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Derelict carnival bumper car in Chernobyl. © 2013 Sonja L. Cohen

Our visit to Chernobyl

Sabbatical travel allowed us to see history with our own eyes.
By Larry Stritof
Spring 2014

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We chose to visit Chernobyl not as a tourist attraction, which the majority of those on the tour with us seemed to be there for, but because it is important to witness the costs of using nuclear power first hand. We love the environment and this world, and the accident at Chernobyl almost destroyed it. One of the things I learned about this disaster was how much worse it could have been if it weren’t for the countless individuals who sacrificed their lives to contain the fallout. Their work prevented an even greater explosion that could have destroyed much of Europe.

My past experiences have shown that seeing things in person has a much larger impact on me than watching something about it on TV, looking at pictures, or reading about it online. Sometimes it can be  shocking or upsetting, but part of the reason we love traveling is that it allows us to be really present someplace.

As a kid my parents took me to Yellowstone shortly after the major forest fires. I had seen the news coverage, but it wasn’t until we got there that I became truly aware of how big and terrible this event was. Driving past miles and miles of blackened hills full of dead trees, the smell of the burnt forests, and the sense of loss all left a lasting impact on me.

Years later, I saw the last space shuttle launch. The launch was amazing, but what struck me was the sense of loss I got from the thousands of people who came out before sunrise to see it.

Being able to visit Chernobyl was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. I didn’t know what I would witness, feel, or see, but I felt deep down that it was important to do.

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of UU World (pages 20-22). Photo: © 2013 Sonja L. Cohen

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