rather, they point the finger at the trainers, “She allowed her hair to touch the water and the killer whale thought it was a new toy.” “He panicked and drowned.” “The trainer missed his mark, didn’t give the right signal” etc. Hargrove is able to give testimony that SeaWorld is concerned about one thing: money. No amount of concerns from trainers, experts, or advocates have made them change having the killer whales for entertainment.

6. Beauty

Although Beneath the Surface focuses on the horrors done to captive orcas, Hargrove does an amazing job of conveying the beauty and majesty of killer whales. The communal bonds they share, the attachment and dedication orca mothers have to their offspring, no matter how old they are, and the relationships they can create with humans. Hargrove truly shows how complex, emotional, and intelligent killer whales are and that these beings deserve our respect, love and awe.

7. Necessary Evil

Sadly, there are still quite a few orcas in captivity and Hargrove explains that SeaWorld may be a necessary evil at this time. Hargrove is realistic and realizes that these captive orcas behave so unnaturally, with some of them being unnatural hybrids, that they would have no chance of survival free in the wild. Hargrove’s proposed solution is for the orca breeding program to be ended and that capturing any dolphins or whales be illegal world wide. And then finally, providing the already captive orcas with a more humane cage where they can live the remainder of their lives not performing or in isolation.

8. Advocate

Now that he has left the life as a killer whale trainer, John Hargrove is now an advocate for them. He maintains his deep love and respect for these animals and now serves them in a different manner. As with this book, Hargrove is attempting to put an end to whale captivity and educate the public and lawmakers through speeches and interviews. He had a choice to step away from SeaWorld, keep his mouth shut, and move on to a new chapter in his life. Instead he chose to stick up for the whales and take on SeaWorld. 


As always, thank you for reading. I would love to hear from you so feel free to contact me or comment below. If you would like to support this blog and/or my paintings please become my patron.

Be Authentic. Be Unique. Be You.