'Voices of Chernobyl' echo again at NEYT


Thursday, June 7
BRATTLEBORO -- "Voices from Chernobyl," a Readers Theater play, will be performed Monday, June 11, at 7 p.m., at the New England Youth Theater, 100 Flat St.

Suggested donation is $5. The event is sponsored by Nuclear Free Vermont, Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, Citizens Awareness Network and AFSC-VT.

On April 26, 1986, the worst nuclear reactor accident in history occurred in Chernobyl, Ukraine, only 40 miles north of Kiev, a city of three million people. This disaster contaminated as much as three-quarters of Europe. More than 485 villages had to be abandoned forever. Even today, approximately 2.1 million people (including 700,000 children) live on contaminated land.

Ukrainian journalist Svetlana Alexievich interviewed hundreds of survivors of the disaster and in 1997 published many of their stories in a book, "Tchernobylskaia Molitva." In 2006 this was translated from the Russian and published as "Voices from Chernobyl" by the Dalkey Archive Press. In 2007 the book was issued as a paperback by Picador Press.

With the permission of Dalkey Archive, Montpelier writer Spencer Smith has made a readers theater play from six of these testimonies which will be performed at the New England Youth Theater.

Audiences have been moved to tears by the words of these survivors as they express in concrete terms the terrible price in human lives paid by those who lived through this nuclear disaster.

Those who speak their testimony (in book and play) include two nuclear physicists who held top positions in governmental organizations, the wife of a man who sacrificed his life to help control the fire, a retired rocket scientist who runs a museum commemorating the disaster, the mother of a child born deformed from radiation, a peasant woman who can't really understand what radiation is.

Smith first became aware of the danger of nuclear power plants in 1979 when the Three Mile Island disaster occurred. Seven years later, the disaster at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine reinforced her concern. From 2001 to 2003 she lived in Ukraine as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer teaching creative writing at a university.

During her stay in Ukraine she became even more sensitive to the long-term effects of a nuclear disaster.

A year ago, after reading the book "Voices from Chernobyl," Smith became active in the Vermont Yankee Decommissioning Alliance, a North Central Vermont organization seeking to close the Vermont Yankee reactor. She has adapted "Voices from Chernobyl" into a 50-minute readers theater play. Smith returned to Ukraine in 2006 and is currently writing a memoir about her experiences there. For 2008, Smith has been granted a Fulbright award to teach creative writing at Belarus State University in Minsk -- an area especially hard-hit by the Chernobyl disaster.


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