Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Oksana Kozmina: A Righteous Woman

It is no secret that Chernobyl left millions of people with life-threatening illnesses. Many of them fled to southern Ukraine, far away from the radiation zone which surrounded northern Ukraine's Chernobyl. Camps were created in the south where children could stay and recover from the negative impacts of the radiation. If one adult came to the camp with one child, only the adult would be required to pay and the child would stay for free. If one adult came with many children, they would pay less, etc. In the 1980's soviet era mothers didn't exactly receive much of a maternity leave. Most of them stayed home without pay for the first three years. While most of the mothers were working, who was to take the ill children to the southern camps? Oksana Kozmina, with two other righteous women, opened these camps through their NGO, Mama 86, 1986 being the year of the Chernobyl disaster.

They received mostly European funds to help create and maintain these camps. Even the Soviet Army donated beds, utensils, and necessary materials. When I asked Oksana what the Soviet government thought about the army helping her NGO, she explained, "The army is like the government of the government, and in the army, people also have children!". Oksana single-handedly brought hundreds of affected children to the camps, allowing the mothers to continue to work. Eventually many others joined the camps including the elderly and frail. For three years they ran these camps while Oksana traveled back and forth from Kiev.

Red Cross supported many children who were affected by Chernobyl by sending them to Yugoslavia. Oksana explained that with the same money, they could have helped 10 times as many families by bringing them to safe places in Ukraine. One positive result of Chernobyl is that the foreign humanitarian aid that fled to Ukaine, helped give birth to the third sector in the former Soviet Union. People began to create non-profit organizations in order to receive the financial assistance. Then began the growth of NGOs including the national Ukrainian environmental movement, of which Oksana became very active.

Never did she think she would be labeled as an "environmentalist". When asked how she became active in the environmental movement she answered, "After Chernobyl, I realized that we have to do something to ensure that our children and grandchildren will have a safe future on the planet".

A daughter of a world renown nuclear physicist, she was expected to follow in her father's footsteps. She said, "Why would I always want to be introduced as my father's daughter?". So, she became an artist. She hand-painted Ukrainian folk instruments for twenty years.

After years of being involved in the environmental movement in Ukraine, including working as a trainer of Deep Ecology, modeled after Joanna Macy, she eventually became fed-up with the culture of the environmental movement in Ukraine. She says, "I got sick of people 'singing to the choir', and arguing about the importance of saving the planet only amongst themselves. How are we going to make change that way? I'm also tired of hearing the negative news about our dying planet. It's too depressing. I understand quite well the severity of the environmental problems we are faced with, and i've suffered enough in my life."

I give Oksana a badge of honor for her righteous work to protect the well being of thousands of children. May we all be inspired to be as courageous as Oksana, and do the work so that those like her can rest a little already.

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